Zenoss: New dog masters old monitoring tricks

Zenoss Core 2.1 impresses with object-based approach, strong device discovery, native Windows monitoring, and open source extensibility

Once my Windows machine names were sorted out, Zenoss discovered all Windows services running on the servers and made it easy to enable monitoring of the services per device or globally. Even given the hitches, it still took far less time to deploy Zenoss than an agent-based installation would have required.

Not counting the time getting SNMP configured on the servers (the only real client-side task involved in deployment), I spent perhaps two or three hours working with Zenoss to get the bulk of the servers and network devices added, monitored, and alerting with a useful set of service and performance thresholds. Much more tweaking would be required to get Zenoss to report on all the various services I'd want to monitor and to tune the alerting rules properly, but still, a few hours from zero to monitoring is darn fast. Even the basic level of reporting I enabled could take days of tedious work with other tools I've used.

Perhaps the biggest value any open source monitoring package can bring to the table is extensibility and community support. If an organization owns a critical piece of equipment for which it needs extended performance data, above and beyond what Zenoss supports by default, it's not terribly difficult for someone with the right skills to add -- but no one else can take advantage of that work unless there's an easy way to share it. One of the new features found within Zenoss Core 2 is the concept of a ZenPack, a collection of performance and event monitoring settings and commands that can be easily defined and made portable. The addition of this framework will make it far easier for the community to share customized monitoring templates, and can only serve to fuel interest in Zenoss, just as plug-in and templating systems have done so successfully for projects such as Nagios and Cacti.

From a commercial perspective, Zenoss has taken a fairly unique approach to building the business. The Zenoss Core software is licensed under the GPL (General Public License) and will always be freely available as such. Zenoss makes money through the sale of support and maintenance contracts as well as training and consulting. Some users with previous Linux-based, open source monitoring experience may not see the need to maintain a support contract, and instead will rely on self-support. Zenoss recognizes this and hopes to draw more users into support contracts through the release of specialized, high-value Certified ZenPacks to comprehensively monitor services such as Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server.

In addition to the commercial support offerings available, Zenoss has also fostered an active user community through the use of mailing lists and forums that can be found on the company's Web site. In short, any organization can find the right balance of commercial or community support depending upon their needs and experience.

With the Version 2.0 and 2.1 releases, Zenoss Core continues to become a stronger product -- one that has the capability to draw a significant following from the open source community as well as from enterprises seeking alternatives to their legacy monitoring and management services. Whether or not Zenoss and open source projects like it (see the sidebar on GroundWork) will eventually break the stranglehold that the aging Goliaths have on network and systems management in the enterprise is yet to be seen. But there's no question that this latest release is a step in the right direction.

The Bottom Line: Zenoss Core 2.1

Zenoss, zenoss.com
Overall score: Very Good, 8.4/10
Extensibility: 9/10
Device support: 8/10
Ease-of-use: 8/10
Reporting: 8/10
Setup: 9/10
Value: 8/10

Cost: Zenoss Core: Free (GPL); Enterprise Support starts at US$66 per device per year for 50 devices. Enterprise Support with access to Certified ZenPacks, Enterprise Report Library, and third-party helpdesk integration starts at US$100 per device per year for 50 devices.
Platforms: Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora Core, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, Suse, CentOS, and Windows (via VMware Appliance)
Bottom Line: Zenoss Core 2.1 open source enterprise management system provides a cheap yet scalable and easy-to-use replacement for legacy management architecture. Initial deployment is relatively easy even for Linux neophytes, and the product is backed by an active community. Some Windows monitoring capabilities require minor workarounds, but are otherwise stable.

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