When it comes to network monitoring there are plenty of tools that offer an excellent monitoring experience. However, few collisions garner as much attention as Nagios vs Zabbix. Both solutions have been deployed by organizations to monitor large enterprise networks. In this article, we’re going to be comparing Nagios Core and Zabbix because they are both open source and available for free (rather than Nagios XI which is a paid product).
As network monitors both offer users the perfect balance of simplicity and depth. Being able to monitor your network is all dependent on your perspective. On the whole, both programs deliver a comprehensive view of the connected network. The quality of these two products makes it very difficult to pick which is best, but we’ve gone through the process of breaking down each product based on key features.
We’re going to examine key features like dashboards, configurability, alerts, protocol support, autodiscovery, and plugins. The aim is to take a thorough look at what each product has to offer and which delivers a better overall monitoring experience. Below is a brief summary of how these two products stack up:
|Dashboard and User Interface||High-quality dashboard.|
The Nagios Core dashboard provides basic information such as the status of devices but it doesn’t offer the same level of clarity and display quality as Zabbix.
Zabbix has the edge based on its production value. The Zabbix dashboard can be customized and offers a cleaner experience than Nagios Core.
|Configuration||Nagios forces the user to enter configurations as text files.||Configuration is another feature that leans heavily towards Zabbix. |
Zabbix allows you to change your configurations through a web-based interface.
|Zabbix (based on convenience and ease of use)|
|Visualization||Nagios Core doesn’t offer graphs by default. However, if you download the NagVis plugin then you can monitor your network through the use of graphs.||Zabbix has its own premium graphs available out-of-the-box. ||Zabbix (based on convenience)|
|Web Interface||Has its own web-based interface. |
Convenient to deploy but your interaction with Nagios Core is quite limited. For example, you can do the basics like view network health and generate reports but you can’t do much more. The user interface is also considerably outdated.
|Has its own web-based interface. |
Convenient to deploy. Zabbix allows you to configure your monitoring environment through the use of a modern user interface.
|Autodiscovery||Unable to run autodiscovery by default. |
However, with the NagiosQL plugin, you can run autodiscovery to find connected devices. This is one of the few areas where Nagios Core has a distinct advantage over Zabbix.
|Unable to run autodiscovery by default.||Nagios Core|
|Protocol Support||Offers support for HTTP, FTP, SMTP, SNMP, POP3, SSH and MySQL.||Offers support for HTTP, FTP, SMTP, SNMP, POP3, SSH and MySQL.||Evenly matched|
|Alerts and Notifications||Alerts and notifications are offered out-of-the-box. |
You can opt to receive Alerts through email and SMS. Nagios Core offers multiple alert levels but it simply doesn’t match Zabbix’s customization.
|Alerts and notifications are offered out-of-the-box. |
You can opt to receive Alerts through email and SMS. Zabbix also allows You to customize messages and to determine an escalation chain.
|Monitoring Templates||No||Zabbix offers templates for FTP, HTTP, HTTPS, IMAP, LDAP, MySQL, NNTP, SMTP, SSH, POP and Telnet.||Zabbix|
|Plugins||Nagios Core offers an extensive range of additional plugins.||No||Nagios Core|
|Community||67,000 members||80,000 members||Zabbix|
Nagios Core has the advantage of acting as a stepping stone into Nagios XI. This allows the user to upscale their needs.
Dashboard and User Interface
The first comparison we’re going to look at between these two products is their user interfaces. Crucially this means the dashboard. On both programs, the dashboard is going to be where you spend most of your time, so it is important that you have the ability to monitor your network effectively. Nagios Core offers a user experience that keeps things simple. There is a visual display of infrastructure health and various color-coded displays to show how well your network is functioning.
Services and devices are categorized with a variety of statuses such as: Ok, Warning, Unknown, Critical and Pending. This provides you with all you need to monitor an enterprise-grade network. A navigation tree is shown on the left-hand side of the page so that you can easily see where key pages like trends, alerts, and notifications are located.
On the other hand, Zabbix’s dashboard maintains a very high-quality appearance. The user interface is crisp and the color-coded displays come out of the screen well-defined. The Zabbix dashboard is completely customisable. While you may need some knowledge of coding to get the most out of its design, it offers you a more personalized experience than Nagios Core. For example, you can have tables detailing host and system statuses on the front page so that you know immediately if there are any problems.
In terms of overall user experience, usability and design, Zabbix has a distinct advantage. The mix of modernity and a customizable design makes for a truly personalized monitoring experience. While Nagios Core certainly has the foundations for you to monitor your network it just isn’t as satisfying to use.
