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Zabbix vs Nagios vs PandoraFMS: an in depth comparison

June 17, 2016 — by Javier12

This post is also available in: Spanish

We know that many corporative installations nowadays use Nagios as their main monitoring system for networks, systems and applications. Also, as we mentioned in the article on the best network monitoring tools, Zabbix has been taking pieces from Nagios’ cake for a long time. There are many doubts that start to arise when it comes to choosing the ideal monitoring tool for an installation, and this is precisely the reason we’ve gotten down to work today to analyze both these systems in depth. As was expected, we also brought Pandora FMS into this comparative, for perspective purposes.

ZABBIX VS NAGIOS VS PANDORA FMS : The global picture

Before going ahead we show you the result of our analysis from a global point of view. If you want to go into detail, please keep reading.

zabbix vs nagios vs pandora comparative

Nagios is considered by some -mainly those that have spent some time in the IT world- to be the “industry standard” when it comes to Open Source monitoring. And, it’s somewhat true, because they were the first to actually get it right. Before Nagios, there were tools, but they were so amateur or so focused on specific tasks, that they were not even close to the innovation Nagios brought in.

The first version of Nagios was introduced last century: 1999. It’s been 17 years and technology has come a long way, Nagios has kept up by creating an “addon” ecosystem or third party complements that try to compensate the lack of features.

Zabbix comes along in 2001. It’s a full-blown development, not a simple Nagios fork, and it’s main characteristic is that it has a very wholistic view on monitoring. It covers performance, not only statuses, which is one of the most significant lacks in Nagios. Apart from having a WEB management system that allows central management, without the pesky configuration files, like the ones Nagios needs.

 

Pandora FMS is born in 2004. Just like Zabbix, it’s entirely developed from the ground up. It’s main feature is the fact that it’s more than just an IT monitoring system, it’s a monitoring framework which allows anything from infrastructure monitoring (networks and servers) to performance and application monitoring (APM), and even transactional business monitoring (BAM). Just like other modern systems it has a central management system and it’s based on a relational SQL database. Just like Nagios, it has an “Enterprise” edition, but its Open Source version is more than enough to implement any monitoring need. Neither Nagios nor Pandora FMS are “limited” versions like other manufacturers do for their free of cost editions, rather they’re just missing a few features that are aimed toward larger environments.

Management and Setup

Here is where we can see the most significant differences among these systems. No one doubts that Zabbix has a web based management interface which is centralized through their database, just like Pandora FMS. Nagios, nevertheless, is still stuck to the 90’s and is still managed in thousands of places through a complex pleiad of interlaced text files, scripts and manual procedures that also make it necessary to use third party tools for its deployment, like Chef or Puppet.

This has (or had) the advantage that Nagios, since it doesn’t use a database to store information, needs less resources. But, nowadays the bottleneck is no longer the hardware, it’s the capability to efficiently manage configuration, and Nagios is the opposite of easy in this aspect. The difficulty in management makes it so that more than just having Nagios installed, you have an entire team dedicated to managin Nagios, meaning that the software on its own, without a team of people, cannot be exploited correctly.

Nagios (and some of its newer forks like Naemon) still use CGIs written in C. This technology was invented back in the 80’s, and not that it’s bad technology (it’s actually fast and very solid) but it makes it complicated to expand or improve on. It implies that in order to make a simple change it’s necessary to patch the monolithic architecture code and manually compile. Let’s remember that the Nagios ecosystem is based on hundreds of different patches for different versions of each Fork. It’s literally a bazaar. Let’s bear in mind that Nagios’ configuration is based on text files, each time a change is made, a reset is necessary.

If Nagios was the bazaar paradigm, Zabbix and Pandora FMS are the exact opposite: the cathedral. They’re solid projects with a complex and modular architecture, that has grown throughout time with a design directed by the team of architects itself. Neither Zabbix nor Pandora FMS have forks. Both Nagios and Pandora do have “Enterprise” versions. Zabbix doesn’t. The Zabbix model seems to be based on support and implantation services, along with technical formation.

We compared Zabbix vs. Nagios vs. Pandora FMS regarding plugins and “out of the box” monitoring

Zabbix and Nagios both need installing a lot of plugins in order for them to be efficient and offer a series of complete features. Zabbix, on the other hand, doesn’t have an “official” plugin library for the community, although it does have a list of OIDs for SNMP queries. Furthermore, it doesn’t offer the possibility to work with Enterprise tools such as Oracle, Exchange, Active Directory, and others in the core.

