Whenever it makes sense, I like to let other people do my work for me.  Case in point: Our old MRTG-based network monitoring system has fallen into a woeful state at Westminster College.  It’s still monitoring, but needs a whole lot of attention to be truly useful again.  I love MRTG and its pretty graphs.  However, when I started to look at the amount of work that would be required to really bring our MRTG monitoring system back from the abyss, I cringed a bit.  So, being the typical IT guy, I turned to Google for a solution.  Over the years, I’ve installed and played with just about every open source network and server monitoring system out there and, after looking around a bit last week, decided that Cacti would be a reasonable replacement for our existing MRTG-only system.  Cacti provides an easier administrative experience than a bare bones MRTG installation.

However, I really didn’t want to go through building the whole setup on either Linux or Windows.  I love both, but just wanted something that I could get working relatively quickly.

Enter virtual appliances.

The next phase of open source, virtual appliances are completely prebuilt virtual machines that include everything needed to get a service up and running.  Simply download the virtual appliance and install it on a virtual host and we’re off and running!  No messy Linux installation.  No half-working Windows installation instructions; just a working monitoring system that ran out of the box, so to speak.

There are a number of sites out there providing these free prebuilt virtual appliances.  There are also companies out there building and selling virtual appliances with support.  For our Cacti installation, I initially used an appliance I found on the VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace.  However, the edition available at that site did not include the latest version of Cacti, which includes soe features we wanted to use at Westminster.  So, I turned to a paid service–JumpBox–that makes a number of very useful virtual machines available — at a very reasonable price.   The JumpBox Cacti virtual machine includes the latest version of Cacti.

The installation process was very easy for both virtual appliances.  I downloaded the appliance and then used VMware Converter to move the downloaded files to one of our ESX hosts.

There are dozens and dozens of prebuilt virtual appliances out there to address every need from network monitoring to web content management to CRM.  From free to paid and everything in between, if you’re looking for an open source solution, this is the easiest way to get up and running quickly.