Open source management-tool alternatives hit the mark

Zenoss Core wins test of open source tools with a great GUI, accurate discovery and excellent monitoring

Several open source networking vendors offer free tools that conform to the GNU licensing strategy and whose source code is readily downloadable on the Internet. If you hate to spend money, if you embrace the tenets of the Free Software Foundation or if you have programming skills you can devote to customizing and maintaining your own networking tools, then one of the three open source network management tools we tested might be right for you.

If you hate to spend money, if you embrace the tenets of the Free Software Foundation, or if you have programming skills that you can devote to customizing and maintaining your own networking tools, then one of the three open source network-management tools we tested might be right for you.

At any price and in any form, the perfect management and monitoring tool efficiently and accurately discovers servers, clients, routers, switches and other devices.

It displays a map of the discovered nodes. It checks for connectivity problems and it notices performance problems. It alerts you via e-mail or pager, and it can escalate its alerts by e-mailing or paging multiple people until the problem's fixed.

It can in some cases automatically solve a problem by restarting a program, running a script or triggering an external program. It produces reports that show network health, measure use over time and forecast trends to help you plan the network’s future capacities.

The perfect monitoring tool is reliable, secure and easy to use. The perfect open source monitoring tool is easy to extend and enhance via custom programming.

To see how open source vendors measure up to these standards, we invited them to submit their products to our Alabama lab for testing. With permission from the vendors, we downloaded Zenoss's Zenoss Core, Hyperic's Hyperic HQ and GroundWork Open Source's GroundWork Monitor.

We tested these open source tools using the same methodology (see How we tested open source management products) we used to test commercial midtier network-management products last month).

Our Clear Choice award for best open source network monitoring and management tool goes to Zenoss Core. It gave us accurate discovery as well as superior monitoring of a wide range of devices, servers and applications. It was easy to use and the Zenoss Core source code is eminently extendable.

ProductZenoss CoreHyperic HQGroundWork Monitor
VendorZenossHypericGroundWork Open Source  
Price as testedSoftware cost is free, support starts at $3,300 per year.Software cost is free, support starts at $120 per CPU socket pair.Software cost is free, support starts at $8,000 per year for GroundWork Monitor for Small Business.
ProsExcellent discovery of network resources; intuitive user interface.Impressive, complex thresholds; good reports.Good, basic network monitoring.
ConsNeeds a visual design environment for customizing reports.Remediation is a very manual process.Lacks dashboards; no ability to track Service Level Agreements.
Score4.03.63.1
The breakdown Zenoss CoreHyperic HQGroundWork Monitor
Monitoring 20%443
Reporting 20%443
Ease of use 20%433
Notifications 20%433
Corrective actions 10%443
Installation and documentation 10%444
TOTAL SCORE4.03.63.1
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Subpar or not available

Hyperic HQ stood out for its sophisticated thresholds, while we found GroundWork Monitor to be an entry-level, no-frills monitoring tool.

Conclusion

Zenoss Core is well worth investigating for use on your network. It’s a quality tool with lots of features typically found in proprietary products. Hyperic HQ’s strength is its sophisticated thresholding feature, while GroundWork Monitor is just an appetizer for the vendor’s commercial offerings.

Note that you’ll pay a hidden yet unavoidable price if you decide to make even a few programming enhancements to an open source product. You’re responsible for debugging your own code, and you’ll have to find a way to merge your code into the next version that the open source vendor releases. Nonetheless, if you have programmers with spare time on their hands, then acquiring and customizing an open source network monitoring and management product can give you a tool that integrates perfectly with the way you run your network.

Also be aware that these vendors are in business to make money. They hope you’ll need their consulting services or technical support. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, of course, but do keep your eyes open in your dealings with open source vendors.

Barry Nance runs Network Testing Labs and is the author of Introduction to Networking, 4th Edition and Client/Server LAN Programming. His e-mail address is barryn@erols.com.

NW Lab Alliance

Nance is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.

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