Nagios has a huge library, but it’s low on maintenance since all the plugins are 100% open source and there’s not a company to back it up or take care of them.

Pandora has a smaller library than that of Nagios (it doesn’t even reach 500 plugins) but it’s maintained by a company and disregarding the fact that some of those plugins are “Enterprise” (under paid licensing) it’s all very focused to “real” daily products, and not exclusively toward open technology. Pandora FMS, also in its Open Source version, has a default collection of plugins and modules that are “plug and play, ready to use” meant for simpler tasks, both with agents and remote checks. It also includes an SNMP explorer and a set of SNMP and WMI wizards to remotely monitor network devices and servers.

Zabbix has a powerful template and trigger definition system based on regular expressions. It’s quite powerful, yet at the same time complex in use: only meant for people who are capable of understanding regular expressions. In Nagios there is nothing of the sort -in its Open version at least- and for Pandora FMS it’s been replaced by screens and wizards on its WEB interface which are much friendlier to use.

In order to monitor with Nagios, it’s necessary to become accustomed to deal with hundreds of custom scripts, that, when made by another person, almost become some sort of black magic. It’s very complicated for multiple persons to manage it. In the end Nagios ends up being a strange mix between software and custom development.

In order to correctly use Nagios, you don’t need only Nagios, but also four or five community “addons” (check_mk, HighCharts, OMD, NRPE, NSCA, ndoutils, thruk, nagvis), apart from other complete complex projects (such as puppet), in order to manage configurations and, of course, thousands of self made script lines. Zabbix and Pandora FMS are autonomous in this sense.

We also compared these three based on their respective communities

The biggest community belongs to Nagios, simply because it was first dibs in this terrain. As a matter of fact, Nagios has an almost infinite amount of forks: OpsView, OP5, Centreon, Icinga, Naemon, Shinken, and the list goes on. This implies a chaotic ecosystem when it comes to applying plugins or tools that can be crossed over from one another. Each branch has a different philosophy and with time this makes it totally incompatible with other branches and with the fathering project (Nagios).

We compared Zabbix, Nagios and Pandora regarding their reports

Zabbix, Nagios and Pandora all have the concept of a “Customizable user screen”. On Nagios a plugin with its own entity is needed (nagvis) but on Zabbix and Pandora, this is prebuilt. Now, we can definitely obtain the best visual results with Pandora FMS:

Pandora

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms panel pandora

Zabbix

nagios vs zabbix vs pandorafms panel zabbix

The reports that Nagios can generate are quite poor. Zabbix improves on this a little, but the concept of report understand as something to “turn in to a customer or boss”, is only available on Pandora. Even in its “free” version, it has a very powerful report generator that allows for a lot of customization, much more than those on Zabbix or Nagios.

Pandora FMS

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms informe pandorafms

Zabbix

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms informe zabbix

Nagios

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms informe nagios

We compared the visual graphs for all three as well

Nagios historically has needed third party plugins to perform this task. On recent forks it’s been included by default, but they’re still graphs oriented to communications, with little margin for custom features. Nagios and graphs have always had a “complicated” relationship, considering the origin of Nagios was meant for event management, not data management.

Zabbix has its own graphs, but the graphs on Pandora are generated in real time from the database, which allows the data to be used for combined graphs, scale changes, and custom colors, sizes and graph keys, in a way that they become an active part of the information, not only a technical graph, but also part of a complete report.

Nagios XI (Enterprise – Paid version)

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms graficas nagios
(updated 08/08/2016)
Answering Willem comments we are happy to update this section adding an screen of the Nagios graphs using Highcharts.
zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms graphs highchart

Zabbix

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms graficas zabbix

Pandora FMS (OpenSource)

zabbix vs nagios vs pandorafms graficas pandorafms

Agent Comparison

Although some people consider that agent-based monitoring technology is “demodé” or outdated, the truth is that very large manufacturers (CA, HP, IBM) sometimes mask their remote technology making them seem like something 100% agentless, when what they’re actually doing is copying an agent, running it, and then deleting it. For many monitoring tasks an agent is still a necessary element on the device. Nagios has many (NRPE, NCPA, NRDP, and others) that like most other things on Nagios, are meant to be quite DIY. On many occasions this leads to a lack of maintenance or to some of them being outdated. The fact that there are different agents for a single platform is very consisten with the Nagios mindset. Zabbix also has many more complex features “built in” to the agent itself, such as native event gathering (using an API that comes from Windows NT4 and ensures compatibility and speed, nothing like WMI methods), inventory gathering, service and process watchdog, real time log gathering for process and service downtimes, native user interface for WMI, registry for parameters from the performance counter, integrated network checks on the agent, and many other features that cannot be applied through “scripts” or commands since they mean that the agent has to work on a low level, instead of at user level.

