If your company sits somewhere between the Fortune 1000 mega companies and the mom-and-pop small businesses, your network management options may seem grim - you can either cobble together a solution from various bits and pieces aimed at the small business market, or you can pay through the nose for high-level technology you don't really need. Here's a better option: Use an open source network manager with professional services, including deployment and support.
"Mid-market CIOs are less fearful of open source as long as it's a good solution," explains Sam Lamonica, CIO at Rudolph and Sletten, a general contracting firm based in Redwood City, Calif. "And I can use the money I would've spent [on a proprietary solution] on other projects."
Cost is the first, and perhaps most compelling argument. The core software is generally free to download, then you pay for functional enhancements and services the vendor offers. The licensing fee alone for a commercial deployment from one of the Big 4 management solution vendors - HP OpenView, IBM Tivoli , CA Unicenter and BMC Business Service Management - can run in the six figures, then you also pay an agent fee for each network device the framework monitors.
Compare that to the fees that GroundWork Open Source , based in San Francisco, charges for Monitor Professional: $16,000 annual licensing fee, which allows you to monitor unlimited network devices; realistically, that's about 500 servers and 2000 assorted network devices. Other companies, including OpenNMS, charge only for their services. OpenNMS support starts at $1,000 for 15 days of installation assistance and runs up to $60,000, which includes your own dedicated consultant.
The success open-source software has had on the desktop - witness Red Hat Linux - and in the server space - ditto Apache Web server - is helping open source gain ground in other areas of the enterprise network. Open source IT management tools have matured to the point of delivering functionality equal to that of commercial products. Beyond standard management features, open-source solutions offer far greater extensibility, allowing you to customize your management platform with monitoring agents you - or a consultant - build to suit your custom applications.
"Groundwork is far easier to deploy, manage, and sustain. In the course of my career, I've rolled out all of the Big 4," says Lamonica, who has installed Monitor at two different companies. "We were able to leverage other open source tools and tie them in to Groundwork to, for example, audit syslogs."
An open-source solution is much more flexible for vendors as well, and they can add support for new technologies much faster than with a proprietary platform. For instance, when Ubuntu 7.04 "Fiesty Fawn" (a Linux-based operating system) was released in April, Hyperic HQ offered support the day after it was launched.
When it comes to network management solutions, the technology that companies need most - and actually use - is the monitoring features. Monitoring technology has largely become commodified, according to Tony Barbagallo, Vice President of Product Management & Marketing at GroundWork.
"We use open source to leverage (commodified) technology, and then pass the cost savings on to the customer," he says, describing his company's flagship product, Monitor Professional.
In general, the professional versions of open source IT management platforms integrate several open source projects, such as Nagios for network monitoring, into one framework, add a unifying management interface, and also offer support services. In addition, they tend to have robust communities dedicated to improving the code through forums, bug trackers and webinars, status quo for most open source products.
Here are the top six open source IT management products that do a solid job of replacing the big suites from HP, IBM, CA and BMC. Each offer low-cost professional services and free software downloads. They differ primarily in the features they offer and in the operating systems they support.
This Web-based systems and network monitor supports most Windows, Unix and Linux OSes, plus a repository of user-contributed scripts allow you to easily customize Big Brother to your network. Its GUI features a universally understood color code, where red means bad and green means good.
Launched in 2004, it's one of the first enterprise-scale open source network management offerings. It integrates more than 100 best-of-breed open source projects, including Nagios, Apache and NMap, onto one framework with additional features, such as a Web-based interface. Monitor Professional provides centralized management and monitoring of your enterprise network, including Linux, Unix and Windows servers, apps, databases and network boxes.
Aimed at the datacenter , Hyperic's software is built to manage and monitor all layers of Web infrastructures, including hardware, middleware, virtualization and Web and open applications. It also offers trending and analysis. It supports Apache, JBoss, Linux and more.
This Java-based network management tool focuses on service polling, data collection and event and notification management. It currently supports a variety of open operating systems, including Linux, Mandrake and Solaris, as well as Mac OS X; Windows support is planned for OpenNMS 2.0.
Also targeting datacenter management, OpenQRM can manage thousands of Linux and Windows servers as well as track your datacenter's usage and utilization. It also does automatic, policy-based provisioning. It, too, integrates Nagios for monitoring.
Written mostly in Python, this management platform offers events management and availability and performance monitoring of servers, network devices, OSes and applications. Zenoss runs on Linux, FreeBSD and Mac OS X; it will run on Windows with a VMplayer and the Zenoss Virtual Appliance.
These four projects round out the top 10 open-source network-management tools. Unlike the other six products, these don't have commercial service offerings or enterprise-scale enhancements. But they're absolutely free, and may have everything you need to check the health of your network.
This project includes a real-time system and network health monitor, a Web application framework and a system administration application.
This Web-based application is designed for mid- to large-sized networks and supports most SNMP network devices.
If the features of these low-cost network management tools haven't convinced you of their enterprise-readiness, perhaps their customers will. Hyperic counts among its customers eHarmony, the online matchmaker, and La Quinta Inn and Suites, which operates more than 500 hotels. GroundWork's customers include the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and construction company Rudolph and Sletten.
"Don't settle on [a solution that] is not going to solve your problems and leave you open to risk. You will find innovation out there - and mostly you'll find it in open source," says Stacey Schneider, senior director of marketing at Hyperic.
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