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Zenoss Core

Zenoss Core
Summary

Zenoss is a component-level monitoring tool that is released in two versions:  Zenoss Core is an Open Source product released under the GNU General Public License (Version 2), and Zenoss Enterprise is a commercial product sold by Zenoss Inc., the corporate sponsor of Zenoss Core.  All components of the Zenoss architecture are built from Open Source tools.

The architecture of Zenoss is agentless with one or more collectors assigned to query the monitored devices remotely.  The Core product has only one collector that handles all data storage and event management.  The Enterprise version allows multiple collectors wiith a single consolidated console for configuration and reporting.

The power of Zenoss's design is in its object-oriented classification system. All attribute definitions of the top-level device class are inherited by sub-classes known as organizers, and the console makes adding your own sub-classes intuitively simple.  There are tree-sructured organizers available to group your assets by Locations, Systems and Groups.  I use the Systems tree to capture the IT's perspective (Database Servers, Messaging Servers, App Servers IT, App Servers Business) and the Groups tree to capture the business perspective (e.g., App HR, App IT, CRM and Security).

Class definitions, the code for connecting to a target device and the metrics for performance data collection are packaged for importing or exporting in a single file called a Zenpack, which can be created either as a Zenoss egg file or as a standard zip file.  There are plenty of brilliant modules available for Zenoss that were contributed by users, and more are being created all the time.

Zenoss administrators require a certain competence with the UNIX/Linux command line, both for installing the product and in configuring the classes and any custom commands. 

Market Position

Since its start as an Open Source project in 2005 by Erik Dahl, Zenoss Core has achieved a very broad acceptance, and I can find no real competition in the free software category.  As for Zenoss Enterprise, the client roster indicates the company has achieved traction very rapidly, indicating further that the company's market focus on the dynamic data center is really resonating with IT departments.

Pricing Model

The Core version is, of course, free, as in $0 USD.  See the Zenoss Inc. website for an explanation of the pricing for the Enterprise version.

Competitive Advantages

Price:  Free software is only as good as the value that it provides, and Zenoss Core delivers monitoring that is both sustainable and reliable.  Owing to the passionate user community, Zenoss receives more aggressive designer, developer and debugger support than traditional products have ever enjoyed.

Object-oriented Design:  Zenoss runs on an application server called Zope.  Zope combines an object-oriented database with a dynamic HTML presentation store.  In other words, records in Zope's database contain their own web markup code, which is why the Zenoss administrator console never appears sluggish.  Secondly, because it is object-oriented, the definition of devices and Zenpacks can easily be extended.  This allows for very granular control of the monitoring with the benefit of  inherited rules and device attributes.

Wide range of devices and applications:  Again because of the Open Source community, Zenpacks are regularly being contributed covering the critical monitoring requirements of all the leading apps. 

Open architecture:  Unlike legacy style products, you can explore the underlying scripts that implement Zenoss features and, with patience and the guidance of the community forums, learn how to extend the features.  The requirements here is usually a working knowledge of Python.

Practical Limitations

Reporting:  Reporting seems not to be the #1 priority for Zenoss, especially in comparison to leading legacy products such as NetIQ Analysis Center and Microsoft's SCOM 2007 Reporting that both leverage Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services.  However, as with other features, the elegant design of Zenoss does enable customzing the built-in reports, and the built-in reports are not at all lacking in practical scope and ease-of-use.

Large distributed IT departments:  Due to the limitations of Zenoss Core, these deployments will need to consider Zenoss Enterprise, which extends the Core by enabling multiple collectors.

Product Direction

The dynamic data center is moving towards virtualization and cloud services, and Zenoss is advancing in those directions.  As Bill Karpovich, co-founder of Zenoss, said at the February 2010 OpsCamp, there are still a lot of bad IT practices around monitoring that need to be cleaned up, so I can anticipate a growth of connectors to other ITSM functional products, such as Service Desks, Change Control, etc.

Food for Thought

An excellent overview of the features of the Enterprise product, many of which are included in the Core version, is the Zenoss Solution Overview Brochure.