Last but not least: Scalability

It’s not easier knowing “who’s got the bigger one” in this case, but if we refer to public success stories published on each respective webiste, the most complex project taken on by a customer that has exposed a case with numbers and measurements is that of Rakuten from Japan. They use Pandora FMS to monitor almost 10,000 nodes. Pandora FMS has unknown installations that use the Open Source edition with over 30,000 nodes monitored, and theoretically with distributed architecture included in version 6.0 -on the Enterprise edition- you can reach a million nodes. In the official documentation for Pandora FMS the recommended numbers offered are 3,000 agents per server.

Nagios has a wide array of ways, each more artisanal than the next, to offer distributed monitoring. Zabbix and Pandora adopt a similar model, although Pandora has a specific product (its Metaconsole) for distributed, complex and large environments.

With this we hope you can get an idea of the advantages and disadvantages for these three monitoring systems. If you have any doubts, info you feel is missing, or general comments, we entice you to leave it in the comments section.

 

Some screenshots. Click on image to enlarge.

 

Pandora FMS
Nagios
Zabbix

 

12 comments

  • Willem D'Haese

    June 22, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    The default charting library in Nagios XI is no longer PNP4nagios, but Highcharts, which look much better then the screenshots you posted. It’s also very easy with XI to create ‘customizable’ user screens almost identical as the one you posted for Pandora.

    Nagios XI is not at all stuck in the 90’s. They have implemented major improvements which makes it very easy to manage your infrastructure with a ton of wizards, a REST API and an automatization tool called Nagios Reactor.

    Reply

    • Sancho Lerena

      June 22, 2016 at 4:54 pm

      Thanks for commenting Willem!, we’re not as specialist in Nagios as you are. We have reading through your website and people like you are more than welcome in our community. That is a nice point and we will check it as soon as we can. All additional information is always Welcomed! We want to show a unbiased point of view for our readers. Thanks for this, we appreciate it.

      Reply

  • Willie

    August 10, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Should be noted that NagiosXI is the paid version.

    Reply

    • Javier

      August 11, 2016 at 8:28 am

      Thanks for your comment Willie, we really appreciate it. Sure NagiosXI is the paid version, we have labeled it using Enterprise, however, happy to add paid version to the label.
      Best

      Reply

  • Marcel

    August 19, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Comparison communities?
    Nagios cons: chaotic ecosystem.
    Nagios pros: Not mentioned.
    Zabbix cons: Not mentioned.
    Zabbix pros: Not mentioned.
    PandoraFMS cons: Not mentioned.
    PandoraFMS pros: Not mentioned.
    This is not a comparison. I think you can do much better.

    Reply

    • Sancho Lerena

      August 31, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks for the tips. We will improve this article in the next days.

      Reply

  • Stefan

    September 29, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    “Zabbix and Nagios both need installing a lot of plugins in order for them to be efficient and offer a series of complete features.”
    I’ve never installed a plugin and i can monitor, SNMP, IPMI, WMI, SSH, telnet and simple check (port/ping etc) devices out of the box with zabbix. When I installed the zabbix agent on the machine I’ve a lot of more features without any plugins. In windows I can everything monitoring which is supported by perfmon (look at the output of ‘typeperf -qx’ in a cmd-shell).. when i installed odbc on the zabbix server i can query every database..

    Reply

    • ~Stack~

      October 6, 2016 at 4:29 am

      Came here to say that, Stefan! Good job. :-)

      Also, you can probably find several references on the Zabbix forums, but I have met someone that has Zabbix running on many thousands of nodes on 4 continents. I know from personal experience that when you start getting to 1000 boxes, you need some resources and design planning….but it does scale quite well.

      Also,
      “Zabbix has a powerful template and trigger definition system based on regular expressions. It’s quite powerful, yet at the same time complex in use: only meant for people who are capable of understanding regular expressions.”
      Except, the web interface is basically near-English expressions. Plus the documentation is really good. Plus the community is really god about helping. This isn’t as big of a con as it reads to be. The templates are amazing and plentiful. And the triggering system is the best I have ever used. I can literally script out known issues into the templating system. By the time it actually emails me that there is a problem, it has already tried every known fix that I have scripted for it. So many common issues I never worry about any more because Zabbix does it for me.

