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Processing and Overhead

Monitoring systems necessarily introduce some overhead in the form of network traffic and resource utilization on the monitored hosts. Most monitoring systems typically have a few specific modes of operation, so the capabilities of the system, along with implementation choices, dictate how much, and where, overhead is introduced.

Remote Versus Local Processing

Nagios exports service checking logic into tiny single-purpose programs called plugins. This makes it possible to add checks for new types of services quickly and easily, as well as co-opt existing monitoring scripts. This modular approach makes it possible to execute the plugins themselves, either locally on the monitoring server or remotely on the monitored hosts.

Centralized execution is generally preferable whenever possible because the monitored hosts bear less of a resource burden. However, remote processing may be unavoidable, or even preferred, in some situations. For large environments with tens of thousands of hosts, centralized execution may be too much for a single monitoring server to handle. In this case, the monitoring system may need to rely on the clients to run their own service checks and report back the results. Some types of checks may be impossible to run from the central server. For example, plugins that check the amount of free memory may require remote execution.

As a third option, several Nagios servers may be combined to form a single distributed monitoring system. Distributed monitoring enables centralized execution in large environments by distributing the monitoring load across several Nagios servers. Distributed monitoring is also good for situations in which the network is geographically disperse, or otherwise inconveniently segmented.

Bandwidth Considerations

Plugins usually generate some IP traffic. Each network device that this traffic must traverse introduces network overhead, as well as a dependency into the system. In Figure 1.1, there is a router between the Nagios Server and Server1. Because Nagios must traverse the router to connect to Server1, Server1 is said to be a child of the router. It is always desirable to do as little layer 3 routing between the monitoring system and its target hosts as possible, especially where devices such as firewalls and WAN links are concerned. So the location of the monitoring system within the network topology becomes an important implementation detail.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 The router between Nagios and Server1 introduces a dependency and some network overhead in the form of layer 3 routing decisions.

In addition to minimizing layer 3 routing of traffic from the monitoring host, you also want to make sure that the monitoring host is sending as little traffic as possible. This means paying attention to things such as polling intervals and plugin redundancy. Plugin redundancy is when two or more plugins effectively monitor the same service.

Redundant plugins may not be obvious. They usually take the form of two plugins that measure the same service, but at different depths. Take, for example, an imaginary Web service running on Server1. The monitoring system may initially be set up to connect to port 80 of the Web service to see if it is available. Then some months later, when the Web site running on Server1 has some problems with users being able to authenticate, a plugin may be created that verifies authentication works correctly. All that is actually needed in this example is the second plugin. If it can log in to the Web site, then port 80 is obviously available and the first plugin does nothing but waste resources. Plugin redundancy may not be a problem for smaller sites with less than a thousand or so servers. For large sites, however, eliminating plugin redundancy (or better, ensuring it never occurs in the first place) can greatly reduce the burden on the monitoring system and the network.

Minimizing the overhead incurred on the environment as a whole means maintaining a global perspective on its resources. Hosts connected by slow WAN links that are heavily utilized, or are otherwise sensitive to resource utilization, should be grouped logically. Nagios provides hostgroups for this purpose. These allow configuration settings to be optimized to meet the needs of the group. For example, plugins may be set to a higher timeout for the Remote-Office hostgroup, ensuring that network latency doesn't cause a false alarm for hosts on slower networks. Special consideration should be given to the location of the monitoring system to reduce its impact on the network, as well as to minimize its dependency on other devices. Finally, make sure that your configuration changes don't needlessly increase the burden on the systems and network you monitor, as with redundant plugins. The last thing a monitoring system should do is cause problems of its own.

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