The employees who do the actual work in IT need all the help they can get; these open source tools are handier than most.

Open source tools are a great asset to any organisation. In the majority of firms, the use of open source tools starts in the skunkworks of the IT department, where a few individuals leverage open source projects to perform a specific task that is either unfunded or underfunded.

This opens the door for more open source applications and frameworks. Yet with little or no advertising, many open source projects that every shop should be testing, if not implementing, never appear on the radar. Here are a few of my favourites.

Nagios: Open source network and system monitoring and notification

I've been a fan of Nagios for a long time. Nagios is a network and system monitoring and notification tool that has an extensive list of plug-ins and a vibrant community. There is a steep learning curve to set it up, but once that's done, you'll have your finger on the pulse of the entire IT plant. You can monitor just about everything on everything: temperatures in the datacenter (through the temperature of each server), latency across WAN circuits, storage capacity, performance, you name it. Implementing a full Nagios monitoring scheme in a reasonably sized organisation isn't a one-day project, but it will save significant time and headaches later, guaranteed.

Cacti: An open source app for graphing and trending

Cacti is a graphing/trending tool that uses SNMP and is a great complement to Nagios. Whereas Nagios can tell you when things go wrong, Cacti can tell you all about the trends relating to that problem. For instance, monitoring storage array capacity with Nagios may tell you that you've eclipsed a threshold, but Cacti will show you the trends related to that array, allowing you to determine the utilisation rate over the past six months or a year, which will help determine how much storage may be required in the coming months. This is also true about temperatures, airflow, LAN and WAN links, number of users on a particular server, license utilization (for applications that use licensing tools like FLEXlm), and so forth.

The web interface is easy to use, and most anything that uses SNMP can be monitored. As with Nagios, there's a large community around Cacti and plenty of plug-ins. The information Cacti provides is only as useful as the length of time it's been running, so if you're not using it yet, there's no time like the present to get started.


  1. You should be utilising these projects
  2. Rancid
  3. FreeNAS