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Zenoss or Nagios? Your All-Seeing Network Eye in the Sky

One of the most common questions when comparing network monitoring tools is "What does Zenoss do that Nagios doesn't?"

Like a lot of grumpy old network admins, you can pry my Nagios from my cold dead fingers. I know it inside out, and deep knowledge of a particular tool often gets better results that unfamiliarity with a (theoretically) superior tool. Nagios + Cacti = monitoring, alerting, and historical performance happiness.

Zenoss is one heck of a sophisticated, enterprise network monitoring, alerting, and IT systems management application that may be the better choice under certain conditions. If you're riding herd on less than 100 networked devices, or manage a static network that rarely changes it's probably overkill, though it doesn't hurt anything to try it out. (You might want to count your network hosts, as even a small network often contains more nodes than you might think: printers, laptops, tablets, routers, wireless access points, smart switches, smartphones...)

Nagios vs. Zenoss

Zenoss dashboard

Both Nagios and Zenoss have free community editions, and commercial versions with more functionality. It is easier to learn about Nagios without installing it first because there are several live demos for all Nagios versions, and you can even log in as Administrator and mess things up. The nice Zenoss people have invested considerable effort into producing flashy videos, Webex sessions, whitepapers, and blogs, but it is all heavily-larded with marketingspeak, there are no live hands-on demos like there are for Nagios, and the enterprise evaluation and some of the presentations require jumping through registration or salespeople hoops. (Fie on Webex anyway, as it is unreliable and never wants to work for me.)

The "killer feature" that used to set Zenoss apart is its excellent network host auto-detection. Nagios has this now via a number of good third-party plugins that detect hosts and write Nagios configuration files for them. Nagios has mobile plugins, high-availability, mass quantities of plugins, and it's not hard to write your own, so it is easy to customize.

Both have cloud support, and reams of good documentation: books, howtos, blogs, videos, and even the official vendor docs are pretty good.

Zenoss Service Dynamics

So when would you choose Zenoss over Nagios? When you have a large, complex network: multiple locations, networked storage, virtual machines, clouds, mobile devices, and whatever else people are stuffing into their IT infrastructures these days. Zenoss Service Dynamics (not included in the free core) gives a complete, real-time picture of a complex dynamic network. Its most valuable ability, in my sometimes humble opinion, is the dependency and service mapping that shows the relationships between all of your various network elements. This is priceless when you're troubleshooting, because it shows the exact linkages between services, servers, virtual machines, and storage. They even have a feature called "Automated Root Cause Analysis" for zeroing in on problem spots.

Zenoss bundles some nice analytics so you can easily track workloads and find bottlenecks. It even has some flashy predictive analytics to help plan when and where to add capacity.

You can automate responses and fixes for problems. For example, stop and start services when certain performance thresholds are reached, send alerts to humans, generate trouble tickets, and trigger custom scripts to do whatever else you might want, like re-allocating cloud resources.

A Bit More Than Pointy-Clicky

If you do decide to go with Zenoss, there are a few caveats you must know about. Zenoss has a pretty AJAX-based Web interface, but it still requires a bit more effort and knowledge than point-and-click. You still need to understand snmp, MIBs, Linux networking utilities, network protocols, and the servers and services you're monitoring. Zenoss offers online training courses via Webex. These are all things any network admin should know, but sometimes people get the idea that a pretty interface means you don't need to know anything.

The dashboard is customizable with the addition or removal of portlets (see above), and there are all kinds of community-supported portlets to try in addition to the stock portlets. If you know a bit of Python or JavaScript you can write your own.

Zenoss runs on the usual LAMP stack, and Zenoss Core is included in a number of Linux distributions for easy installation and updates. You can also download VMWare images for Linux, Mac, and Windows, and binary stack installers that bundle all dependencies for Linux and Mac. Source tarballs should build on pretty much any Unix-y operating system.

 

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  • curious Said:

    What can Zenoss do that Zabbix can't?

  • JT Said:

    When ever you compare product "A" to product "B" your bound to start a holy war. But just to add my 2 cents to it. I have used both Zenoss and Nagios for years both good products. But when the need arises for some complex monitoring solution I find myself almost almost always reaching to Zabbix to fulfill the needs. And just to through another cent out Zabbix isn't just open core it's truly open.

  • David Dreggors Said:

    Personally I have always found Zenoss to be far easier to get going than Nagios. Admittedly it has been 2 years since I tried setting up Nagios now, but from what I see on current articles and blogs it is not that different from when I last bothered with Nagios. Zenoss comes with some pretty nice configs for a basic setup and the autodetection was built in so no need to hunt down and install a 3rd party plugin. Also, with plugins you always have to ask "which one?". Finally, and again this is opinion that is based on my experiences with both... Zenoss dashboard and the way you move around (ex. drill down) in the interface has always seemed to make more sense to me, it just seemed more intuitive. I did not have to leave the webapp to script new commands or checks either, there is a built in method for adding new scripted commands right in the interface. It takes regular shell commands that can be paired with zenoss macros for current hostname, ip, etc... So if I need to run a specific snmpwalk on a single (currently selected) host that singes out only uptime, disk space, etc... I can add that command right in the interface. I do not have to learn how to edit very confusing Nagios configs.

  • vgrig Said:

    "marketingspeak" is a reason enough to stay away from Zenoss. Nagios + Cacti DOES = monitoring in my book as well... I would add racktables for network inventory as a must in well setup network - which is an ideal i would guess none of us ever achieve. :-P

  • Samuel Rocha Said:

    Look, Nagios + Centreon are perfect for whatever you need! Best regards.

