Open source network management activity comparison

The recent controversy over the ICINGA Nagios fork brought into focus the relative activity of the various network management projects.

One of the main complaints aimed at Nagios was the slow speed of development. The following graphs, taken from the open source directory ohloh, show the number of commiters and the number of commits over the last three years for Nagios, OpenNMS and Wireshark. I can’t vouch for how accurate the stats are but I think they do provide some insight into the development processes of the respective projects.

I’ve used OpenNMS, Wireshark and Nagios as the basis for the comparison because all three are mature, successful open source network management projects of similar age. Wireshark and OpenNMS dwarf Nagios both in the number of contributors and the number of commits. Commits themselves can be misleading, a commit into the source repository doesn’t indicate what the commit contained, whether it was a simple bug fix to a single file¬† or a very large new feature requiring hundreds of changes. There is no reason to think that Nagios commits are inherently larger than Wireshark or OpenNMS commits.

Looking at the graphs, perhaps there was a problem with the structure of the Nagios project.

Open source network management buzz comparison 2008

As it’s the start of a new year I thought it would be an ideal time to look back over the year just gone. I have used Google Trends to compare the number of searches during 2008 of various open source and proprietary network management tools.

Whilst search volume is an interesting metric for network management tools, it is not intended to be in any way indicative of the usefulness of a particular tool. If you want to choose a tool, start from your own requirements first and select a tool from that.

Open Source Network Management System Trends

First up is a comparison of the major open source network management systems. Nagios, as one of the oldest open source projects in network management,  still has a huge community of users and, in spite of a number of very good competitors, appears to be holding its own.

MRTG during 2008 does show signs of continued decline. Hardly surprising given that a number of very capable competitors exist that are much easier to install and configure.

Zenoss, Hyperic and OpenNMS are all doing well, retaining substantial levels of searches with Zenoss retaining its early lead.

Open Source Network Management System Trend 2008
Open Source Network Management System Trend 2008

A Comparison of the Nagios Ecosystem

Nagios is a significant open source project in and of itself. In addition, it also has an ecosystem of tools built on top of it as well. There are three main nagios core tools: GroundWork Open Source, Centreon and OpsView.

I haven’t been able to use Groundwork Open Source because a comparison wouldn’t be valid given how many words it is made up of. Many people may well type in Groundwork instead of Groundwork Open Source even though you will get a lot of civil engineering related results.

Configuration is one area Nagios is not very user friendly to new users, relying upon editing configuration files for changes. Both Centreon and OpsView provide an improved configuration experience, reducing or completely removing the need to directly edit configuration files. Surprisingly both Centreon and OpsView receive substantially fewer searches than Nagios.

A Comparison of the Nagios Ecosystem 2008
A Comparison of the Nagios Ecosystem 2008

Open vs Closed Network Management Systems

A comparison between a representative sample of both open source and proprietary tools shows an interesting trend.

Both NetIQ and OpenView are losing searches whilst the open tools are holding up well. Perhaps, money was tighter in 2008 due to the economic woes befalling many economies. OpenView has been particularly badly hit, being well down over the year as a whole.

Open vs Closed Network Management Systems 2008
Open vs Closed Network Management Systems 2008

Conclusion

The open source network management tools search volume has held up very well throughout 2008. The same cannot be said for either proprietary tools, OpenView and NetIQ. Both of the proprietary tools have seen their search volume fall. A recession started during 2008 in many countries worldwide. So, that people are searching less for expensive software tools, maybe isn’t that surprising. I doubt the Google Trends data could evidence a shift from proprietary to open source tools though, given the absence of an upshift in searches for open source tools.

A perspective on open source network monitoring tools…

…by Grig Gheorghiu over on the Agile Testing blog: The sad state of open source monitoring tools.

“I wish there was a standard nomenclature for this stuff, as well as a standard way for these tools to inter-operate. As it is, you have to learn each tool and train your brain to ignore all the weirdness that it encounters.”

One of the problems with I.T. is the absence of a standard terminology. It would make things a lot easier if everybody used a standard set of terminology. Kinda hard to see how this can be imposed though. I guess over time a standard terminology will just evolve after the industry has matured a little more.

Open source network management comparison: Support

Attribute / Project OpenNMS Nagios Zenoss Hyperic Zabbix
Peer Support
Forum X X X X X
Mailing list X X X
Commercial Support
Support contract X X X X X
Training X X X X X
Consulting X X X X X
Learning resources
Blog X X X
Book(s) X X

Update 1: Zenoss has a forum / mailing list system. Both interoperate together so a post to one goes automatically into the other

Open source network management comparison: General

Attribute / Project OpenNMS Nagios Zenoss Hyperic Zabbix
General
Licence GPL GPL GPL GPL GPL
First released 2000 1998 2006 2006 2001
Development languages Java C Python / Zope Java / C C / PHP
External dependencies RRDTool / JRobin Net-SNMP / RRDTool RRDTool SNMP4J Net-SNMP
Configuration XML files Text files Web based Web based Web based
Extensible X X X X X
User interface Web Web / WAP Web Web Web
Reporting X X X X X

Update 1: Added C to the Hyperic development languages

Open source network management comparison: Introduction

One side effect of the increased competition in open source network management is that it is becoming increasingly hard to choose which tool is right for you.

With that in mind I intend to create a comparison featuring the best known open source tools to make the process of choosing the right tool a little bit easier.

I’ll publish the comparison in tranches so that, by the end of it, a comprehensive comparison is available. The first tranches will present more general information. As the series progresses more detailed information will be presented.

The projects being compared are, in no particular order: OpenNMS, Nagios, Zenoss, Hyperic and Zabbix. These projects have been chosen because they represent the best of the “pure” open source plays and the emerging “commercial” open source companies.

Both Zenoss & Hyperic have closed source offerings. As this is an open source comparison, I will only compare the respective open source offerings.

The comparison tables include notes denoted by numbers in superscript. The tables don’t include sufficient space to include much text so any further expanatory text has been placed at the bottom of the comparison table.

Open source network management comparison: Platform

Attribute / Project OpenNMS Nagios Zenoss [1] Hyperic [2] Zabbix
Platform
Linux X X X X X
Windows X X
OSX X X X X X
Solaris X X X X X
*BSD X X X X X
Hardware Appliance X X X
Virtual Appliance X [3] X [4]

[1] Zenoss Core is used for the purpose of this comparison.

[2] Hyperic HQ is used for the purpose of this comparison.

[3] Nagios doesn’t offer a virtual appliance though a number are available through the community.

[4] Zabbix doesn’t offer a virtual appliance though a number are available through the community.