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Open Source Network Monitoring at SCALE 5x

posted Apr 17, 2013, 1:27 PM by John Jones   [ updated Apr 17, 2013, 2:02 PM ]

(Article originally posted at InfoWorld Magazine)

More news from last week’s SCALE 5x event in Los Angeles! There were three network monitoring systems represented at the event. Zenoss, OpenNMS, and GroundWork all had booths at SCALE. These are definitely 3 of the heavy hitters in Open Source network monitoring. Zenoss and OpenNMS are pure Open Source applications, while GroundWork uses a hybrid model where the basic application is Open Source, but to get the extra nice icing-on-the-cake features you pay for an annual subscription. We hope to get all three of these (and more) setup here at q!Bang Solutions in the future for a full-on comparison of Open Source network monitoring systems.


Zenoss is a 100% Open Source application for network monitoring written in Python using the Zope framework. How does Zenoss (the company) make money? They provide support, consulting, and training for Zenoss (the software project). This is one of the common business models in the Open Source community and seems to work quite well for many companies.

Zenoss has all of the usual features you would expect in a monitoring application such as an on-call schedule, notifications (including paging), auto-discovery of network nodes, to name just a few. It also automates the graphing of network node performance data, and can generate alerts when certain user-defined thresholds are exceeded.

One of the features of Zenoss that I find particularly appealing as a systems administrator is that Zenoss logs changes to network nodes and can alert me if I desire. So if someone with access to one of my servers decides to setup a notoriously insecure FTP service without my permission, Zenoss will promptly notify me about this and I can go give the offending individual a long lecture on network and system security.

Second up on my favorite features list is the ability to monitor configuration changes on systems. If anybody messes with my carefully planned out config files, I’ll know about it! The downside to this is that it requires a daemon to be installed and running on the target servers, but you’d have to do this anyway to monitor configuration changes on remote servers regardless of the monitoring system you use.

Rouding out my top three favorite features of Zenoss is the company’s claim that it will run on most any Unix with a reasonable GNU build environment. That means that it runs on any Linux distribution, MacOS X, and likely Solaris and FreeBSD/OpenBSD/NetBSD as well.

Zenoss looks like an excellent project, and I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty with the latest version so that I can make a full report here later.

The OpenNMS Group

OpenNMS is another 100% Open Source application. Everyone here at my company, q!Bang Solutions, has experience with OpenNMS. This is a Java based program that runs on Apache’s Tomcat Java server. The rough edges of OpenNMS were ironed out about a year ago when they got all the developers together in one place for a week-long coding marathon. Since then the good application became a mature one. It has been very stable and the features all seem to work as advertised.

Like Zenoss, OpenNMS is a complete monitoring application with standard features like automated network node discovery, event severity escalation, service level monitoring, performance graphs with threshold monitoring, and much more. OpenNMS also accepts and processes SNMP traps, and OpenNMS events can trigger scripts which connect to other systems – for example to open a help desk ticket. Of course this is the world of Open Source, so you can always create your own scripts to perform whatever functions you want.

One of the interesting new features of OpenNMS is distributed polling servers. So for instance I might have my primary OpenNMS server here in my hometown of Las Vegas, but also have a remote OpenNMS polling server hosted in a co-location cabinet in Atlanta. Then if I have customers reporting slow access times to their web servers but everything looks fine in my OpenNMS performance graphs, I can select the Atlanta polling server from the OpenNMS web interface and get a view from the “outside world”. So maybe the Atlanta polling server shows bad latency or dropped packets when trying to reach my customer’s web server here in Las Vegas, and I know to call my tier1 provider and report the problem.

When I was speaking to the OpenNMS folks in their booth at SCALE, they told me that there is another developer coding marathon coming up later this year. I’m looking forward to seeing what new features they crank out from this year’s code-a-thon. OpenNMS is a great monitoring system that continues to improve at a rapid pace!

The OpenNMS Group is the company built around OpenNMS (the application). The OpenNMS Group provides support, custom programming, training, and professional services for OpenNMS. The OpenNMS community uses a wiki to provide news, documentation, and access to the source code.


GroundWork is one of the many hybrid Open Source companies who were displaying at the SCALE event. These hybrid companies provide a basic version of their product under an Open Source license, while the more advanced version with the latest bells and whistles is only available as a commercial product which costs money.

According to GroundWork’s comparison sheet on their web site, the Open Source version includes:

  • availability monitoring
  • monitoring servers, devices, and applications
  • web-based configuration
  • alarms, notifications, escalations
  • documentation

However, in order to get the following features, you need to pay for their Professional version via an annual subscription:

  • reporting and exceptions analysis
  • profiles encapsulate monitoring “best practices”
  • integrate multiple monitoring data (traps, logs)
  • integrate performance monitoring
  • custom groupings
  • integrate event console views
  • support with regular maintenance/updates
  • deployment options and services
  • executive-level dashboards
  • reports with custom report creation

Groundwork also offers a small business edition of their commercial product, which limits your monitoring to 50 devices, and is missing a few reporting and dashboard features.

Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE)

See what you missed out on? Keep an ear to the ground for next year’s SCALE event. It was a steal at $70 for the exhibit and three days of seminars. See you there in 2008!

High Mobley
Co-Owner of q!Bang Solutions