NMS Primer 4: Main NMS Players

There are many different NMS products on the market, and it is difficult trying to select the right one. I see four main product groupings – it’s helpful to work out which general category suits you, then evaluate products from that smaller list. You can argue a bit about exactly where specific products fit in, and the exact classification, but this should give you a general understanding.

I’ve also listed example products for each category. This is not extensive – it is just some of the well-known products, and/or those I’ve personally worked with. If you have other products you think should be listed here, then let me know.

The four groupings I see are:

  • Big Iron (Service Provider/Large Enterprise)
  • Mid-Market (The rest of us)
  • Open Source (Could be used at any level, if you’ve got the right people)
  • Cloud-Based (For those allergic to running their own kit)

Big Iron

Everything is possible, but don’t expect it to be cheap or easy

These systems are designed for very large, very complex networks. If you’ve got tens of thousands of nodes, and integration into Business Service Management frameworks is critical, this is where you should start looking. Hopefully you’ve got deep pockets too. Well-suited to organisations that expect to have resources dedicated to network management.

Common Features: Distributed, hierarchical model. API. Integration with BSM frameworks. Advanced Root Cause Analysis. Policy-driven configuration. Add-on modules for extra functionality – e.g. NetFlow, IP Telephony monitoring.

Pros: Extreme Scaling, Extensibility through API/Scripting, low management overhead in highly structured environments. Ability to define automatic management policies based on any device attribute – can vastly reduce maintenance overhead. Often have capabilities suited to very large networks – e.g. MPLS monitoring.

Cons: High price, expensive support, consulting often required, out of date interface. Relatively high system resources required for small networks – systems are designed to scale up, not down. Slow development cycles. Watch pricing of add-on modules. Integration between components can be of variable quality.

Products: HP NNMi, IBM Tivoli NetCool, CA eHealth, BMC Entuity.

Price: Expect to pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.


I’m not looking for super-fancy. What I want is to do the basics, and well.

Designed for most Enterprises that have a few tens to a few thousands of devices. Most of the market will be well-served by this segment, or Open Source systems. Ideal organisations where internal network engineers will be deploying and maintaining the system, as opposed to consultants.

Common Features: Easy deployment/setup. Looks good in demos. Many features included in base product, rather than separately licensed add-on.

Pros: Greater visual appeal. Faster product development cycles. Focuses on the things that network engineers want. Simpler to deploy, configure and use. Better suited to ad-hoc changes.

Cons: Product inflexibility – it does what it’s designed to do well, but may not be customisable to the degree required. APIs can be limited. Scaling can be a challenge. In large networks, maintenance overhead may be excessive. May only have simple integrations with other systems. Limited Root Cause Analysis. May not offer advanced monitoring – e.g. MPLS.

Products: SolarWinds NPM/NCM, HP IMC, WhatsUp GoldCisco Prime Infrastructure, ManageEngine, ScienceLogic (can also be cloud-based)

Price: Thousands to tens of thousands, depending on scale and features.

Open Source

Why would I pay for software? I can do anything I want with Nagios!

Open Source systems can be used in all sizes of organisation, from very small to very large. The key is the quality of technical staff available, rather than the size of the network. Open Source systems are better suited to organisations that have good technical skills in-house. Common in Linux/Unix shops. With the right skills, and dedication, these systems can deliver the greatest benefits, as they can be made to fit an organisation perfectly.

Common Features: Source Code available, product can be completely customised. Setup and deployment needs a sysadmin, rather than a network engineer. Typically have strong user communities. Paid support is often an option, if you need to keep the boss happy.

Pros: May be the only product that can fit very specific niche use-cases. Price can be very compelling, particularly if you need to scale out hugely.

Cons: User interfaces can be variable in quality. Open Source isn’t much help if you don’t have the skills to change code yourself. Be aware of costs for add-on modules if using a product with a Freemium model.

Products: Nagios, Cacti, Zenoss, Zabbix, OpenNMS, NMIS

Price: Zero dollars up front. Possible costs if you use a freemium product, or need support. Probable time costs for implementation/maintenance (and remember, your time isn’t free).


