Step 1: Make a list of 5 problems you’ve faced in the last couple of months that you needed alerting on. If you’ve got a help desk ticket system, look at the ticket types that occur most frequently and cause the most outage times.
For me as a DBA, that might be:
- SQL Server service down
- Deadlock occurs
- A runaway query consumes high CPU
- An Agent job is running more than 2x the time it usually takes to run, and it’s still going
- Log shipping gets more than 15 minutes behind
Step 2: Set up a lab to repro those problems on demand. This is actually a great way to learn about these problems, by the way – the more you understand how to create these situations, the better you’ll be at detecting and reacting to them.
Step 3: Download the eval editions of the tools you want. All monitoring software vendors give away short-term (10-15 day) versions. Install & configure them to monitor your test lab.
Step 4: Actively evaluate them. Build a spreadsheet with a column for each monitoring tool, and a group of rows for each failure scenario. For each problem, when you trigger it, document:
- How long it takes to alert you about the correct underlying problem
- How many false alarms you get (alarms that are unrelated to the real problem)
- How intuitively obvious the real problem is when looking at the tool’s dashboard (are all the lights flashing red, or is there a single light flashing red exactly where the problem is?)
Step 5: Pick winners and negotiate price. Out of the tools you evaluated, pick at least two that you’re willing to live with. Call each of the vendors and say, “I did a tool evaluation, and it was a tie between you and ___. What’s your best price? I’m going to be asking the other guys too.”
They’re going to want to start talking about value differentiators, like how they’re so much better than the other company because they do ___. Doesn’t matter – you’ve already picked the two tools you’re willing to live with. Let them talk, listen fairly, and then repeat the question: what’s your best price?
You don’t have to pick the cheapest one – there may be one tool you like much more – but at least now you’ve gotten good prices on both, and you can make an informed decision.