Zenoss: a great system monitoring program which tries to do everything right

Zenoss: a great system monitoring program which tries to do everything right

I was happily hanging out in the sysadmin room of a major ISP around here in Western Australia (no, I wasn't meant to be there, if you really want to know!). Steve, the senior sysadmin in charge of the place, showed me a computer screen (running Vista, but I won’t comment on that) and said "Oh yeah, I'm sure you know about this...". "Yeah, I know Google maps" I answered. He looked at me embarrassed. "Err... actually, we use Zenoss server monitoring here... look close. That's our VPN!" It was a map of their server in Australia. There were green lines between them. Green meant "OK". Thing is, I had no idea what Zenoss was until that very moment. I am supposed to be a capable system administrator. I have used Nagios for server monitoring, and I had even heard of RRDTool. However, what Steve showed me was what I call "server monitoring done right".

He was probably excited knowing something I didn't know (you get that when you're vaguely well-known), and did his best to show off his fancy monitoring system. He showed me more (carefully picked, I later discovered) screenshots, and decided to add my own server to the list of monitored ones--yes, that's www.freesoftwaremagazine.com. Which was down (no joke). I felt a little uneasy about asking the crucial question: "Is it free? You know, as in freedom...". "You mean Open Source?" "Alright, yeah, is it then?".

Zenoss is server monitoring done right. It has an ever-expanding community, it has all the buzz (something I have obviously missed, somehow...), and it's like the Ruby On Rails of web development: everything just seems to happen more easily while using it, and things "just work".

Who says that geeks don't follow fashion? I installed Zenoss on my own monitoring server that very night. I added a couple of devices, got lost in the configuration, read the documentation, found my way around it, and wasted even more time monitoring servers I keep an eye on as part of my night job. I am one of those people who installed Ruby On Rails when it came out, learned Ruby, tried to work professionally with RoR, and then went back to PHP/Drupal. Today, I am officially a Drupal developer. With Zenoss, will it last? I can't tell for sure, but it's been one week, and I must say I am highly addicted to the graphs I get from it.

"But is it free?" I had asked. "Well, not this version, no. This is the enterprise edition." My heart sank.

I don't like it when software is released under a free license... but it really isn't. PHP is a practical example, although not many are aware of this problem. PHP is free (as in freedom), but if you have a very busy web server and need an PHP cache, you have no choice but fork out money to Zend (all of the other free PHP caches will eventually kill your apache, more or less randomly). PHPA, a free accelerator by ionCube, was stopped after treading on Zend's toes a few years ago.

I like Zenoss. I plan on using it every day. As a magazine publisher, I would probably be offered an Enterprise edition for free. What’s the difference? Well, this Zenoss comparison page sums it up well. Now, the first screenshot I ever saw of Zenoss was the "global dashboard". I liked it--a lot. However, you don't get it with the "Zenoss Core Edition" (released under the GPL). Other important (or shall I say Ruby-ish?) features are missing. The real question is: will the community develop a "free global dashboard" module? (It's only Python code after all...). If a member of the community does, will it step on Zenoss toes? What if somebody clones all the "commercial pack" features? I guess time will tell.

I ranted about the license. However, I do think that Zenoss is a fantastic product that deserves the attention it's getting (just like RoR did and still does). I am not just in love with the graphs, I think the full product has a degree of polish I rarely see in software these days. People are developing Zenpacks, and I am sure it will get more traction.



Anthony_K's picture
Submitted by Anthony_K (not verified) on

It is possible that you will find the monitoring product you need here, Tony: http://********** All of them are easily to purchase and have trial version, moreover the comparison table will help you to find out which one to choose.

[Edit: taken spam address away]

Mark Hinkle's picture

Thanks for the positive review Tony. Just to clarify a few points. Zenoss Core is pretty fully featured the enterprise edition is a support offering combined with some instrumentation, though a savvy administrator could develop the same. The global dashboard is something that enterprises looking to scale into the tens of thousands are likely interested in which allows you to collate multiple instances of Zenoss into a single dashboard. Also we have many users who have a variety of backgrounds some use Zenoss Core to monitor 50 devices others use Zenoss Core to monitor thousands. Once again thanks for your kind words and thank you for using Zenoss.

Mark Hinkle
VP of Community

Rusty Wilson's picture

Hi Tony,

Just want to quickly respond to a comment in your post. When discussing community contributions you said:

The real question is: will the community develop a "free global dashboard" module? (It’s only Python code after all…). If a member of the community does, will it step on Zenoss toes? What if somebody clones all the "commercial pack" features? I guess time will tell.

I don't know if the community will develop a community version of the global dashboard or not, but as for stepping our toes - no way! We actively encourage our community contributions. We've had some "mechanical" issues with the collaborative elements of our site, but fortunately we have an awesome community who provides us with constructive feedback on how we can improve.

As for the community ZenPacks cloning our enterprise ZenPacks - that's already happening. You can see from the list here: http://www.zenoss.com/community/projects/zenpacks/ that "netdata" has already submitted a ZenPack for VMware ESX monitoring. Of course this will work fine for some (many?) users, but there is a lot of value to many organizations in obtaining an officially supported and tested ZenPack as part of an enterprise subscription.

Thanks again for the review - both the good and constructive points. Feel free to drop by our forums anytime in join in the (very active) discussion.

Rusty Wilson
Director of IT

chicoman98's picture
Submitted by chicoman98 on

Hyperic actually provides a much better solution that Zenoss so I'd recommend trying them out as well.

Then you could write a side-by-side comparison of the two products and provide the key differences to your readers.

I see Hyperic as the clear leader in this space though.



Author information

Tony Mobily's picture


Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine