March 16, 2001, 12:10 PM —
System users are much happier when they know what to expect. Leaving them in the dark is frustrating and usually counterproductive. If their systems administrator is well informed about the state of the system, users reach a much higher comfort level. By implementing monitoring tools, the systems administrator will have a detailed understanding of the state of the machines and also receive notification of problems before users start pounding on the door or ringing the phone.
In this month's column, I'll look at two tools that help systems administrators know the state of their facilities and notify them when there's a state change: NetSaint and MRTG. They are both free, widely used, and respected, but there are many more sites that would benefit from their use. This column describes the functionality of the tools, requirements for using them, how to implement them, and their use, abuse, and limitations.
NetSaint Network Monitor (www.netsaint.org) is a host and network-monitoring software package with configurable alarm mechanisms, including email and pager support. The monitor is written in C on Linux but is relatively easy to port to other platforms and has CGI scripts to integrate NetSaint with a Web server for Web access to status and history information.
NetSaint is currently in Beta release 6 of the 0.0.6 release and is freely available for download. It's released under the GNU General Public License, making it free for use with some limitations.
Extensive documentation, release notes, and FAQ information are available, as is a known bugs list. In fact, the current manual is 175 pages long. The builders of NetSaint obviously believe in full disclosure, which benefits its users. NetSaint requires some effort and study to implement and understand, but the effort is well worth the power it gives you and the money you save by not buying a similar commercial package.
The NetSaint sidebar shows a complete NetSaint build. Once built and installed, NetSaint runs as a daemon or process on the monitored machines. The most difficult part of implementing NetSaint is determining what you want to monitor, how you want to be alerted, and translating that into configuration files.