Although the market has shifted and more vendors are providing cloud-based monitoring, there are still a wide range of feature-rich server monitoring tools for organizations that must keep their workloads on site for security and compliance reasons.
Here we examine open source and commercial on-premises server monitoring tools from eight vendors. Although these products broadly achieve the same IT goals, they differ in their approach, complexity of setup -- including the ongoing aspects of maintenance and licensing -- and cost.
Cacti is an open source network monitoring and graphing front-end application for RRDtool, an industry-standard open source data logging tool. RRDtool is the data collection portion of the product, while Cacti handles network graphing for the data that's collected. Since both Cacti and RRDtool are open source, they may be practical options for organizations that are on a budget. Cacti support is community-driven.
Cacti can be ideal for organizations that already have RRDtool in place and want to expand on what it can display graphically. For organizations that don't have RRDtool installed, or aren't familiar with Linux commands or tools, both Cacti and RRDtool could be a bit of a challenge to install, as they don't include a simple wizard or agents. This should be familiar territory for Linux administrators, but may require additional effort for Windows admins. Note that Cacti is a graphing product and isn't really an alerting or remediation product.
ManageEngine Applications Manager
The ManageEngine system is part of an extensive line of server monitoring tools that include application-specific tools as well as cloud and mobile device management. The application monitoring framework enables organizations to purchase agents from various vendors, such as Oracle and SAP, as well as customer application-specific tools. These server monitoring tools enable admins to perform cradle-to-grave monitoring, which can help them troubleshoot and resolve application server issues before they impact end-user performance. ManageEngine platform strengths include its licensing model and the large number of agents available. Although the monitoring license per device is all-inclusive for interfaces or sensors needed per device, the agents are sold individually.
Thirty-day trials are available for many of the more than 100 agents. Licensing costs range from less than $1,000 for 25 monitors and one user to more than $7,000 for 250 monitors with one user and an additional $245 per user. Support costs are often rolled into the cost of the monitors. This can be ideal for organizations that want to make a smaller initial investment and grow over time.
Microsoft System Center Operations Manager
The product monitors servers, enterprise infrastructure and applications, such as Exchange and SQL, and works with both Windows and Linux clients. Microsoft System Center features include configuration management, orchestration, VM management and data protection. System Center isn't as expansive on third-party applications as it is with native Microsoft applications. System Center is based on core licensing to match Server 2016 and later licensing models.
The base price for Microsoft System Center Operations Manager starts at $3,600, assuming two CPUs and 16 cores total and can be expanded with core pack licenses. With Microsoft licensing, the larger the environment in terms of CPU cores, the more a customer site can expect to pay. While Microsoft offers a 180-day trial of System Center, this version is designed for the larger Hyper-V environments. Support is dependent on the contract the organization selects.
Nagios Core is free open source software that provides metrics to monitor server and network performance. Nagios can help organizations provide increased server, services, process and application availability. While Nagios Core comes with a graphical front end, the scope of what it can monitor is somewhat limited. But admins can deploy additional community-provided front ends that offer more views and additional functionality. Nagios Core natively installs and operates on Linux systems and Unix variants.
For additional features and functionality, the commercial Nagios XI product offers true dashboards, reporting, GUI configuration and enhanced notifications. Pricing for this commercial version ranges from less than $7,000 for 500 nodes and an additional $1,500 per enterprise for reporting and capacity planning tools. In addition to agents for OSes, users can also add network monitoring for a single point of service. Free 60-day trials and community support are available for the products that work with the free Nagios Core download.
Opsview system monitoring software includes on-premises agents as well as agents from all the major cloud vendors. While the free version provides 25 hosts to monitor, the product's main benefit is that it can support both SMBs and the enterprise. Pricing for a comprehensive offering that includes 300 hosts, reporting, multiple collectors and network analyzer is less than $20,000 a year, depending on the agents selected.
Enterprise packages are available via custom quote. The vendor offers both on-premises and cloud variations. The list of agents Opsview can monitor is one of the most expansive of any of the products, bridging cloud, application, web and infrastructure. Opsview also offers a dedicated mobile application. Support for most packages is 24/7 and includes customer portals and a knowledgebase.
Paessler PRTG Network Manager
PRTG can monitor from the infrastructure to the application stack. The licensing model for PRTG Network Monitor follows a sensor model format over a node, core or host model. This means a traditional host might have more than 20 sensors monitoring anything from CPU to bandwidth. Services range from networking and bandwidth monitoring to other more application-specific services such as low Microsoft OneDrive or Dropbox drive space. A fully functional 30-day demo is available and pricing ranges from less than $6,000 for 2,500 sensors to less than $15,000 for an unlimited number of sensors. Support is email-based.
SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor
SolarWinds offers more than 1,000 monitoring templates for various applications and systems, such as Active Directory, as well as several virtualization platforms and cloud-based applications. It also provides dedicated virtualization, networking, databases and security monitoring products. In addition to standard performance metrics, SolarWinds provides application response templates to help admins with troubleshooting. A free 30-day trial is available. Pricing for 500 nodes is $73,995 and includes a year of maintenance.
This free, open source, enterprise-scale monitoring product includes an impressive number of agents that an admin can download. Although most features aren't point and click, the dashboards are similar to other open source platforms and are more than adequate. Given the free cost of entry and the sheer number of agents, this could be an ideal product for organizations that have the time and Linux experience to bring it online. Support is community-based and additional support can be purchased from a reseller.
The bottom line on server monitoring tools
The products examined here differ slightly in size, scope and licensing model. Outside of the open source products, many commercial server monitoring tools are licensed by node or agent type. It's important that IT buyers understand all the possible options when getting quotes, as they can be difficult to understand.
Pricing varies widely, as do the features of the dashboards of the various server monitoring tools. Ensure the staff is comfortable with the dashboard and alerting functionality of each system as well as mobile ability and notifications. If an organization chooses an open source platform, keep in mind that the installation could require more effort if the staff isn't Linux savvy.
The dashboards for the open source monitors typically aren't as graphical as the paid products, but that's part of the tradeoff with open source. Many of the commercial products are cloud-ready or have that ability, so even if an organization doesn't plan to monitor its servers in the cloud today, they can take advantage of this technology in the future.