Configuration is an area that is going to come up a lot in this discussion because it is so important to structuring the monitoring experience. Zabbix has a massive advantage in this respect because you can change configurations via the web-based interface. One of the main issues with Nagios Core is that all configurations must be entered as text files. Rather than interacting with the user interface, the user has to create text files.
The result is configurations that are inconvenient to establish. Zabbix gets the nod in this area based on how easy it is to create configurations. While text file-based configurations aren’t the end of the world newer users would be much more comfortable interacting with Zabbix’s GUI.
One of the features that all the best network monitoring tools have in common is visualization. Programs that display your network data in graphs and charts that are easy to read are undoubtedly the most popular. Being able to refer to a graph to view trends on your network is key to understanding what’s going on under the hood. Of the two products, only Zabbix comes equipped with graphs out-of-the-box.
In order to view graphs on Nagios Core you need to use the NagVis plugin. This isn’t a difficult process but the lack of this feature is definitely a missed opportunity. Zabbix’s visualization is clearly the better of the two. Once you’ve raised a graph on Zabbix the design stands up to almost any other network monitoring product you can think of, making it our number one pick here.
Both Nagios and Zabbix have a web-used interface but this is an area where Zabbix has a clear advantage. Nagios Core offers you a basic user interface but aside from the outdated online experience you can only view network health and generate reports. While this is enough for most users it doesn’t allow you to create any custom configurations. Zabbix can be configured according to your requirements by default whereas with Nagios you need to configure via text files or deploy additional plugins.
If you’re looking for a platform that is easy to deploy and accessible online then Zabbix should be your choice. Nagios Core offers a web-GUI that feels ten years out of date. While Nagios Core’s design still gets the job done Zabbix’s configuration and lean web interface make it much more adept at handling large enterprise workloads.
Technically neither Nagios Core or Zabbix can conduct autodiscovery by default, however, with the help of a plugin called NagiosQL you can autodiscover devices throughout your network. This means that when you launch Nagios it will start to look for devices automatically. In other words, you won’t have to manually add them. On Zabbix you’ll need to spend time doing this manually.
By visiting the Nagios exchange site you can activate that NagiosQL plugin. This is one feature where Nagios Core has a massive advantage over Zabbix. The ability to add devices to your network without having to manually configure everything saves you a lot of time and effort before starting your network monitoring.
A large part of a systems monitoring ability is linked to its use of protocols. Without the right protocols, your visibility on a network is severely limited. Luckily both Zabbix and Nagios have a decent range of protocols for you to work with. Both products support HTTP, FTP, SMTP, SNMP, POP3, SSH, and MySQL. With regards to protocol support, Nagios Core and Zabbix are evenly matched.
Alerts and Notifications
Alerts and notifications have become one of the most important aspects of network monitoring. Manual monitoring is deeply flawed and even if you were at your desk 24 hours a day you wouldn’t be able to spot every little event that takes place on your network. Alerts allow you to rely on your network monitoring system to flag problematic activity for you to resolve.
Both Zabbix and Nagios Core have their own alerts system. Each product alerts you via email and SMS when something problematic is detected. Nagios has multiple alert levels, designating events with an error, warning or okay message. This helps you to prioritize which events are the most important. Zabbix’s alerts and notifications are good because they allow you to customize your message content.
For instance, you can make messages include information such as data and time, hostname, item value, trigger value, host profile, user macros and escalation history. This is very useful for making sure that all the relevant information is included. However what really gives Zabbix’s alerts system the edge is its escalation abilities. If your initial message receives no response then it will be sent to another recipient. In the event that there is no response at the end of the chain it can execute a command automatically to act.
This cluster of alerting configurations allows you to customize an alerts system according to the needs of your team. You can designate who is the first point of contact and make sure that other team members are ready to step in if there is no response. Based on customized messages and the ability to determine escalation chains, Zabbix has a clear advantage.
Templates are an area that often gets overlooked in favor of grander features like customizable dashboards and visualization. This is unfortunate because monitoring templates eliminate lots of manual configuration needs. Zabbix has a range of templates for FTP, HTTP, HTTPS, IMAP, LDAP, MySQL, NNTP, SMTP, SSH, POP and Telnet. These templates allow you to hit the ground running and start monitoring straight away from template settings.
Nagios Core has no monitoring templates. While you can find information on monitoring setups from the wider Nagios community, it still requires more investment than the default templates offered by Zabbix. Zabbix’s templates make a massive difference to the overall network monitoring experience and give this product the upper hand here.
