Best open source network monitoring tools

Cacti, Icinga, Zabbix and Observium are all capable network monitoring tools. Beyond the basics, there are quite a few differences in terms of features, granularity and configuration options.

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Stephen Sauer

Comparing monitoring tools

Network monitoring is a key component in making sure your network is running smoothly. We tested four open source network monitoring products: Cacti, Icinga, Zabbix and Observium. We found all four products to be capable network monitoring tools that performed well in our basic tasks such as checking for host availability and measuring bandwidth usage. Beyond the basics, there were quite a few differences in terms of features, granularity and configuration options.

(See the full review.)

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Overall we liked Zabbix, which was easy to install, has an intuitive user interface and enough granularity to perform most network monitoring tasks. Zabbix is all open source. There is no separate paid Enterprise version. This means all of the source code is open source and available, which should be attractive to both small and large enterprises. Although Zabbix does not offer a separate commercial version, commercial support contracts are available in five different levels ranging from ‘Bronze’ to ‘Enterprise’. Zabbix also offers other paid services such as integration, turnkey solutions and general consulting.

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PROS: Easy to install and configure, has a clean user interface and can be run with an agent or agent-less.

CONS: The reporting and export capabilities could be better.

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Observium is a Linux-based, command-line driven product with a web-based monitoring interface. Released under the QPL Open Source license, Observium is currently in version 0.14. Observium is available in both a community edition, which we tested, and a professional edition. Observium uses the RRDTool for certain features, such as buffer storage and graphing capabilities. It provides auto-discovery of a wide variety of devices from servers and switches to printers and power devices.



PROS: Observium has a nice user interface with modern features and has good on-screen reporting.

CONS: Observium has no direct export or reporting capabilities. You cannot add devices by using IP address only.

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Icinga was a close runner-up to Zabbix in our testing. Its complex configuration and too many configuration files kept it out of the top spot. Icinga has a modular design where you select the core server, your preferred GUI and add any desired plug-ins such as reporting and graphing tools. We installed the basic server using only two commands. Overall, we found the Icinga online documentation to be good; however, a quick start guide would have been helpful.

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PROS: Modern interactive Web GUI, feature rich, granular configuration options.

CONS: Configuration can be cumbersome.

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Cacti is a Web-based application that runs on PHP/Apache with a MySQL backend database. Currently in version 0.8.8, it provides a custom front-end GUI to the RRDTool, an open source round robin database tool. It collects data via SNMP and there is also a selection of data collection scripts available for download from the Cacti website. Although Cacti does not require an agent to be installed on a device, SNMP needs to be installed and configured in order to take advantage of all features available.

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PROS: Easy to install and operate, powerful graphing features, can also be installed on Windows.

CONS: User manual could be better, lacks some features found in competing products.

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