Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Website Monitoring with Mon.itor.Us

November 16, 2007

I thought it might be a good time to share another tool that we work with. After running multiple sites over the years, I eventually started looking for tools to verify my site was up and running. I started by writing my own scripts to just verify my sites were accessible and email me if there were any problems. Then I found some online services that would check this for me, but they always seemed to run into their own issues. At one job, we used Nagios which is a great piece of Open Source Software, but may be a bit of overkill to set up for simple website monitoring. If you need customized and complex monitoring, I think Nagios would clearly be the way to go, but if you have simple needs, I think easier solutions would make sense.
So while continuing my search for an optimal solution, I eventually stumbled upon Mon.itor.Us, which has been a great solution for us. It is very easy to set up, most of the services are free. It can send weekly reports or only notify you when there is a problem on your network. It has some nice features such as accessing your site from a few locations across the globe, which gives you a better picture of your site’s response time.
Mon.itor.Us offers monitoring for HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SIP, TCP, UDP, IMAP, SMTP, POP3, PING, and DNS. The site also offers other monitoring services like user agent tracking, site visitor statistics, and other options. This more than covers our simple needs: in fact, we use other services for our visitor statistics.
Mon.itor.Us isn’t perfect, but has served us well. We wanted to get SMS notifications if any of our sites went down, which isn’t a free service of Mon.itor.Us. Seeing as we didn’t want to set up our own monitoring and dealing with enabling SMS, it was easily worth the $5 dollars that we spent to enable SMS notifications for our account. The time saved by outsourcing this function of our IT easily covers the minor cost. The only other complaint is that the site’s UI can sometimes be confusing. For instance, when I was trying to edit my account information, I could only figure out how to add new accounts, but not edit existing ones. It turned out that after viewing the ‘new account’ form you could then click on existing account names to edit them. The dual use of the form which initially is only for adding accounts wasn’t clear to me. Other than these minor complaints the service has worked extremely well for us.
Mon.itor.Us has made it simple for us to not worry about monitoring Seekler, so we can focus on other things like coding.

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Review of using Trac for project management

October 14, 2007

After entering our 500th ticket into our project management tool, I thought it was probably time to talk about our tool of choice. Trac is a simple open source project management tool. We decided to use Trac because of its reputation of being simple and easy-to-use in the open source world. I think the project is probably described best on its website:
“Trac is an enhanced wiki and issue tracking system for software development projects. Trac uses a minimalistic approach to web-based software project management. Our mission is to help developers write great software while staying out of the way. Trac should impose as little as possible on a team’s established development process and policies.” –Trac website
Ben and I had both used other issue or bug tracking software previously, but found that sometimes the software was overkill for the needs of developers. I think we have both been happy with Trac, which while keeping it simple has helped us to organize, prioritize, and share development duties. In my previous experience with other issue tracking software I frequently found that the software was more in my way and harder to deal with than was worth the effort. Most of the time, Trac has been a pleasure to use.
There are many ways teams can use project management software. I will describe the most helpful ways we have been utilizing Trac. If there are other ways teams have found project management tools especially useful let us know.

  • Using Trac we set milestones with deadlines, which help prioritize our development towards our next release’s goals.
  • Viewing progress on our current milestone, which helps us to estimate our release schedule.
  • We create bugs and issues which by default are assigned to the ‘nobody’ user, which either of us can accept and begin working on.
  • We can assign certain tasks to the ‘both’ user, which lets us know this is an issue we need to discuss before either of us moves forward on the ticket.
  • After fixing a bug we assign the ticket back to who ever created it so they can verify it was fixed as expected.
  • We have a ‘future’ milestone that we use to create tickets about ideas for additional features or improvements that we aren’t planning on working on soon, but want to be reminded of in the future.
  • Using Trac lets us have a searchable archive of bugs, issues, and features which we can review as necessary.

We have had a few complaints with Trac.

  • The search feature doesn’t work well. Trac needs an advanced search with options like don’t search closed tickets.
  • No batch editing. We frequently have wanted to make the same change to a large collection of tickets.
  • There should be more sorting options after a query. I frequently want to sort by two options such as by ticket owner and priority.
  • Trac is kind of slow.

We have found it too slow to quickly just enter bugs, which we discover while working on some other issue. If entering a ticket takes much time it can throw off your train of thought. We normally deal with this, by writing issues on a piece of paper and entering them into Trac later. We still find ourselves occasionally building up a list of a bunch of trivial fixes and sharing a piece of paper or a whiteboard to see who is working on what and when each issue is complete. We only tend to do this if we just build up a bunch of tiny issues we plan on taking care of by the end of the day and many of the fixes could be fixed in nearly the same amount of time as creating a ticket in Trac. We also recently started using Trac through mod_python, which has helped to decrease the lag of the system. I will admit that we are running our bug tracking software on pretty old hardware, so I am sure running it on a decent machine would really help as well.
For a small team looking to manage their bugs and issues quickly, I doubt you could find a better product than Trac out there right now. It is easy to install, configure, and use. You also can’t really beat the price (free). For a team on a budget, that is always a nice bonus. Anyways, we know there are many options for issue management and we decided we should share our experience with Trac, which has worked well for our situation.
Trac – Integrated SCM & Project Management