  • Daniele Said:

    Zenoss does not run on top of LAMP stack, it's a ZOPE (python) application. For storage it uses manly ZODB; MySQL is used only for certain stuff (like events log). Zenoss is very resource-intensive compared to nagios, but it's easiest to manage and an order of magnitude fastest to deploy.

  • Donnie Said:

    One slight oversight in your article. . . Live Nagios training is available via GoToMeeting. And, whenever possible, customers requests for specialized topics are honored. (I should know. I'm one of the official Nagios trainers.) http://www.nagios.com/services/training

  • D Said:

    First of all, Nagios+Cacti=crappy, frustrating, janky looking, barely usable dreck. (Cacti. Please, are you kidding?) I have not tried Zenoss, but would be willing to try anything to replace the above combination. What I have tried and found extremely useful is Zabbix. I'm at a loss as to why it's not more widely used in the US; I get a lot of blank stares when I mention Zabbix. All I can say is, if you're at the point of replacing nagios/cacti, or starting fresh on a new monitoring platform, definitely take a look at Zabbix and it's support community. Oh yeah, Zabbix is open source, with the option of paid support as well. Cheers!

  • willieb Said:

    Can't say that I agree. Maybe it depends on what you are monitoring? Tried zabbix and didn't like it at all. Can't monitor Cisco switches/routers out of the box? Seemed more of an enterprise monitoring tool to me, like spiceworks without ads. I have used Cacti for years and love it. It works for all my graphical and historical monitoring needs. For up/down status and alerts we use whatsup but it's an old version, never much liked it at all. Was here when I got here. I have installed nagios and have been testing for about a week now. I like it fine but I am installing zenoss appliance as I type. We'll see how it goes...

  • Network Monitoring Services Said:

    Thanks for such a informative sharing ..... You mentioned the working differences in Nagios and Zenoss it was perfect . Network monitoring play a important role in enterprise level or in highly network business. These days most of the high profile companies those having more than one branch are connected through networking . And if there occur any issue into the network so whole process was interrupt. So Network Monitoring is one of the best key to protect your network and all date safe by unwanted stuff's . And Nagios and Zenoss is one the best tools with individual functionality to monitoring your network and keep them safer . Now a days due to increase in network uses 24x7 Network Monitoring is needed and these can be done by this software and even they let us know the hosting server details directly or by third party hosting details.

  • T Said:

    Its worth pointing out that Service Dynamics isn't in Zenoss Core, neither it is available to test out without jumping through all sorts of qualification hoops. That said, Zenoss Core is a very good free product. Maybe even too good for Zenoss Inc. I doubt Service Dynamics is worth the big bucks Zenoss ask, but then again I haven't seen it yet ;) Since Service Dynamics is not in the Zenoss Core product I'm wondering why its referenced in this review. Nagios Core is dreadful. Tricky install and config, outdated UI, poor reporting tools (even in Xi) etc. The only thing they've got going for them is the brand strength (due to longevity rather than quality) and the size of their community. The number of spin offs from Nagios is testimony to the fact that its really unsuitable for enterprise deployment. No doubt others will disagree with me on this point. Zabbix is a much better product but I doubt the strength of the company's business model. Services-only doesn't fly with many orgs because, as somebody said above, you have "...the option of paid support as well". This is not an 'option' most users take up, reducing cash into their business and slowing down product development. Zabbix has the advantage of being based in the Baltic States so their overheads will be lower, I suppose. Still, imo Zabbix suffers from a fairly unfriendly UI (imo), tricky configuration plus weak reporting capabilities compared to the competition. I do work for a monitoring company but won't reference it here for the sake of fairness. Only wanted to point out some points made in this review + comments.

  • Brian Said:

    Im a huge fan of Centreon. Nagios, but prettier :P

  • nilie Said:

    Being involved in a migration from Nagios+Cacti to Zenoss I had the chance to get first-hand experience with the two systems. Each has its own upsides and downsides and this migration was the result of lots of trade-offs. Nagios has two features where it is better not only than Zenoss but many other NMS. One is the L3 device dependency and the other is the elaborate and flexible (in my opinion) alerting system. While Zenoss has a powerful enough alerting system, it sorely lacks any sort of device dependency. To compensate for this, Zenoss brings in a basic inventory management function, a powerful and elegant graphing solution (better than Cacti and better than any other solution, IMHO) and an integrated syslog module with powerful parsing capabilities out of the box. In the end, as Carla was saying, the system you know best works best for you. One extra factor that in our case tipped the balance in Zenoss favor was the nature of our environment. We're using Zenoss for our Telecom infrastructure and I would suggest to any person looking for a monitoring solution for telecom to seriously consider Zenoss. This kind of environment is special, you have a moderate number (in the hundreds) of devices with little to none network services (except maybe ssh and snmp), mostly snmp based but with huge number of interfaces (in the tens of thousands) which are being constantly polled and graphed. A part from device discovery, Zenoss has an automated device modeling module which makes performance monitoring (and admin's life) extremely easy.

  • sreekanth Said:

    I prefer opennms . It is better than nagios .

  • SteveR Said:

    Well, we tried all the above and ended up with CloudView NMS http://www.cloudviewnms.com , because of its simplicity and instant out-of-box set of the features we needed. Scalable to thousands of nodes , can monitor/manage practically anything because it is based on standards (SNMP, sysLog, TL-1 , e-mail alerts....more). A lot of really useful features , network inventory, maps, services monitoring, standard MIBs GUI, etc... Remote multi-user web access, supported on any Linux.


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