Please take these servers away from me, I really don’t want to have to manage them. Just give me a useable product.

This category overlaps somewhat with the others, but I’d like to highlight it, as it makes a lot of sense for some organisations. As I define it, these systems have a cloud-hosted central management system, with distributed collectors. You deploy collectors in your network on physical or virtual machines, and they are completely controlled by the central management system. Ideally, all of the underlying configuration will be managed by the provider – it’s just up to you to configure network discovery, define polling and alerting policies, etc. This model is best-suited to organisations that don’t want to manage their management infrastructure themselves – they just want to use it. Also works well for those who need to deploy collectors into cloud-based infrastructure – e.g. AWS, Azure.

Common Features: Distributed model, consumption-based pricing, core components managed by third party.

Pros: Greatly simplified setup. Reduced ongoing maintenance overhead. Flexible deployment options. Price flexibility.

Cons: Reliance on third party. May not work for all security models.

Products: ScienceLogic (can also be self-hosted), LogicMonitor, Auvik

Price: Variable, but very flexible – can usually pay per device, per month, with no term. All OpEx costs, not CapEx. Overall costs comparable to mid-market solutions, with more flexibility. Be wary of costs if you may need to scale to a very large network.

Clear As Mud?

This breakdown should have helped to clarify your thinking about what class of products suits you, and now you’ll have some products to go and evaluate. I highly recommend the evaluation step too – don’t buy a product you can’t stand to use! Coming up next: Tips for implementation.


5 Responses to NMS Primer 4: Main NMS Players

  1. Daniel Dib September 12, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    Nice post. Addons seem to be really costly for NNMi, it’s quite tough to customize it as well. At least that’s my experience of it. For what we were using it it was pretty expensive considering the features aren’t exactly mind blowing. Because we had monitoring for other customers we needed a system that scaled though because thousands of nodes were monitored. Also NNMi was kind of a memory hog. I think it didn’t run well as a VM. Maybe that has changed now. We looked at OP5 which is based on Nagios. It was cheaper but did not have all the features of NNMi (yet).

    • Lindsay Hill September 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      Yes, the add-ons can be crazy expensive. I think there should be more features included in the base product. They’re trying to combine the products into one SKU (see ANM), but they’re still separate, with variable quality integration.

      Customisation can be a bit tricky. You can do a lot, but it can be challenging. And some parts just can’t be changed at all – you need to change your workflows if they don’t match how HP thinks you should do it.

      I’ve given up on worrying too much about memory these days. For most purposes, it’s cheap, and old-school people like me need to just let it go, and turn up the VM memory allocation. I only deploy it as a VM – depends on what I/O you’ve got available though – and you have to make sure you’ve got plenty of RAM allocated.

      • Daniel Dib September 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

        Yeah, memory isn’t much of an issue cost wise. The VM was running pretty horribly though for some reason. Not sure if it was due to I/O or something because of the massive polling going on. Anyway I haven’t touched NNMi for a good while now. It’s a good products but you just feel that the NMS market is kind of overprized for what it actually does. You absolutely still need a NMS though or you are working in the blind.

        • Lindsay Hill September 13, 2013 at 5:39 am #

          IME, people get all kinds of grand dreams, and want EVERYTHING…but they don’t do the basics. I spoke to someone the other day that had NO visibility of their network – I just don’t know how you can operate a network without at least basic up/down monitoring. And yet they do…

  2. SteveR October 1, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Well, yes it can be expensive if you just settle with a few common known names. We actually used some of the above. And ended up using CloudView NMS http://www.cloudviewnms.com . It can monitor/manage practically anything using standards (SNMP, TL1, services, web access, servers…). They claim it’s scalable to tens of thousands of IP nodes – we have just 650 thus far. And unlike others they do not charge as your network grows, which is from my point of view very important feature :-) Their e-mail support is surprisingly OK, though manual is not that good.