GroundWork Revs Performance of Monitoring Tool
February 10, 2009 Alex Woodie
In the enterprise systems management arena, where 10,000 devices or more are continuously monitored for the slightest hiccup, performance is king. To that end, enterprise-level customers of GroundWork Open Source‘s new GroundWork Monitor version 5.3 release, unveiled today, will gain a 50 percent performance boost compared to previous versions. In addition to higher throughput, the new release brings security fixes, new operational reports, scheduling enhancements, and a new patch and update notification system.
From its headquarters in San Francisco, GroundWork Open Source is trying to do for enterprise-level systems management what Red Hat, MySQL, and JBoss have done for operating systems, databases, and Web application servers, respectively. Namely, riding the commercial open source model to bring advanced systems management features up the stack, while charging for maintenance and some enterprise-level features and attacking the huge installed bases of proprietary software developers along the way.
GroundWork’s product is largely based on dozens of different open source products and standards, including the Ganglia grid and cluster management software, the Nagios systems management tools (where the product’s i OS functionality originates), the Syslog-NG systems management standard, the Cacti graphing tool, the BIRT reporting tool–along with the core LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) platform.
On top of this open source foundation, GroundWork Monitor is developed and distributed in an open source manner. A beta of GroundWork Monitor Version 5.3 Community Edition, which is a free download, was released last fall, and today the company announced general availability of the Professional and Enterprise versions of GroundWork, which bring better support and access to more advanced features.
One of the big goals of the enterprise and professional versions of GroundWork version 5.3 was scalability. Improvements in other open source elements, such as the move to Nagios version 3.0.6, helped achieve this goal, but the company also made improvements to its own stack, in large part based on input from enterprise customers monitoring 10,000 devices or more. “We’ve taken some of the best practices we’ve found from these very large multi-thousand-node deployments for our enterprise customers, and rolled those back into the product as standard features,” says Simon Bennett, GroundWork’s product manager.
Customers will see a 50 percent performance boost just by upgrading to GroundWork Monitor 5.3, and they’ll be able to use that in various ways, Bennett says. “We’re expecting our existing customers to be able monitor about 50 percent more devices, or set up their monitoring to cover deeper metric gathering, or gather performance data more frequently, without having to make any other changes,” he says. And because license fees for GroundWork are based on the number of servers GroundWork itself runs on, and not on the devices managed, enterprise-level customers will be able to manage many more devices for the same cost.
The new release also introduces several new reports, bringing the number of out-of-the-box reports in GroundWork Monitor to 18. A new “top 5” report is designed to show administrators what 10 percent of their IT infrastructure is causing 90 percent of the problems. Another report makes it easier to view historical performance data, and could play a hand in capacity planning.
“We don’t intend to become a full capacity planning tool any time soon,” Bennett says. “But if you have the actual data from a monitoring system to back it up, the VP-level authorization, which seems to be increasingly common for these types of things, is a much easier case to make.”
The new release also brings better out-of-the-box security, Bennett says. GroundWork recently contracted with IBM‘s Internet Security Systems (ISS) division to assess GroundWork Monitor for security problems and recommend improvements.
The benefits of the ISS assessment showed up first in GroundWork Monitor version 5.2, which shipped last March and closed the most dangerous security vulnerabilities found by ISS. Version 5.3 targets medium-security threats, while a forthcoming release will bring fixes for the lowest risk items, Bennett says.
Does that mean the current product is not secure? “Security is a continuous process, not a product,” Bennett says. Updating the many open source components of GroundWork Monitor also helped to close known security vulnerabilities, he adds, but it invariably introduced new ones, too. “This is really an effort where you’re never done,” he says.
A new network service was introduced with GroundWork Monitor 5.3 that sends usage data from the customer’s installation back to GroundWork for it to analyze. About 25 percent of community edition users have “phoned home” to report on their installation, but the remainder of customers have turned the feature off.
“This is obviously tremendously useful from a product management, where-do-we-need-to-go point of view,” Bennett says. “It also tackles one of the probes, which is pretty common among OS companies in general, which is getting good metrics about how their products are actually being used and the level of penetration beyond just some large download number.”
Administrators may be more inclined to stay up-to-date with another new feature in version 5.3 that alerts them to the availability of patches, updates, security workarounds, and service packs. Instead of having to log into GroundWork’s customer support portal and knowledge base, users are presented the information directly upon sign-in, which is probably the best place for that kind of information.
Lastly, GroundWork Monitor 5.3 brings new scheduling features to handle things like unexpected sickness and vacations for IT managers. Because the tool is often used in mission critical, 24/7 data center environments, there was a need to close the loop and keep better track of the availability of administrators.
The professional and enterprise editions of GroundWork Monitor 5.3 are available now. A yearly subscription for Professional Edition costs $24,000 per server. For more information, visit www.groundworkopensource.com.