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.

RE: Why Only Two?

John Willis over at IT Management and Cloud Blog posted an interesting post I’d like to reply to.

The key question is will “Enterprise” customers make an investment in companies like OpenNMS and Nagios with out the warm and fuzzy that “Software Companies” provide.

That’s certainly an interesting perspective John…

It isn’t that Nagios/OpenNMS aren’t hitting enterprise customers. It is the nature of the sale that is different.

Nagios/OpenNMS is more of a bottom up kinda sell. Network technicians use the projects without telling the higher ups and hopefully they can spring for consultancy and training later on after they’ve derived value from it.

The “mighty two” (Zenoss/Hyperic) sell in a more traditional “enterprise” way by going through the CIO and getting a “Big 4 lite” sale.

As impressive as OpenNMS, and Nagios have been bootstrapping themselves it is extremely difficult for them to compete at the enterprise level without the same kind of funding that Hyperic and Zenoss have.

Ultimately, If you are right, then the “mighty two” products should be substantially better, more feature rich than Nagios/OpenNMS.

What features in the “mighty two” aren’t available in Nagios/OpenNMS?

Tweets as open source network management metric

The folks over at TweetVOLUME have produced a tool for counting the mentions of words or phrases on the Twitter micro-blogging platform.

I thought that it would be an interesting, though not especially significant, metric for comparing open source projects.

twitter-volume-ossnms-comparison.JPG

The graph above shows the number of twits in which Zenoss, Nagios, Hyperic, OpenNMS or MRTG were mentioned according to the TweetVolume algorithm.

The graph once again shows that Nagios is ahead of everybody. The rest are too close to draw any meaningful conclusions.

You can experiment yourself. Enjoy!

Re: Show Me Da Money (a Cautionary Tale)

A piggy bank stuffed with moneyThis is a reply to Tarus Balog’s Show Me Da Money (a Cautionary Tale) post.

Tarus has labelled the business model of giving away an open source core but selling proprietary extensions as shareware open source.

It’s a great term, but I don’t think it’s wholly appropriate.

If the Hyperic & Zenoss communities have a problem with the licensing terms of the commercial extensions then they are in a great position to circumvent it.

The community can re-group and build their own fully open source extensions.

If a proprietary software company provides tools under terms not acceptable to you then you either don’t use the software or you have to put up with the terms. Put up or shut up.

Both Zenoss and Hyperic have opened up their core platform. Their users have a choice. If they wish they can circumvent any commercial offerings.

I’m not saying that, to use Tarus’s phrase, shareware open source is the same as a completely open source product. I am saying that both Hyperic & Zenoss have opened up as much as they can, and that by doing so, they have sown the seeds that will prevent them from straying too far from the best interests of their respective communities.

So, Zenoss & Hyperic: don’t upset your respective communities or you may find they go off and create a new community without you. That’s just not possible with a completely proprietary product.

Open source network management comparison 2007

Mark Hinkle from Zenoss sent me a link to an interesting document he prepared yesterday.

Open source network management download comparison 2007

I think Mark may be over egging Zenoss “clear market leadership” but without any doubt their growth over the last year has been impressive.

Perhaps the most impressive thing to take away is that all of the projects featured have grown over the last year.

Open source network management download comparison

One of the great things about sourceforge, apart from the cool services they provide free to open source projects, is that they provide statistics about the projects they host.

One of the stats that sourceforge provides is a history of project downloads. You can’t compare the stats though. So I thought it would be interesting to compare the downloads for the major open source network management projects.

The volume of downloads is indicative, like search trends, of the relative mind share for each project. Download volume isn’t a perfect measure, but it is one of the best available. I doubt even the projects themselves have an absolutely accurate idea of how many installations they have.

I entered the download data from sourceforge for the last year into a Google Spreadsheet. I then graphed the data. See the graphs below. The data covers the previous year, from November 2006 through to October 2007.


Figure 1: Open Source Network Management Projects by Monthly Downloads


Figure 2: Open Source Network Management Projects Total Downloads

I’ve compared five projects: Nagios, OpenNMS, Zenoss, Hyperic & Groundwork Open Source all of whom host their downloads at sourceforge.

I doubt the graph will surprise too many people. The graph is similar to the Google Trends data. Both Nagios and Zenoss are vying for the top position. What has surprised me over the last year has been the stability of the number of Nagios downloads.

If the growth of the “new wave” is coming from other open source projects, it isn’t coming from either Nagios or OpenNMS, the most mature “old skool” open source network management projects.

