Zenoss and the Art of Network Monitoring

If a server goes down, do you want to hear it?

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This the classic query designed to place your mind into the Zen-like state known as the silent mind. Whether or not you want to hear a tree fall, if you run a network, you probably want to hear a server when it goes down. Many organizations utilize the long-established Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) as a way to monitor their networks proactively and listen for things going down.

At a rudimentary level, SNMP requires only two items to work: a management server and a managed device (or devices). The management server pulls status and health information at regular intervals from the managed devices and stores the information in a table. Managed devices use local SNMP agents to notify the management server when defined behavior occurs (such as errors or “traps”), which are stored in the same table on the server. The result is an accurate, real-time reporting mechanism for outages. However, SNMP as a protocol does not stipulate how the data in these tables is to be presented and managed for the end user. That's where a promising new open-source network-monitoring software called Zenoss (pronounced Zeen-ohss) comes in.

Available for most Linux distributions, Zenoss builds on the basic operation of SNMP and uses a comprehensive interface to manage even the largest and most diverse environment. The Core version of Zenoss used in this article is freely available under the GPLv2. An Enterprise version also is available with additional features and support. In this article, we install Zenoss on a CentOS 5.1 system to observe its usefulness in a network-monitoring role. From there, we create a simulated multisystem server network using the following systems: a Fedora-based Postfix e-mail server, an Ubuntu server running Apache and a Windows server running File and Print services. To conserve space, only the CentOS installation is discussed in detail here. For the managed systems, only SNMP installation and configuration are covered.

Building the Zenoss Server

Begin by selecting your hardware. Zenoss lacks specific hardware requirements, but it relies heavily MySQL, so you can use MySQL requirements as a rough guideline. I recommend using the fastest processor available, 1GB of memory, fast enough hard disks to provide acceptable MySQL performance and Gigabit Ethernet for the network. I ran several test configurations, and this configuration seemed adequate enough for a medium-size network (100+ nodes/devices). To keep configuration simple, all firewalls and SELinux instances were disabled in the test environment. If you use firewalls in your environment, open ports 161 (SNMP), 8080 (Zenoss Management Page) and 514 (if you integrate syslog with Zenoss).

Install CentOS 5.1 on the server using your own preferences. I used a bare install with no X Window System or desktop manager. Assign a static IP address and any other pertinent network information (DNS servers and so forth). After the OS install is complete, install the following packages using the yum command below:

yum install mysql mysql-server net-snmp net-snmp-utils gmp httpd

If the mysqld or the httpd service has not started after yum installs it, start it and set it to run for your configured runlevel. Next, download the latest Zenoss Core .rpm from Sourceforge.net (2.1.3 at the time of this writing), and install it using rpm from the command line. To start all the Zenoss-related dæmons after the .rpm has been installed, type the following at a command prompt:

service zenoss start

Launch a Web browser from any machine, and type the IP address of the Zenoss server using port 8080 (for example, http://192.168.142.6:8080). Log in to the site using the default account admin with a password of zenoss. This brings up the main dashboard. The dashboard is a compartmentalized view of the state of your managed devices. If you don't like the default display, you can arrange your dashboard any way you want using the various drop-down lists on the portlets (windows). I recommend setting the Production States portlet to display Production, so we can see our test systems after they are added.

Almost everything related to managed devices in Zenoss revolves around classes. With classes, you can create an infinite number of systems, processes or service classifications to monitor. To begin adding devices, we need to set our SNMP community strings at the top-level /Devices class. SNMP community strings are like passphrases used to authenticate traffic between devices. If one device wants to communicate with another, they must have matching community names/strings. In many deployments, administrators use the default community name of public (and/or private), which creates a security risk. I recommend changing these strings and making them into a short phrase. You can add numbers and characters to make the community name more complex to guess/crack, but I find phrases easier to remember.

Click on the Devices link on the navigation menu on the left, so that /Devices is listed near the top of the page. Click on the zProperties tab and scroll down. Enter an SNMP community string in the zSNMPCommunitiy field. For our test environment, I used the string whatsourclearanceclarence. You can use different strings with different subclasses of systems or individual systems, but by setting it at the /Devices class, it will be used for any subclasses unless it is overridden. You also could list multiple strings in the zSNMPCommunities under the /Devices class, which allows you to define multiple strings for the discovery process discussed later. Make sure your community string (zSNMPCommunity) is in this list.

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snmp on windows

prmpl's picture

on windows systems you could install snmp informant http://www.snmp-informant.com/ so you will get more informations

Excellent article for the

ACS's picture

Excellent article for the beginner, but this is just starting. The more you work , more you will learn the new features of highly customizable great software zenoss core.

Modification required

Ty Hahn's picture

Hi, I'm Ty Hahn and one of the biggest fan of LJ.
I really enjoyed this article. While reading, I found a tiny mistake and that's why I'm here.
On page 73, the SNMP configuration file for Ubuntu to change must be '/etc/default/snmpd' instead of '/etc/snmp/default'.
I hope this helps to save somebody's precious time.
Thanks.

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