3 monitoring programs in one????

Well not really.  This article does a good job of explaining the difference between Nagios, Icinga and Opsview.  At the core these are all Nagios though.  Missing from this set is Groundwork Opensource which is also based on Nagios, which we reviewed last year.  If you haven’t looked at the original or these two alternatives give the article a look.  If you are evaluating Network Monitoring/Datacenter Monitoring solutions to check out Zenoss, we we also reviewed last year.  While inspired by Nagios it is a completely new process.  But as a testiment to how awesome Nagios is still can use any Nagios plugins that you just can’t live without.

Zenoss how the big four should do monitoring…

The biggest benefit to both Open Source Producers and consumers is the community.  The Zenoss community is its greatest strengths as we learned in podcast number 21 back on 3/13/2010.  The tool is being used by some large corporate customers right along side an army of small businesses. If you do not have a staff experienced with Zenoss or a large enough staff to properly roll it out, they have the ability to support any size company, for a fair fee of course.  As opposed to Groundwork which is based on Nagios, Zenoss is a completely distinct product.  Zenoss is developed as a blended company that delivers an Open Source and free to use Core product.  Zenoss also offers additional support features through their Enterprise version, for an additional fee though.

So how was Zenoss to use?  Well if you actually read the documentation and watched the videos the tool is straight forward, relatively easy to use and quick to get up and running.  After the normal initial learning curve with the UI you can start to really get to the meat and value of what the product has to offer.  Your mileage may vary, but I started to get the hang of it after watching the videos and spending about fifteen or twenty unfocused hours on it.  As has been my experience with most software, the more you know about this type of software, the easier it will be for you to get up to speed.

Let me state this again, watching the videos helped immensely, so at least start there if you do not want to read the manuals either before or as you are getting this setup.  The UI for Zenoss was the hardest item for me to learn.  While chatting with Matt and Mark from Zenoss, they assured us they understood it was a problem and that we should expect big changes in this area within the next few releases.  Once you have decoded how to work in the app, it really starts to make sense.  I could start to see the logic in what started out as chaos. 

Once you have enough data to work with, I started with just a few days worth, the tool starts to get interesting. Creating custom reports and alerts are so easy that I could easily see people ending up with report overload.  For reports, you tell the tool the server or group of servers you want to report on.  Then you tell it what out of the available metrics you want to report on and how to layout the report. The tool is all Ajax/Web Gui based and it works smoothly, and really is just that easy.

One of the neatest features in Zenoss is the way they handle alerting.  You have the option as a user to setup your own alerts.  Alerts can also be setup for groups as most normal systems do.  Why is that something neat?  I have been in very few IT shops where team members  I worked with, didn’t each have their own pet systems or applications.  Allowing each of them to set up the extra alerting they want, on a one by one basis, is one of the many signs that experienced operational engineers built this system.  There are other little things that support personnel will pick up on that just make you stop and say “WOW, someone really thought of that feature.”  It is these little differences, that as individual items, do not seem like a lot but as a collective you will quickly learn to love about this tool.  

The next big thing with Zenoss is what they call ZenPaks.  ZenPaks are groups of scripts and small applications that add functionality like a plug-in in FireFox.  This is where the strength of the Community really comes in.  I am running an ESXi Server at home on a Core i7 machine I built.  While I love the server, VMWare has intentionally encumbered several of the features that normal ESX has.  One of those is in the area of monitoring.  VMWare intentionally built the system with no SNMP based agent built-in.  With most systems, this means you are just out of luck for checking anything other than if the machine is up and has connectivity to it.  With Zenoss, there is very likely a ZenPak for that.  If a ZenPak does not already exist, there is a group of people in the community that love challenges and are eager to help you create a ZenPak for that.  This level of support is really helping the Zenoss team and community to set themselves apart.

So what didn’t I like about the product?  The UI takes serious effort to master.  The tutorials and hours of videos are a tremendous help while the Zenoss team works to make it more intuitive.  The other issue is the limited support for using SSH.  It is another area we were assured is being addressed, but took me considerable effort to figure out the first time I tried.  By contrast snmp based discovery worked perfectly, assuming that all of your machines are using the same read and write keys or user name and password.  The last minor issue is that several of the services I have running on my test machines were either misidentified, causing a failure after discovery, or missing completely.  This is easy to fix for small environments of less than 50 servers and it won’t take you a long time to correct.  Another feature I missed that would help, is the import feature as a way to add systems to your installation.