I don’t think there is much doubt that both Zenoss & Hyperic have brought commercial levels of setup and configuration to the open source network management market. And yet, Nagios a tool that relies on manual configuration, is still gaining traction.

Once you have a loyal community, by delivering and supporting successive releases over an extended time, users are loath to move to another project.

Perhaps perversely, the harder a tool is to learn, the more reluctant users are to migrate to another tool. A kind of open source Stockholm syndrome.

I’m sure that all of the new wave players understand the value of community…that’s why they are going hell for leather building them. 🙂

“New wave” network management buzz comparison

Google Trends is an on-line service for comparing the search volumes for up to five keywords. I thought it would be interesting to compare the relative buzz of the new wave” open source network management players between themselves, but also between other open source projects and commercial products.

Google Trends doesn’t supply the search volumes themselves, so no quantitative data will be presented. The data that is presented is solely comparative. You can see, over time, which keywords are being searched for the most. Please note: you cannot infer any intent from the search volume. The searchers may be looking for general product information, installation notes or just about anything else. I have assumed that the search patterns are the same between the various projects/products.

I have omitted Groundwork Open Source & SolarWinds Orion on the basis that the search volumes are distorted by the search terms having multiple meanings.

Hyperic vs Zenoss

Hyperic vs Zenoss Search TrendFigure 1: Hyperic vs Zenoss Search Trend

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate both Zenoss & Hyperic for appearing in Google Trends. That’s no mean feat in itself.

Zenoss is winning the search war, no doubt about it. Figure 1 shows that Zenoss search volume looks to be about double Hyperic’s level. One reason for that may be the relative communities that Zenoss can plug into: Python & Zope. Both are very definite communities that are going to be very vocal about projects they like. Hyperic is written in Java: Java doesn’t really have a close knit community in the same way that Python does.

Zenoss is also more customisable by sysadmins. As Zenoss is written in Python and Python is a very easy to learn scripting language, sysadmins are going to find customising and extending Zenoss pretty easy. Hyperic is not easy to customise and extend. Java takes a lot of expertise to program properly, especially in complex environments like network management applications. Perhaps Hyperic should consider adopting a Java friendly scripting language like Jython?

New wave vs Non-commercial Open Source Projects

New wave vs Open Source Projects TrendFigure 2: New wave vs Open Source Projects Trend

Figure 2 shows the relative search volume between Hyperic, Zenoss, MRTG, Nagios and OpenNMS. The first thing that struck me is the massive search volume for MRTG. WOW! Given how far behind in terms of features and performance MRTG is behind the rest it is quite staggering how many searches it receives. MRTG is losing search volume though, down by two thirds since the beginning of 2004. Nagios has done very well, gaining search volume throughout the last three years.

What does the graph mean for Hyperic & Zenoss?

  • Nagios is a formidable competitor;
  • Taking users away from the existing open source projects isn’t going to be either quick or easy. Take MRTG as an example. There are a number of credible competitors to MRTG like OpenNMS, Cacti, Nagios in addition to Zenoss & Hyperic and yet MRTG has lost search volume quite slowly over an extended period.

Commercial Products vs New Wave

OpenView/NetIQ vs New WaveFigure 3: OpenView/NetIQ vs New Wave

The most surprising thing about Figure 3 is the downward trend on both of the commercial tools: OpenView & NetIQ. Though, I don’t think that the downward trend can be attributed to either Zenoss or Hyperic, given that the trend started long before they came on the scene.

The number of NetIQ searches is now lower than Zenoss by volume. If the downward trend continues, both Zenoss & Hyperic will be hot on their tails.

Conclusion

Both Hyperic & Zenoss are in good health, at least according to their respective search volumes. Search volume is just one metric amongst many that I’m sure both companies monitor on a regular basis. Of far more importance to them will be the number of installations in organisations possessing a budget for network management maintenance. Unfortunately, Google Trends doesn’t have a graph for that!

The one surprising trend presented by the graphs is that neither Hyperic nor Zenoss appear to be taking searches away from other open source projects or commercial products. When I started out compiling the graphs, I expected to see the growth of new wave searches to be taking away searches from Nagios. That has proved to be completely wrong.

Is it possible that people are using multiple tools? I suspect that people tend to use network monitoring much more as a point tool rather than as some monster enterprise wide solution. It could explain why there is no obvious rise in searches for one product or project at the expense of another one.

One explanation for the lack of obvious signs of competitive attrition is the difficulty of migrating between network management tools. If the new wave wish to win over users from other tools, a concerted effort should be made to make migration from competitive tools as simple as possible.