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Feb 9 / Greg

What is Cacti?

Here is another post in my What is series.  I plan on introducing the products I will be writing about the most in this fashion.  Build a little background, then start moving on to specifics. 

Cacti is THE monitoring solution.  Not just Open-source, but any source.  I want to say it was around 4 years ago I was doing some research on netflow collection.  I had been browsing source-forge, page after page.  It was about midnight and I was quickly approaching being brain fried.  I, randomly, clicked the link at the bottom of the page to jump to like page 110.  There was Cacti.  I read the description and it really had nothing to do with Netflow, but it sounded interesting.  I continued to read about it.  It does SNMP monitoring of any kind of device.  It has built in templates for most devices, and you can build and download templates for anything not included.  I installed it and had it running relatively easily.  Within a couple of days our exchange server’s C drive filled and the mail store stopped and our manager was screaming for a way to monitor this…”Check out Cacti.  We can monitor and alert for just this situation.”  We began using it immediately and I haven’t stopped singing it’s praises since. 

By default all it does is SNMP monitoring, and it does it extremely well.  On top of that there are a ton of awesome plugins.  While speaking of plugins I have to mention that a co-worker that helped me get that first Cacti box running, Jimmy, quickly began to love the system also.  He is one of the finest PHP programmers I have ever met and since Cacti is written in PHP…well…he’s now one of the core developers…heh.  He developed the plugin architecture and has written most of the plugins that really make Cacti a powerhouse.

Cacti instillation isn’t too bad.  It can run on any OS that supports PHP, including Windows.  The easiest way to install is using CactiEZ, which is a Centos based distro that auto loads Cacti will the plugin architecture and many plugins.  You simply burn an ISO, insert it into your machine, and sit back.  The CD formats the drive and loads the OS.  Remove the CD when it is installed and reboot and you have a fully functioning instillation.  Since it is developed by Jimmy, it has tons of plugins running.  It will do your Netflow aggregation and displaying, weather-maps(a map with arrows between your devices displaying bandwidth utilization), mac address tracking in your network, syslog collecting and alerting(and with a new plugin SNMP trap collection and alerting), a host monitoring page with audio alert ( great for a NOC display). 

How do I use Cacti?

  • Syslog – every BGP, OSPF, Login, Spanning-tree event alerts us
  • Weathermap shows us traffic flow on our network
  • Graphing – I monitor and alert on hard drive utilization(anything above 80%), CPU utilization, temperature, genset fuel level, etc.

If you want, you can monitor the level of toner in your printers!  It can do everything.

CactiEZ can be found at is the official page for cacti and has exceptional forums.

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