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Navigating the Monitoring Node Options

One of the biggest improvements to ISA Server has been the addition of multiple robust and capable logging and monitoring options. The key to troubleshooting an ISA server is understanding what type of activity is currently occurring, whether packets are being denied or granted, or whether the firewall is being attacked. The Monitoring node, illustrated in Figure 3.18, is the portal toward accessing the logging and monitoring capabilities of ISA Server, and is one of the most valuable tools in the ISA Server Console.

Figure 3.18

FIGURE 3.18 Examining the Dashboard tab of the Monitoring node.

Within the Monitoring node of the ISA Server Console, there are seven tabs in the Central Details pane that link to different monitoring and reporting functions that the ISA Server provides. These tabs are ordered as follows:

  • Dashboard
  • Alerts
  • Sessions
  • Services
  • Reports
  • Connectivity
  • Logging

When selecting an individual tab, the Tasks and Help tabs in the Tasks pane change their content to reflect the type of functions and common help questions specific to the tab chosen.

This section on the monitoring node covers the high-level detail present in the node. For additional reading on the topic, including best practices, step-by-step descriptions, and examples, see Chapter 19, "Monitoring, Troubleshooting, and Intrusion Detection with ISA Server 2004."

Configuring the Dashboard

The Dashboard is a monitoring function of ISA that allows for multiple monitoring indicators and other real-time information to be displayed in a centralized console, such as the Dashboard shown in Figure 3.18. The Dashboard contains individual monitoring components that track activity on the ISA server, such as alerts, sessions, reports, and overall system performance. The information presented in the Dashboard is generated from the settings configured in the various other tabs of the Monitoring node.

The Dashboard is a good place to "park" the ISA Server Console when it is not actively being used, as it can be used to quickly determine the status of the ISA Server at a glance.

Viewing Alerts

Alerts are a useful mechanism for ISA Server to communicate information, warning, and error messages to administrators through the Monitoring console. The Alerts tab, shown in Figure 3.19, links to information about individual alerts. Clicking on each alert displays information specific to that that alert on the bottom of the Central Details pane.

Figure 3.19

FIGURE 3.19 Viewing alerts.

The Alert mechanism in ISA Server 2004 is a simple yet powerful tool to give advance warning to administrators of attacks on the firewall, misconfigurations, or other errors.

Alerts can be customized by clicking on the Configure Alert Definitions link in the Tasks Pane. This link summons the Alert Definitions dialog box, as shown in Figure 3.20. This dialog box allows for specific alerts to be configured and customized when existing alerts are double-clicked. This allows for specific actions to be taken in the event of problems, such as email warnings to be sent to administrators, services to be stopped, or programs to be run.

Figure 3.20

FIGURE 3.20 Setting alert definitions.

Monitoring Sessions and Services

Every time a device such as a computer or server communicates with the ISA Server, that particular session is logged and displayed in the Sessions tab of the Monitoring Node. This tab enables individual client sessions to be listed and monitored. Individual sessions can also be disconnected from this tab, via the Disconnect Session link in the Tasks Pane.

In addition to the Sessions tab, the server can be monitored via the Services tab, shown in Figure 3.21, which shows the current status of each of the critical ISA Services. Each service can be stopped from this console, and the length of time that the service has been running is also displayed.

Figure 3.21

FIGURE 3.21 Viewing the Services node.

Generating Reports

ISA’s reporting mechanism is one of the best features of the application. It enables administrators to quickly create useful, accurate reports pulled from data in the ISA logs, such as the one shown in Figure 3.22.

Figure 3.22

FIGURE 3.22 Looking at a sample ISA Server report.

ISA Reports analyze activity that occurs on the ISA server over a period of time, and can include the following fields of information:

  • Summary  The report summary includes the most commonly utilized report findings, such as the most utilized protocols, the top users and websites, cache performance, and traffic patterns.
  • Web Usage  The Web Usage field generated by ISA includes specifics on how the web is being used by ISA clients, such as the types of objects requested, the most commonly accessed web sites, and other facts.
  • Application Usage  Application usage analyzes the types of applications that are accessed through ISA, including the protocols and operating systems used to access them.
  • Traffic and Utilization  Traffic and utilization refer to the types of network data traffic that flows through ISA, any errors encountered, and the performance of the content cache.
  • Security  The Security field focuses on identifying authorization failures, which can indicate hacking attempts, and a dropped packet analysis, which together enable ISA Administrators to perform intrusion detection.

Each of the report fields specified can be customized further to include additional information. In addition, ISA reports can be automatically generated on a defined basis and saved to a remote network location for viewing by other administrators and for archive purposes.

Verifying Connectivity

Connectivity verifiers in the Monitoring node of the ISA Console are mechanisms that allow administrators to perform simple monitoring on network services and functionality. They make it possible to monitor certain servers and sites via an up/down services analysis. For example, a DNS Verifier might send DNS queries to the local DNS server to ensure that it is operational. If the verifier fails to contact the service, an Alert is generated.

ISA Server 2004 organizes various connectivity verifiers into different group types, which can be chosen when running the New Connectivity Verifier Wizard, as shown in Figure 3.23. These Group Types are then displayed on the Dashboard, which allows for quick up/down status on services within the network. The default Group types are listed as follows:

Figure 3.23

FIGURE 3.23 Choosing connectivity verifier group types.

  • Active Directory  This type of connectivity verifier attempts to establish a Light Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) connection to an Active Directory Domain Controller.
  • DHCP  A DHCP verifier simply sends Ping requests to a local DHCP server to verify that the DHCP server is responding.
  • DNS  A DNS connectivity verifier is configured by default to also Ping DNS servers to validate functionality. It can be customized to send requests to the DNS service as well, however.
  • Others  By default, this group type is used to organize any custom connectivity verifiers created by the administrator. It uses Ping by default, but can also be modified to attempt to connect to any number of ports.
  • Published Servers  The Published Servers Group type is used to organize verifiers to servers for which ISA has publishing rules set up.
  • Web (Internet)  The Web (Internet) group is used for verifying outbound Internet connectivity by performing occasional HTTP "GET" requests to web servers on the Internet.

Logging ISA Access

The Logging tab in the Monitoring node gives administrators an extremely useful tool for troubleshooting connection failures and monitoring content flow. The Logging tab allows the ISA activity to be displayed in real time, with each and every network packet sent and processed by the ISA server displayed in the Central Details pane, such as the logs shown in Figure 3.24.

Figure 3.24

FIGURE 3.24 Viewing ISA Server logs.

The logging tab is a great troubleshooting tool for ISA Server. For example, if a new server publishing rule has been established, but it doesn’t allow traffic the way the administrator intended, the ISA logging tab can be referenced to view the real-time communications to the server and determine whether the packets are being dropped, and which rule is dropping them. This function alone makes the logging component of ISA Server one of the most commonly accessed modules in the Console.

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