Once you have this tool up and running, you really do start forgiving the pain it put you through to get there.  Creating reports quickly and using the event correlation features starts to pay off quickly.  The Zenpaks will help you keep things monitored without having to write something custom.  All and all this is definitely a solid, scalable and flexible system for monitoring.  I suggest that you download the VM and give it  a try.

Eps. 21 – The first ever interview…Matt and Mark from Zenoss

Running Time: 38:50

The episode can be found here.

In this episoe Brian and Joe do their first interview with two of the guys from Zenoss.  Mark R. Hinkle, VP Community, and Matt Ray, Community Manager, sat down with us this week and answered a lot of our open questions about Zenoss.  No news this week so enjoy the interview.

Contact Us:

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E-Mail us podcast@linuxinstall.net

Call us by going to https://linuxinstall.net/podcast/ and clicking on the google voice button on that page.

Watch for our review of the product in a couple of weeks.

Are you monitoring your servers and Network?

In the last CTO-Brief we discussed building and managing a large number of servers.  The general response we received on reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, and in E-Mail was that the article was informative but overlooked monitoring.  Let me assure you that we did not leave monitoring out on accident.  We thought it was too large a topic for one article.  Everyone who criticized us was absolutely right about saying that once you build it, you then have to monitor it.  The reasons you need to monitor are pretty simple.  Following is our list of top five reasons for monitoring:

  1. Keeping Customers Happy – You cannot fix what you do not know is broken.  Unless you are monitoring, you will have to rely on customers to tell you when something is down.  When you do have an outage, being able to tell your customers that you are already aware and working on the problem builds their confidence in your abilities to administer the systems.
  2. Proving that you are an AWESOME administrator and/or Administration Team – I have had more than one Director of Operations tell me that we need to “tell the story” of how good we are.  Unless you can demonstrate with data and confidence that you are meeting the Service Level expectations of your customers, there really is no story to tell.
  3. Getting a restful nights sleep after a major release or update to your systems – If you are monitoring and trust those systems to do their jobs then sleeping is easy the night of a big deployment or upgrade.
  4. Performance Management – Knowing when to buy that next system or when to shutdown a server or two, is best shown with data than without.  Getting new machines approved is far easier when you can show managers a graph of how the use of a system is growing and needs to be scaled to the next level.  If your plans including a migration to a Virtual Infrastructure, monitoring lets you easily pick off the first candidates for virtualization.  The machines with the least used CPU’s and Memory can be the ones to set your site on.
  5. Troubleshooting Application Issues – Both performance and troubleshooting, benefit from being able to see what was going on when the problems occurred.  Looking at a set of pretty graphs can save hours of time looking for errors in logs and running down the wrong path to a speedy resolution.

So now we know why to monitor. Next we need to know what to monitor.  To do that, we need to know what our goals and priorities are for monitoring.  The goals for monitoring do not tell you much about which tools to use, but they do tell you how far you need to go.  For instance, if all you want to monitor is whether a server is up and functional, your monitoring needs are quite less then if you want to monitor down to an application level.

The number of open source options in the area of monitoring generally gather information in one of two ways.  The first is by use of the Simple Network Management Protocol or SNMP.  The second is with a software agent, which is usually proprietary to the monitoring software.  The more advanced systems can sometimes take a hybrid approach of both.  There are advantages to both approaches.  SNMP is a very low resource consuming system.  SNMP is supported by nearly every network device and operating system.  If not configured properly though it can be extremely insecure.  Where security is concerned, agents are not guaranteed to be any better.  What they do offer though is tighter integration between the client and hosts.  One drawback to an agent thought can be the additional system resources that they consume, but this depends on the agent in question.

In our next article we will delve deeper into one monitoring project called Nagios which is the base of several other pieces of monitoring software.  Nagios is a wonderful open source project that is amazingly feature complete.  One of the most useful features are System Templating, Hours of operations for alerting, Outage Windows, Escalation Paths and reporting.  The big complaint with it though is how painful it is to configure.  It is not overly complicated, but setup can be very tedious.  To address this, several different projects have created web based user interfaces that abstract the configuration into an easy to use system of templates and other tools to make life with Nagios as close to perfection as possible.  These tools generally incorporate other tools with painful configuration files like MRTG and Cacti for performance and usage graphing.  Both of these reporting packages are awesome projects we have used on numerous projects to show off all kinds of facts about system performance and usage. 

In the future we plan to review Zenoss, GroundWork, and Hyperion HQ.  We know this is not a complete list, but we think it is a pretty good start.  Is there one you think we are crazy to leave off?  If so please let us know in the Comments.