      Also,
      “Zabbix has its own graphs, but the graphs on Pandora are generated in real time from the database”
      Ummm…Yeah, I can watch the graphs update in real-time. I have several screens and information I watch in real time on the giant monitor in my office. I don’t know if this is a mistake or if I am not understanding what the author is talking about.

      So I recognize that this is hosted on pandorafms.org so it is obviously going to be written by pandora experts. But I am not sure they have the expertise to speak for Zabbix. I will also admit that I am far more in the Zabbix camp and I can not speak to either Nagios or Pandora.

      I hated Nagios from the first time I used it and a group I interact with uses it a lot so I can speak first hand to the number of times it fails as well as the frequency in which people curse its existence. That is the extent of my Nagios interaction and sums about all I know of it.

      I looked at PandoraFMS back in 2008-ish, and couldn’t get it to work. To be perfectly honest, I hear about it from time to time, but no one in my industry uses it (or at least no one brings it up when we talk monitoring solutions).

      About that same time in 2008 (I went through MANY monitoring solutions at the time), I came across Zabbix. I loved it then and I still love it now. It just keeps getting better and better. The API/s are freaking amazing. We embed Zabbix commands into many of our applications. We monitor dozens of services and we rely on it to keep our High Performance Cluster running smoothly (esp the automated triggers from users doing stupid things).

      I am glad to learn more about Pandora FMS. And I am glad to know there is a decent competitor to Zabbix to help drive innovation. But I was not impressed with this “comparison”.

      Reply

      • Javier

        October 7, 2016 at 1:15 pm

        Hi, thanks for your comment, we appreciate your insight. After reading your comment we clearly understand you are very experienced in Zabbix, however, we would love to challenge you to test again Pandora FMS. Since 2008 we have really improved our product, we are sure you don’t regret! who knows, maybe you decide to move to Pandora FMS in the coming months ;)
        In addition, we like the 4000 nodes installation distributed in different Continents, could you provide information to find that success case? We love hearing about interesting cases!
        Thanks again for your contribution.

        Reply

        • twitter surfer

          October 20, 2016 at 10:48 pm

          It doesn’t matter how many nodes/hosts are monitored. What matters is how many information is the NMS able to process in real-time.
          One can have millions of hosts sending each only one metric value per minute or hundreds of hosts sending hundreds of values per second.

          Even when considering information processed, then one still needs to take into account whether information prcessing is simple or complex.

          Under laboratory condition for instance Zabbix can process 50,000 values per second.

          Reply

          • Javier Fernandez

            October 24, 2016 at 5:12 pm

            Under laboratory, Satellite servers could process 50,000 monitors per second; PER INSTANCE, passing to the central system only filtered data. As you probably understand, there is not SQL database able to process 50,000 inserts per second and give a history of 2 years of data. The same for SNMP Trap collection, Pandora FMS can handle storms of several thousands per second, but filter most of all to avoid a system overload, is not to have muscle, is about to have brain. Having 50,000 events per second on a database is unusable.

            Pandora FMS have public customer cases with more than 10,000 servers monitored, with an average of 30 modules per server with standard intervals of 300 seconds between data capture. This means about 1000/modules per second, not impressive?. It manages two years of history data and the best of all, is not a “lab case” is a real customer :)

  • Mo S

    October 10, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    I think the comparison should have been limited to the free versions…
    I tested all three while looking for a system that would auto register new nodes across various cloud providers (using bare metal and virtualization) would take at most 2-3 minutes of setup for bare metal servers (install the agent, open a port and or IP on the servers firewall/iptables and copy paste a config file or two depending on server type and cloud location).
    Nagios was terrible for a dynamic enviroment and I could not easiy replicate setup across different server types plus the myrad of plugins was maddening…
    Pandora was very pretty and resource heavy, I also had a hard time keeping nodes registered after the initial contact.
    I mention the resource demands because for the initial tests I was using small vritualizations with 1GB RAM and a single core.
    Zabbix was easy to install and not resource heavy and worked well without any plugins, the default templates along with others that I found online for specific Linux server services I am monitoring got things going very quickly.
    Sure fine tuning maintenance periods and triggers and reporting was a process of a number of months but I managed 250 servers on that small virtualization and I am now in the midst of moving it to a dedicated server.
    Here are my current stats:
    Number of hosts (enabled/disabled/templates) 274 243 / 0 / 31
    Number of items (enabled/disabled/not supported) 13971 10947 / 2970 / 54
    Number of triggers (enabled/disabled [problem/ok]) 6008 5704 / 304 [6 / 5698]
    and more will come online overnight on reboot and I still have some 300 servers to add…

    Reply

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