Highly Effective Server Monitoring Tools That Are Free!

Maintaining a server is a task that only a few like to do, and more often than not it’s something that requires undivided attention.  Like nurturing a baby, making sure a server is running optimally 99.9% of the time takes dedication, but it doesn’t mean that IT specialists are tasked with monitoring these critical instruments alone.

It’s impossible to prevent a piece of hardware from failing at any given time—no matter how much pampering it received prior to dying.  That’s why it is critical that system admins take the necessary precaution to ensure that should anything go wrong, a timely fix is on the way so that clients don’t experience downtime on their service.

When we’re talking about monitoring a server, we don’t mean walking up and down an aisle of server racks and checking to see if all the lights are blinking the proper color, or checking each individual component with an infrared thermometer. Sure, this level of attention to a portion of the infrastructure will help, but IT admins need data about each component in real-time. That is, they have to be able to see what the CPU loads are, how much memory and bandwidth are being used (among many other things).

So the bottom line for any type of server monitoring is to maintain optimal speed, stability, and scalability.  Without essential data on resource usage of all the critical components in a server, it is nearly impossible for an admin to correctly direct traffic or mitigate failure of a particular part.

To help IT admins do what they do on the daily, other IT professionals have concocted tools/software that makes the job of monitoring servers easier. Some are more robust than others, but they all essentially carry out the same tasks—if configured correctly, of course.

While there are many premium services and tools out there that have heavy price tags, there are still quite a few free tools that admins have come to appreciate and use widely.

A screenshot of Monit’s overview panel.

Among some of the top server monitoring tools is Monit, a server monitoring tool that not only keeps admins up-to-date about their system’s health, but it also attempts to remedy various issues as they arise. For instance, if the database server crashes, Monit can be configured to automatically restart the service. These predefined rules are easily integrated into Monit and helps systems administrators save time – time which could be spent diagnosing why the database server crashed in the first place. Users can extend the range of Monit to multiple machines by using M/Monit.

Ganglia specializes in monitoring clusters.

Another tool popular amongst sysadmins is Ganglia.  This particular tool is especially appealing as it’s capable of monitoring a whole cluster, and is definitely worth looking at if an admin wants to make monitoring of multiple machines more manageable.

Munin outputs highly detailed graphs of resources being used.

For monitoring system resource usage, many admins have become reliant on Munin. The program monitors core system resources like CPU and disk space usage, as well as server applications like MySQL and Apache. It then takes the data it gathered and generates useful graphs that give you the exact metrics of how many resources are being used daily/weekly/monthly. If an admin wants to have graphs and reports that give an arbitrary time frame (as supposed to presets of daily or weekly in Munin), they can use Cacti to draw up, for instance, a report that graphs just the last two or three hours.

Nagios Core is free, but is still feature-packed.

Last but not least is Nagios. This particular tool isn’t the easiest to deploy, but it’s packed with features that can’t be ignored if an admin is serious about their job. Nagios has many of the features that tools like Monit and Munin have, but it can also monitor multiple hosts and alert the admins when something is not functioning normally. The folks behind Nagios claim that this tool can take care of an entire IT infrastructure, and it’s hard to resist the ease dealing with just one tool instead of tinkering with multiple tools in order to do essentially the same thing.

Staying connected is a crucial part of how we work and consume information today. IT admins must not only stay connected, but they must also maintain whatever they’re connected to. Not many people would want to take up the task of monitoring CPU load and memory usage, but the ones that do are the ones that help to drive society. Thankfully for them, the task of maintaining society’s digital highway isn’t a tool-less job. Best of all, many of these server monitoring tools are free, and heavily documented, so any IT admin can get things rolling quickly.