A reliable network monitoring and management solution must accurately detect network devices such as routers, servers, and client workstations. It must be able to display a map of the whole network, monitor the health and performance of each device, and have a way to notify someone of a problem by email, text message, or other form of communication. It should be able to fix a problem by restarting services or running specific programs. It should generate detailed reports that you can analyze easily to help prevent future incidents. Finally, a decent monitoring system must be easy to use, deploy, and customize according to your monitoring needs. Let's use these standards to see if GroundWork Monitor Community Edition is up to the task.
GroundWork Monitor Community Edition is a free edition of GroundWork Monitor Enterprise, a commercial open source network monitoring solution geared toward large enterprise customers. Free editions often have some limited functionality, but GroundWork Monitor Community Edition offers the visibility a small- to medium-sized network needs by harnessing the power of popular tools such as Nagios, MRTG, NeDi, Ganglia, Nmap, MySQL, and RRDtool.
The Community Edition supports only basic monitoring, discovery, and Nagios reporting. To get its other reporting capabilities to work you must spend some time integrating and customizing services such as Cacti and other graphical reporting services. By contrast, the commercial Professional and Enterprise editions have integrated reporting tools that you can use to generate different types of reports and analyses, and they support more devices. Although not directly indicated on GroundWork's Web site, a quick search on the Web indicates that a yearly subscription to the Professional and Enterprise editions, which gives you access to 24/7 telephone support and GroundWork's knowledge base, is priced at $16,000 and $25,000, respectively. The Community Edition gives you only one free incident and support through the community forum. To compare the features of each edition, refer to the GroundWork product comparison chart.
You can install the latest GroundWork version, 5.2, on distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4 and 5 and SUSE 9 and 10. Version 5.1 is available for Debian 4, and Ubuntu Server 6.06, Ubuntu 7.04, and 7.10. An available CD ISO installer uses CentOS as the base distribution. The downsides of the ISO are that it loads into RAM rather than the hard disk, you can use it only for evaluation purposes, and it uses the older 5.1 version of GroundWork Monitor. For easy deployment, you can also choose a VMware image package. For this article, I used the RHEL 4/5 installer.
You must meet GroundWork Monitor's hardware requirements before you can start using it. For monitoring 150 devices, the developers recommend that you have a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 80GB of hard disk space. However, for evaluation purposes, any Pentium-class machine will do the job. I used a 2.0GHz Pentium 4 machine with 2GB of RAM and 40GB of hard disk space.
I downloaded the appropriate RPM package to install GroundWork Monitor in an RHEL 5 environment. Before you proceed with the installation, you must install some prerequisites (listed on GroundWork's download page), including Perl DBI, Java JDK update 6, and the latest MySQL Community edition. Although it's easy to install these programs, GroundWork should include the prerequisites with the installation package to reduce the manual tasks and total installation time.
Once you install all the prerequisites, you can proceed to the installation of the GroundWork RPM package. The installer script checks to see if your system meets every requirement. If it doesn't, the installer will stop and tell you the problem you need to fix for complete installation. In my case, there was a discrepancy between the hostname indicated on the /etc/hosts file and the hostname of the machine itself. To fix that, I issued the
hostname command to change the hostname of the machine to the one indicated in the /etc/hosts file. I restarted the installer script; it checked that all of the requirements were met and then installed the RPM package.
To manage the GroundWork Monitor service, open a browser and type the IP address or hostname of the workstation on which GroundWork Monitor resides. For your first login, use
admin for both the username and the password. To manage the different options of GroundWork Monitor, click the square menu icon in the top-left corner. To begin, go to Administration, create a new user with administrative privilege, and add permissions.
After you have created a user with administrative privilege, you can log in and discover the devices within the network by clicking the menu icon at the top left and choosing Auto Discovery. You can then enter the IP address range that you want to scan for devices.
After discovering the devices within the network, use the Auto Discovery functionality of Nmap to add them to Nagios to be monitored. In my case, some of the discovered devices didn't display the correct OS. For example, GroundWork didn't detect the OS installed on the Windows Server 2003 machines. A quick look on the support forums indicated that I needed a Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) proxy for the Windows machines. I downloaded a program called Nagios Remote Plugin Executor (NRPE_nt), installed it on a Windows machine to act as a WMI proxy, and used it to query information from other Windows machines that use WMI. The instructions for setting up the WMI proxy are hard to understand, but fortunately, a SourceForge.net member has contributed a beginner's guide for Linux machines that makes the process much easier.
Once GroundWork Monitor discovers all of the network hosts and devices, you can add them to Nagios one by one or by group, then configure which devices each host will monitor. Customizing the devices that need to be monitored can take some time. While you may group related devices with common services or objects to be monitored and apply the same monitoring configuration, devices that have different objects to be monitored must be individually configured. You then need to group the hosts, specify a recipient for the alert notifications, configure the details to be monitored, specify alert thresholds, and more. I opted to monitor only 20 devices to give me a general overview. Once you configure the details for each host, you will be provided with a general view of your network environment.
GroundWork Monitor Community Edition's reporting services include Nagios reporting, which primarily reports the availability of services and hosts as well as the number of alerts generated. A basic performance monitor that uses RRDtool is also available. Although the Community Edition supports Cacti, a good tool for analyzing performance or network history trends, it is not integrated or readily included. I have not found any official resource that tells you how to integrate Cacti, but a search of the community forums revealed some installation instructions.
To ease deployment further, the community has contributed several plugins for integrating services such as Ganglia or for monitoring services such as Microsoft Exchange. GroundWork Monitor also features an embedded help feature, but it's neither detailed nor organized enough to be easily understood if you're new to GroundWork's services and features. Fortunately, the community forum is at your disposal in case you need help, and the beginner's guide should answer many of your questions.
I tested GroundWork Monitor by deliberately introducing problems, such as disconnecting the network connection of servers and stopping some of the applications and services that were being monitored to exceed the disk space thresholds. GroundWork Monitor reliably detected each problem and alerted the appropriate personnel via email.
Setting up GroundWork Monitor Community Edition can be a lengthy and complex process, especially if you're new to network monitoring. With many open source tools that you can integrate, such as Nagios, Ganglia, Cacti, and RRDtool, and without commercial support, GroundWork Monitor Community Edition is not easy to understand for the inexperienced. The embedded help doesn't provide enough support, so you'll need to rely on community forums or guides contributed by members. However, once set up properly, GroundWork Monitor does its job well and is reliable for monitoring both network devices and related services.
I hope future versions will improve usability by providing more guides or improving the embedded help system. I also hope to see more plugins that you can use to monitor a variety of services. A remediation feature to resolve device problems automatically would also be a welcome addition. Nevertheless, once deployed and configured properly, GroundWork Monitor proves to be a comprehensive, reliable, and flexible network monitoring and management application.