Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
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Introduction to Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)

In today’s complex network of routers, switches, and servers, it can seem like a daunting task to manage all the devices on your network and make sure they’re not only up and running but also performing optimally. This is where the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) can help. SNMP was introduced in 1988 to meet the growing need for a standard for managing Internet Protocol (IP) devices. SNMP provides its users with a “simple” set of operations that allows these devices to be managed remotely.

What Is SNMP?

The core of SNMP is a simple set of operations that gives administrators the ability to change the state of some SNMP based device. For example, you can use SNMP to shut down an interface on your router or check the speed at which your Ethernet interface is operating. SNMP can even monitor the temperature of your switch and warn you when it is too high. SNMP usually is associated with managing routers, but it’s important to understand that it can be used to manage many types of devices.

While SNMP’s predecessor, the Simple Gateway Management Protocol (SGMP), was developed to manage Internet routers, SNMP can be used to manage Unix systems, Windows systems, printers, modem racks, power supplies, and more. Any device running software that allows the retrieval of SNMP information can be managed. This includes not only physical devices but also software, such as web servers and databases.

Another aspect of network management is network monitoring; that is, monitoring an entire network as opposed to individual routers, hosts, and other devices. Remote Network Monitoring (RMON) was developed to help us understand how the network itself is functioning, as well as how individual devices on the network are affecting the network as a whole. It can be used to monitor not only LAN traffic but WAN interfaces as well.

RFCs and SNMP Versions

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is responsible for defining the standard protocols that govern Internet traffic, including SNMP. The IETF publishes Requests for Comments (RFCs), which are specifications for many protocols that exist in the IP realm.

SNMP Version 1(SNMPv1 ) is the initial version of the SNMP protocol. It’s defined in RFC 1157 and is a historical IETF standard. SNMPv1’s security is based on communities, which are nothing more than passwords: plain-text strings that allow any SNMP-based application that knows the strings to gain access to a device’s management information.

SNMP version 2 (SNMPv2) is often referred to as community-string-based SNMPv2. This version of SNMP is technically called SNMPv2c, but we will refer to it throughout this book simply as SNMPv2. It’s defined in RFC 3416, RFC 3417, and RFC 3418.

SNMP version 3 (SNMPv3) is the latest version of SNMP. Its main contribution to network management is security. It adds support for strong authentication and private communication between managed entities. In 2002, it finally made the transition from draft standard to full standard. The RFCs define the standard: RFC 3410, RFC 3411, RFC 3412, RFC 3413, RFC 3414, RFC 3415, RFC 3416, RFC 3417, RFC 3418, and RFC 2576.

Managers and Agents

In the world of SNMP, there is two kind of entities: managers and agents. A manager is a server running some kind of software system that can handle management tasks for a network. Managers are often referred to as Network Management Stations (NMSs). An NMS is responsible for polling and receiving traps from agents in the network. A poll, in the context of network management, is the act of querying an agent (router, switch, Unix server, etc.) for some piece of information. This information can be used later to determine if some sort of catastrophic event has occurred.

A trap is a way for the agent to tell the NMS that something has happened. Traps are sent asynchronously, not in response to queries from the NMS. The NMS is further responsible for performing an action based upon the information it receives from the agent. For example, when your T1circuit to the Internet goes down, your router can send a trap to your NMS. In turn, the NMS can take some action, perhaps paging you to let you know that something has happened.

 
 
 

 

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The second entity, the agent, is a piece of software that runs on the network devices you are managing. It can be a separate program (a daemon, in Unix language), or it can be incorporated into the operating system. The agent provides management information to the NMS by keeping track of various operational aspects of the device.

For example, the agent on a router is able to keep track of the state of each of its interfaces: which ones are up, which ones are down, etc. The NMS can query the status of each interface and take appropriate action if any of them are down. When the agent notices that something bad has happened, it can send a trap to the NMS. This trap originates from the agent and is sent to the NMS, where it is handled appropriately. Some devices will send a corresponding “all clear” trap when there is a transition from a bad state to a good state. This can be useful in determining when a problem situation has been resolved. Figure 1-1 shows the relationship between the NMS and an agent.

The Structure of Management Information and MIBs

The Structure of Management Information (SMI) provides a way to define managed objects and their behavior. An agent has in its possession a list of the objects that it tracks. One such object is the operational status of a router interface (for example, up, down, or testing). This list collectively defines the information the NMS can use to determine the overall health of the device on which the agent resides.

The Management Information Base (MIB) can be thought of as a database of managed objects that the agent tracks. Any sort of status or statistical information that can be accessed by the NMS is defined in a MIB. The SMI provides a way to define managed objects while the MIB is the definition (using the SMI syntax) of the objects themselves. Like a dictionary, which shows how to spell a word and then gives its meaning or definition, a MIB defines a textual name for a managed object and explains its meaning.

An agent may implement many MIBs, but all agents implement a particular MIB called MIB-II (RFC 1213). This standard defines variables for things such as interface statistics as well as various other things pertaining to the system itself. The main goal of MIB-II is to provide general TCP/IP management information. It doesn’t cover every possible item a vendor may want to manage within its particular device.

A sampling of these MIBs and their RFC numbers include:

  • ATM MIB (RFC 2515)
  • Frame Relay DTE Interface Type MIB (RFC 2115)
  • BGP Version 4 MIB (RFC 1657)
  • RDBMS MIB (RFC 1697)
  • RADIUS Authentication Server MIB (RFC 2619)
  • Mail Monitoring MIB (RFC 2789)
  • DNS Server MIB (RFC 1611)

Host Management

Managing host resources (disk space, memory usage, etc.) is an important part of network management. The distinction between traditional system administration and network management has been disappearing over the last decade and is now all but gone. The Host Resources MIB (RFC 2790) defines a set of objects to help manage critical aspects of Unix and Windows systems.

Some of the objects supported by the Host Resources MIB include disk capacity, number of system users, number of running processes, and software currently installed. Today, more and more people are relying on service-oriented websites. Making sure your backend servers are functioning properly is as important as monitoring your routers and other communications devices.

Books you may interested

SNMP, SNMPv2, SNMPv3, and RMON 1&2, 3e

 

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