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Eyes on the prize: Top 7 open-source network monitoring tools

Monitoring a live network and ensuring that it stays up can be a taxing job, which is why systems administrators need network monitoring tools. These tools can give them a clear idea of how well the systems, applications, and devices on their networks are performing in real-time, and even how they perform across time. Instead of waiting for an error to occur or for the network to experience downtime, systems administrators can employ network monitoring tools to ensure that they spot issues and address them before they cascade across the entire network. By automatically assessing traffic and response times, these tools help administrators work more efficiently.

The key reason to look for an open-source option for network monitoring is that the world is now moving toward open source. The large communities, active development, lack of vendor lock-in, and more control over costs are factors that drive organizations to look to open source tools for network monitoring. Commercially available tools offer the benefits of reliability and round-the-clock support for technical issues, and they also employ teams to constantly upgrade the tools’ security and functioning. However, they don’t offer as much flexibility and freedom as an open-source solution would. If you’re looking for cost-effective alternatives, open-source networking monitoring tools are a great option as they are not only constantly updated by developers who often provide support through online forums, but they are also easily customizable to the needs of users. They offer a degree of flexibility and adaptability that many closed-source tools lack. Here are some of the best open-source network monitoring tools you can download today.

1. Nagios Core

Nagios Core has been around for nearly two decades, but has managed to stay relevant, offering innumerable enterprises a cost-effective (read: free) way to monitor their networks. While its web interface and text-based configuration may seem clunky, the tool is incredibly popular because of its highly customizable nature. It comes with a host of independent add-ons and plugins that expand the features it offers from distributed monitoring to auto-discovery of devices, performance graphing, and configuration frontends. Nagios Core can be integrated with nearly all relevant third-party software thanks to the vibrant community of users who are constantly updating its functionality through a wide variety of plugins. The networking monitoring tool allows administrators to examine the real-time status of each node and application on a network, and it sends out various kinds of alerts, increasing response time to issues that it identifies.

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2. Zabbix

Zabbix is up there with Nagios Core as an open-source network monitoring tool that has developed a strong community of users over the years, making it easier for new users to troubleshoot issues on online forums with a fairly quick response time. Since many of its features have been integrated into the downloadable package, new users don’t need to patch it with a multitude of add-ons before it offers the functionalities they require. This makes it an attractive alternative to Nagios for many users. Zabbix offers a web interface that makes it easier to set up monitoring than Nagios Core’s interface, and it allows users to track network health and performance as well as changes in configuration. It offers out-of-the-box auto-discovery and performance graphing functions as well as out-of-the-box support for devices from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, and more, making this a popular open-source network monitoring tool among systems administrators.

3. Icinga 2

Icinga 2 originally branched out from the framework developed by Nagios, intended to offer the same functions with more functionality. Since then, it has established itself as a strong contender for top open-source network monitoring tools as it is fairly easy to install and configure, and inherently scalable. It monitors the availability of network resources, creates performance graphs, and alerts administrators to outages fairly quickly. Even though Icinga 2 uses text-based configuration, the thorough documentation allows new users to ascend its admittedly steep learning curve without too much difficulty. The major appeal of Icinga 2, apart from its scalability, is in its customizable user interface that allows users to select information to monitor. Icinga 2 tracks both live and historical performance data and generates detailed graphs, permitting in-depth performance analyses, helping administrators proactively address network issues instead of waiting for an outage to occur.

4. Pandora FMS

Pandora FMS

Pandora FMS calls itself the “most complete open-source monitoring solution,” and indeed it offers a centralized software that is user-friendly and allows users to monitor any host or service on a network. Its event correlation system collects data on events from several different sources and generates notifications so that users are alerted and can intervene before the network goes down. Pandora FMS is flexible and can scale to large environments with hundreds and thousands of devices and servers, with server monitoring functions and bandwidth monitoring options for gateway and other network devices. It even supports monitoring for Android servers in addition to Linux, Windows, and Unix servers. However, bugs often appear that may not be resolved quickly despite its responsive support team.

5. LibreNMS

LibreNMS is easy to install and offers customizable dashboards and alerting systems, making it popular among users who prefer more control over their monitoring tools’ interfaces. It supports a wide variety of network devices and operating systems that use Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), and comes with an auto-discovery system and full-featured performance graphing. The LibreNMS offers horizontal scaling, adapting its monitoring functionalities to suit the growing needs of a changing network. All these features cement its place as one of the top SNMP open-source network monitoring tools out there. The only issue with LibreNMS is the lack of support for bugs and issues since the software is completely free.

6. Cacti

Cacti is an open-source network monitoring tool based on RRDTool that serves as a graphing solution, allowing administrators to capture traffic data, with SNMP support for Windows and Linux. Cacti acquires data through user-created scripts that communicate with nodes on a network, and it stores the data in a MySQL database, generating graphs with the information captured. It comes with templates for scripts used in data collection that can be repurposed to anticipate future monitoring needs.

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7. OpenNMS

OpenNMS is one of the older open-source network monitoring tools that classifies itself as a “network management application platform.” It monitors some of the largest networks in the world and, like LibreNMS, OpenNMS has no closed-source version, being completely free. Some of the functions offered by OpenNMS include performance measurement, data collection, service monitoring, automated discovery, and event and notification management features. It can support any IT infrastructure and has a vibrant community of users and developers who are responsible for constantly updating the software and troubleshooting user issues. OpenNMS also has a great user interface and scalability, adding to the many reasons why it continues to be a popular option for organizations looking for low-cost monitoring options.

While open-source network monitoring tools come with the advantages of customizability and cost-effectiveness, they often lack reliability in terms of security and performance because they do not have dedicated support teams working 24/7 to resolve issues, which closed-source software do. Maintenance of these tools is user-driven, and oftentimes issues and bugs take a while to resolve, resulting in longer downtimes for networks. Some closed-source tools offer free trials and tiered licensing options for organizations looking for a cost-effective alternative to open-source network monitoring tools. However, if you prefer the flexibility and customization that an open-source tool offers, that’s a trade-off you’ll have to be willing to make.

Featured image: Pixabay

Twain Taylor

My interests lie in DevOps, IoT, and cloud applications. I began my career in tech B2B marketing at Google India, after which I headed marketing for multiple startups. Today, I consult with companies in The Valley on their content marketing initiatives, and write for tech journals.

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