CactiEZ – Almost an NMS!

January 12, 2008 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

Cacti is a tool that I’ve looked at a few times.  Basically, it is a well-organized system for polling a large number of devices and graphing the results.  Recently I found myself looking for a way to track historical data for a few hundred sites.  We looked at CA’s eHealth product, which is pretty amazing, but it is priced at an even more amazing level.  That’s when someone mentioned Cacti to me, so I started digging.  That’s when I found CactiEZ.  It’s a single CD installation, including the OS and everything you need to run Cacti, along with a bunch of plug-ins.

CactiEZ lives up to it’s name!  Several weeks ago I did a quick install of CactiEZ.  It took about 15 minutes.  It’s pre-configured so that all you have to do is set an IP Address, then start adding devices.  I set up graphs for two sites and was pretty pleased with how it worked.  The bad part was all the WebGui work it took to set up a site.  You had to add the device, then add the individual graphs you wanted to monitor for each device.  It was pretty confusing, since I had never worked with it before.

A Hidden Gem.  The Advanced Ping script that I found on the cacti forums looked pretty decent.  I downloaded it and started to install it, only to find that it was also included in CactiEZ, just not loaded.  After loading it, I was pleased with the results.  Essentially, it pings each host several times per minute and graphs the minimum ping time as a green line, and a gray to black gradient to the maximum ping time for that polling interval.  Additionally, if there is any packet loss, it will show up as a vertical band of color behind the plotted lines, the darker the color, the larger percentage of packet loss.

Automation, please!  Ok, sounds good, but I need to add hundreds of devices, but only after they’ve been converted from frame-relay to MPLS.  I couldn’t very well just “keep an eye on it” and add these locations as they were converted.  Then I discovered the “cli” directory.  Inside are some fantastic scripts that let you add devices and define graphs directly from the command line.  It did take me an hour or so running through the various options to figure out (and document) exactly what needed to be done to add a single device and all the graphs we wanted to see, then add it appropriately to the graph tree, but that was the hard part.  Once done, I can simply take a text file containing devices and read it with a simple script that I wrote, then have that script add each device along with each graph, while placing it in an easy-to-use format so end users can get the data they need quickly.

Extra!  Thold is a plug-in that looks very promising.  It allows you to set thresholds for graphs and will alert via email if the threshold is exceeded.  They can be hard thresholds, or based off of a baseline, say one week in the past.  This sounds very useful, but a recent forum post I ran across indicated that the baseline code needed some tweaking.  I’m considering trying to get into the code on this myself and see if I can not only get it working properly for baselining, but see if I can add a feature, such as making it average the last X time periods of data (6 weeks, for example) to create the baseline.  Using an average would probably result in more realistic data, if I can make it work.

Monitor is another plug-in that reminds a co-worker of mine of a product called “What’s Up Gold”.   It basically lets you view a single webpage containing one icon per device that refreshes periodically.  If any device become unreachable, a voice alerts you.  Hover over an icon?  It tells you the availability of that device, along with the last time the device failed.  My only problem was that devices that I added via the CLI tool did not have Monitor enabled by default.  It took a bit of quick coding on my part, but I took care of that with some direct SQL statements.

Cacti looks to be excellent for keeping track of historical data, such as bandwidth utilization, latency, and packet loss.  Give me some more time and I’ll probably be able to make it do even more.

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Entry filed under: Networking.

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