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Essential SNMP (2nd Ed)

Douglas R Mauro amd Kevin J Schmidt
Published by O'Reilly Media
460 pages
£ 35.50
Published: September 23, 2005
reviewed by Greg Matthews
   in the June 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

Network administration is a very important job, quite distinct from system administration. It is the network administrator (NA) who has to install, maintain and run the network while keeping a keen eye out for security issues. Any network larger than a modest home network is too big to keep tabs on manually. Every NA worth her salt will have some sort of network monitoring software running 24 hours a day. To this end the Simple Network Monitoring Protocol (SNMP) was designed to be a low-overhead protocol for managing IP devices. SNMP can be used to gather information from devices such as switches and routers and also to change information on these devices. In fact these days SNMP can be used to manage just about any host on the network from Unix machines to modem racks. Together with Remote Network Monitoring (RMON), it provides a full suite of tools for examining the health of a network and all its associated devices.

This all sounds great, and indeed SNMP is a powerful tool in the NA's toolkit but remember, this is a protocol, not a shiny piece of software. I remember two things about SNMP from my days as a NA. First, the security of the protocol was practically non-existant. Second, every vendor published their own intractable Management Information Base (MIB) containing the schema for managing their particular hardware and many of them don't publish this data in an accessible form.

The concerns about security have largely been addressed with the most recent version of the protocol (SNMPv3) although many vendors continue to ship hardware that only conforms to SNMPv2 or even v1. The Second problem can be solved by spending an enormous amount of money on Network Management Software (NMS) such as the ubiquitous, but pricey, HP OpenView, although the last few years have seen an increase in low cost and no cost software of increasing quality such as OpenNMS.

So it would seem things have improved since I last looked in any depth at SNMP. This book would have been incredibly useful when I was first struggling to construct ``mrtg'' configuration files to monitor the entire departmental network. The first few chapters of the book are a quick but effective introduction to SNMP and what has changed in version 3. They cut through most of the confusion that has resulted from the change in terminology, discuss the new secure authentication and privacy, and introduce the concepts of managers and agents, MIBs and OIDs (Object Identifiers). This is followed by a quick introduction to NMS before a burst of chapters on retrieving and setting MIB values, polling and traps. Examples are illustrated with ``ethereal'' traces of captured packets, which aims this book squarely at the professional administrator. Code examples are given in Perl using the Net::SNMP module, a good choice as Perl is extremely widely used in network administration tools, and scripts can be easily extended to suit the individual NA. Along with Perl scripts there are sections on the famous Multi-Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG), RRDtool and Cricket as well as a chapter on the use of Java with SNMP. If this wasn't enough, the appendices go into even more detail on HP OpenView, Perl and the command line tools available on Linux and Unix, as well as listing all the RFCs that are relevant to SNMP (there are a lot!)

It is difficult to find fault with the content of the book. Although HP OpenView does not get its own chapter, its status as the Grandaddy of NMS is reflected in the way it is compared to other software throughout the examples. This is a solid textbook in the O'Reilly mold. The only criticism I have is an unfair one, I had difficulty staying awake whilst reviewing it, I find SNMP just about the driest subject in IT but this book will enable you to get through all the tedious configuration as fast as possible allowing you to move onto more interesting things that much sooner.

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