If your network is complex enough to manage, you want to choose a solid monitoring tool. I like to look at these criteria when evaluating monitoring solutions:
- It’s not difficult to set up. It doesn’t have to be easy, but I don’t want a setup that’s so complex it makes me dread the task.
- Consistently presents me with easy to consume data that’s normally a bother to get on my own.
- Flexible when my needs change, and if there’s anything I’ve learned as an Admin, get ready for change.
- Has an active development cycle with a robust user community.
Before I chose Zabbix, I looked at a lot of solutions. I lost track of the Docker containers I configured with packages with crazier names than Zabbix. And while there are some good ones out there, I kept coming back to Zabbix for a number of reasons.
Setting Up Zabbix – The Inevitable Learning Curve
I don’t care how much of a computer savant you are, setting up a new piece of software is a chore. You’ve got a learning curve you didn’t think would be that bad, clashing with what you think might be a bug, but you’re really not sure, so you forge ahead and inevitably configure things the wrong way and have to start again. I mean, who reads manuals – right? Well, with Zabbix, the learning curve isn’t that bad, especially if you embrace Templates. Sure, it’s new to you, and the concepts are foreign, but within a few hours, you should be able to get the gist of it if you’ve used monitoring software before.
Presenting the Data – Don’t Tell Me What I Already Know
Once Zabbix is up and running, the data streaming into it gets massive. Even if you start out just monitoring your home network, it’s easy to have upwards of 50 or more devices (called Hosts in Zabbix) returning data. Since each of the Hosts may be dozens of data points collected on it, you’ll soon have a dizzying amount of data. Normally, this could get quickly overwhelming, but Zabbix serves up the data in styles that fit your needs.
Zabbix comes pre-configured with the single Pane-of-Glass display, found on the menu as Problems. It’s a timeline of all the current issues on your network, clearly laid out, easy to read, and “glanceable”, meaning if you left it running on a monitor that you just glanced at, you’d know how your network was performing, even if it had a thousand Hosts on it.
If you want to customize your view, Zabbix offers Dashboards. While it comes with a few pre-configured, it allows you to create your own and paint the screen your way – in a way that makes sense to you. You can fill a Dashboard with charts, maps, network diagrams, etc., all tailored to your needs. Pages on the Dashboard can even cycle if you want. And you can have unlimited Dashboards. I have some that are very specific to networks I’m monitoring for customers and a few that are overviews of all the networks I’m watching over – too many to mention.
Change – It’s What’s For Dinner
Just when you think you’ve got everything under control, change happens. We’ve all been through it, and we know that the tools you were using that weren’t flexible enough to deal with the change got left behind. Zabbix shines in changing environments due to easy configuration, and here’s that term again, Templates. They allow you to perform complex reconfigurations in moments. Server relocation, reconfiguration, new networking equipment, etc. – all handed with a few clicks. Without Templates, even Zabbix would be a pain to reconfigure. Templates simply give you more time to focus on other issues, and everyone in IT has plenty of issues to deal with.
It’s Not Going To Fade Away
Zabbix is Open Source, but don’t let that fool you. There’s a real company behind it that’s doing all the development for free, but if you get stuck, they’re there to help. While they do charge for support, it’s reassuring to know it’s out there. As for a community of users, it’s very large and active. Simply google Zabbix, and you’ll find an incredible array of resources. From user forums, to how-to videos, to yearly conferences, Zabbix is alive and well.
I’ve been using Zabbix to monitor a dizzying amount of Hosts, both on my home network, a WAN into additional sites, and servers in the Cloud. All of this runs with very little upkeep. Zabbix is a keeper.