Finding the Right Open-Source Network Management Tool

Updated: April 30, 2009

If you work for an SMB (small to medium-sized business), you've probably had trouble finding top-quality, affordable network-management tools . The licensing fees of the big four solutions - IBM Tivoli , HP Software , CA Unicenter NSM and BMC Business Service Management - can easily top six figures. Then there's an extra fee for each device that the system monitors.

Once again, open-source software comes to the rescue of the pocketbook. There are many high-quality open-source network management tools available to download free of charge. Of course, the free software options include just the core functionalities. The vendors make their money off enhancements and professional services.

But still, these alternatives are much less expensive than commercial software prices. GroundWork Open Source , for example, charges $16,000 annually for its Monitor Professional , and that's competitive for unlimited network devices. Other companies set a fee only for professional services. OpenNMS Group Inc. , for example, charges $1,000 for 15 days of installation help, and up to $60,000 per year for a dedicated consultant .

Can you trust your network to free software? By and large, users say that open-source network management tools are easier to deploy and maintain than commercial counterparts. The best options have often been written by network managers who were unhappy with the performance and price of commercial products. They've also been tweaked and debugged by the user community. And they have matured into enterprise-class products that can handle whatever you throw at them.

With open-source network management tools, you will have the flexibility to customize your system and enhance it with add-ons from the open-source community. In fact, that's how most vendors develop their open-source products.

Here are some of the top enterprise-class open-source network management tools on the market:

Quest Software's Big Brother : Quest's open-source tool is a Web-based systems- and network-monitoring solution. It works with most Microsoft Windows , UNIX and Linux operating systems. Big Brother runs tests to notify administrators when defined events occur. Its library of user-written scripts allows you to customize your system. And the program's universally understood red-and-green code system enables the evaluation of network health at a glance.

Groundwork Monitor Professional 5.x : This old-timer was launched in 2004 and integrates over 100 open-source projects (including Nagios , Apache and Nmap ) and adds enhancements. The program works with Windows, UNIX and Linux.

Hyperic HQ Enterprise : Designed for datacenters , this software manages and monitors every layer of Web infrastructure in great detail and with fine control. For instance, you can set a threshold that stipulates 70 percent network use is fine midmornings and midafternoons, but not at other times.

OpenNMS : This Java -based network-management tool supports Mac OS X , Solaris OS and Linux, but not yet Windows operating systems. Its main strengths are service polling, data collection and event management

openQRM : Also for datacenters, openQRM supports Windows and Linux operating systems. The software can track usage and utilization rates for thousands of servers, and does automatic policy-based provisioning.

ZABBIX : The ZABBIX server runs on UNIX or Linux, while its agents are available in a host of operating systems including Windows. Written in PHP (hypertext preprocessor), it requires the Apache Web server with PHP extensions. It provides monitoring host memory, processor and swap-space usage to free disks on all mounted partitions, running processes, disk read/write operations and more.

Zenoss : This software runs on Linux, FreeBSD and Mac OS X; Windows with VMware Player and the Zenoss Virtual Appliance . The comprehensive suite monitors and simplifies management of your network, devices, applications and operating systems.

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