Kings of open source monitoring

Built on open source, OpenNMS and Zenoss Enterprise take different paths to rich, scalable, and extensible network and systems monitoring

That said, OpenNMS is able to monitor tens of thousands of devices, with hundreds of thousands of data collection points, from a single monitoring server, so splitting OpenNMS data collection services across multiple servers is necessary only for the largest of enterprise networks.

The OpenNMS Group is developing an iPhone app for OpenNMS monitoring. The app communicates with the OpenNMS server to allow admins to view and acknowledge alarms from their iPhones. Now you have one more argument on your side to convince your boss that the IT department needs to have iPhones instead of BlackBerrys.

The OpenNMS Group has several support options as well as training and consulting. We chose to use the GreenLight Project for this report. This got us one week with an OpenNMS consultant, whom we used to help us with installation, configuration, and some specialized integration tasks. The GreenLight Project costs $22,995 and includes one year of standard support available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on business days. The 24/7 GreenLight Project for $44,995 provides two weeks of on-site consulting, plus a year of around-the-clock support. The OpenNMS Group provides several other options, including standard support for $14,995 per year and 24/7 support for $29,995 per year. Training classes are available as well.

Zenoss Enterprise: Superior functionality

Billing itself as a "commercial open source" company, Zenoss uses a common business model in the open source world: It provides an open source version of its software for free with a limited feature set, as well as an enhanced "enterprise" version through an annual software subscription that also includes support.

The free, open source version of Zenoss, called Zenoss Core, provides a good set of basic monitoring tools, but is missing most of the more expansive features that bring the Zenoss Enterprise version up to the level of enterprise monitoring systems such as OpenView. Improved reporting, integration with Remedy and RANCID, Windows WMI support, role-based access control, and support for several commercial software applications (VMware, Oracle, and so on) are only available with the Zenoss Enterprise subscription. Although Zenoss Core is a nice piece of software, it has a limited feature set compared to HP, IBM, CA, and OpenNMS. Thus, we are using the Zenoss Enterprise software for comparison in this article.

The Enterprise annual software subscription with Platinum support (7 a.m. to 8 p.m. business days) costs $180 per network device, with price breaks starting at 1,000 devices. Considering there are no up-front costs to purchase the software, it presents itself as a competitor against such industry stalwarts as HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli. Included with the Platinum level support is a two-hour response time SLA for high-severity issues, four hours of deployment planning with a Zenoss architect, training in Zenoss administration for three, and unlimited support via e-mail, Web portal, and telephone. The Zenoss sales team noted that 24/7 support is available as well, though its pricing is not published.

My company tried using Zenoss about two and a half years ago and found that it was not reliable enough for production use. I'm glad to report that the developers at Zenoss and the Zenoss community supporters have been busily improving the software, and the hard work has paid off. Today Zenoss is stable, reliable, and ready for use in the largest network operations centers. Zenoss boasts OpSource and Rackspace among its many customers, and they both monitor tens of thousands of devices.

Zenoss boasts a full ACL implementation, allowing an administrator to provide fine-grained control over what a given user is allowed to see and do on the system. This is an important feature for service providers who need to provide customers with access to their — and only their — monitoring and performance information. Of course, the ACLs also provide an enterprise administrator with the level of control needed to give very different sets of permissions to various classes of employees who use the monitoring system.

The topology discovery capability in Zenoss will cull route tables from your Layer 3 network devices and use that information to organize a network topology. This is then used to create network diagrams, with collapsible nodes that allow you to view the network as a whole or drill down into individual collision domains to see a detailed view of a particular network segment. My favorite feature, though, is the automatic configuration of root-cause relationships between routers and other network nodes. After all, if a router goes down, there's no use in the monitoring system notifying you that it can't see all the other network devices behind that failed router!

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