In many other sections, you’ve heard us talk about plugins on Nagios. The availability of plugins is something that sets Nagios Core apart from Zabbix. There are hundreds of plugins available to be used with Nagios Core. While not all of these are useful, there are many that are. Even though Zabbix is a formidable tool the lack of plugins is somewhat of a missed opportunity. Nagios Core offers the better value of the two in terms of plugins.
Having a diverse and active community behind a tool is often just as useful as any core features themselves. The community surrounding a network monitoring platform stands as a source of valuable information and insight. If you have a problem with your product or you need guidance on how to get the most out of your monitoring environment, then the community forums of your respective product should be one of your first ports of call.
Both Nagios and Zabbix are known for having active support communities. Zabbix currently has a list of members totalling over 80,000, and a substantial number of active users. Surprisingly Nagios has significantly less with roughly 67,000 users. The substantial following of both communities provides you with a reliable resource of information on each product.
The user communities of both tools provide rich sources of extensions to these products. In the case of Nagios, you can get hundreds of add-ons from the community for free. Zabbix can actually employ Nagios add-ons with a little manual scripting to adapt the output of functions from the Nagios architecture to the more simplistic information flow procedures of Zabbix. However, the Zabbix community is a great source of templates, which is the main method available to customize Zabbix.
As both Nagios Core and Zabbix are open source projects, you are perfectly entitled to access the code, rewrite parts of it, and create a customized implementation that fits your needs exactly. However, in most cases, users of Nagios Core tend to rely on add-ons to customize the system and Zabbix users rely on templates as a method of customization.
Both Nagios Core and Zabbix have built-in agents that extend the capabilities of the tools. Zabbix has one agent that manages all services. This is called the Zabbix Agent. You can make the Zabbix agent perform similar tasks to the services provided by different agents in Nagios Core.
Those Nagios Core agents are the Nagios Remote Plugin Executor (NRPE), which facilitates remote monitoring, the Nagios Remote Data Processor (NRDP), which is a data transport mechanism, NSClient++, which enables Nagios Core to monitor Windows devices, and Nagios Cross Platform Agent, which is an API to feed data into other applications.
In the services, the modular approach of Nagios is a clear winner over the Zabbix Agent.
It is no secret that network monitoring tools can be pricey, particularly with regards to the most popular tools on the market. However, both Zabbix and Nagios buck this trend by being available for free. The difference between the two is that you can upgrade Nagios Core to Nagios XI. While these aren’t the same product, it is worth including because it does provide users with a path through which to upscale. Nagios XI starts from $1,995 (£1,519). This price allows you to use infrastructure monitoring, capacity planning graphs, alongside thousands of addons and multi–tenant capabilities.
While these two are neck and neck in price, we have to give the edge to Nagios because you have the ability to upgrade if needed. The features offered by upgrading to Nagios XI are substantial enough to outperform Zabbix in many key areas. One area, in particular, would be that of configuration wizards which take you through the process of using various features on Nagios.
Zabbix: Premium Network Monitoring Available for Free
After comparing the two it is clear that Zabbix is the winner. While Nagios Core has the basics in place to run effective network monitoring it simply doesn’t have the experience and configurability that Zabbix does. Zabbix is a free network monitor that performs like a product situated in the very top price bracket. Besides the lack of an autodiscovery feature, Zabbix is a very well-rounded product.
While it doesn’t have the autodiscovery ability of Nagios Core it performs highly across the board. In most key differentiators, Zabbix simply outperforms Nagios Core. With an alerts system with automatic escalation to clear graph generation, this product has everything.
Zabbix’s features come together to build a very simple and fulfilling monitoring experience. Monitoring templates reduce the amount of manual configuration that needs to be completed to view your network. Once a problem has been spotted customized messages and the escalation chain makes event response extraordinarily efficient. The program responds to key events by passing information straight to key members automatically.
Even though Nagios Core offers a quality monitoring experience, it isn’t on Zabbix’s level. The user interface looks outdated, and the lack of convenient configuration and default visualization really lets it down. In spite of this Nagios Core does have the distinct advantage of autodiscovery, a web-based GUI and additional plugins.
In most enterprise environments Zabbix is the better tool to use. If you’re considering implementing a network monitoring tool in your organization we strongly recommend you consider Zabbix. Though it can be easy to overlook in a market this saturated, it is definitely one you should consider if you value lightweight deployment and premium configuration.
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