REVIEW: Essential SNMP, 2nd Edition

McGlinchy, Alistair Alistair.McGlinchy at
Tue Feb 7 18:53:00 GMT 2006

"Essential SNMP, 2nd Edition" 
By Douglas R. Mauro & Kevin J. Schmidt 
Published by O'Reillly Associates.

"Essential SNMP, Second Edition" seeks to explain "How can I best put
SNMP to work on my network?". This book covers many areas where SNMP
could be put to good use in my network, but it is let down time and
again by being inconsistent, vague, terse or just plain sloppy.

The first chapter sets a good tone as to what you can expect from SNMP
and how an SNMP enabled network fits into good network and system
management processes. 

It is in chapter 2 where the sloppiness creeps in. For instance, the
first snmpget example would not work [*1], and their chosen OID returns
the null string (surely sysUpTime or sysDescr would have been a better
first example)? The authors then imply that snmpget can only collect a
single OID (untrue) and that getnext can collect multiple OIDs but only
"over time". Fortunately the second snmpget example uses the correct
syntax, but without warning they switched to polling their loopback
address rather than the router of the first example; this is an
unnecessary complication bound to frustrate newbies. There then follows
a confusing and inaccurate description of getnext operation [*2]. There
are no explicit command-line examples showing getnext working, instead
we jump into a verbose tethereal extract of the snmpwalk with no
subsequent analysis (eg, should the user care that there are UDP
checksum errors?).  Presenting tethereal extracts is a good idea, but it
must come with detailed commentary and a healthy cropping of all but
SNMP payload after the first example. By the time we get to the example
of a SNMPv2 getbulk you have to flip back and forth 10 pages of packet
traces to try to work out the difference between it and a getnext.

The chapter on SNMPv3 was my prime reason for reading this book. Having
been scared off by the verbatim-RFC-quoting in Stalling's "SNMP, SNMPv2,
SNMPv3, and RMON 1 and 2", I had hoped that a more practical O'Reilly
book would cushion the blow into migrating to an SNMPv3 enabled network.
Unfortunately the promised "expanded coverage of SNMPv3" means 10 pages
on naming conventions and terminology with no command line examples, no
v1/2c to v3 migration tips, no passphrase management strategies, no
examples/success stories of v3 in high risk environments. You get just
one page on "SNMPv3 in the real world" and it ends with an ambiguous
assertion that "...isn't it nice to see that the basics of SNMPv3 really
aren't that scary". Humph!  Although there are occasional examples of
configuring and collecting via SNMPv3 throughout the rest of the text, I
would not dream of using SNMPv3 on a production network without
significantly more research.

Chapter 4 returns to "O'Reilly" form with some decent high-level advice
on planning your network management strategy, although explicit examples
would have been nice (eg, our 2x1Ghz box polls X devices every Y
minutes, etc). Chapters 5 and 6 provide a good flavour of the work
required to configure the NMS and individual agents, with HP OpenView
and Net-SNMP receiving the best attention.

Chapter 7 repeats many of the examples of Chapter 2 but now also using
their two chosen NMS GUIs. Here HP OpenView is definitely showing its
age and although the authors provide good work-arounds to it's
"features" (including Appendix A and B), they would have done well to
suggest alternatives (eg. MGSoft and GetIf). There is a tiny section
discussing RMON1 within Chapter 8. It covers interface threshold alerts
but fails to mention that RMON1 also includes local traffic history
storage, MAC address conversations totals and a full packet capture
functionality. RMON1 and RMON2 could well have had a chapter of their

Chapters 8 through to 11 cover the main systems and network
administration tasks commonly performed using SNMP. The body of the text
that goes with this section is very good and inspires a lot of ideas for
applying SNMP to standard admin problems. Unfortunately the perl code
examples to accompany the text are horrible. I can forgive the lack of
"use strict" in the seven line example in Chapter 7, but its absence
from the eight page disk-space checking utility [*3] with variable names
like $SNMP_EVENT_VAR_THREE and $IGNORE2 should not occur in published
code. In addition, the authors cannot seem to settle on a preferred SNMP
module, switching between  NetSNMP, SNMP::Info, SNMP, SNMP_Session and
SNMP_util [*4]. Eeew!

Chapter 12 and 13 relate to MRTG and Cricket monitoring packages
respectively. Although it is nice that these tools get the endorsement
of their own chapters, the actual discussion adds little to the
packages' own documentation. Had this book used a standard network
throughout (with known router names, IP addresses etc), and had they
used the tools constructed in Chapters 7-11 then this section could have
been an excellent worked example.

Finally, there are a few hidden gems in the appendices, especially
Appendix G's reviews of the current open source NMS packages. OpenNMS
and NINO look like something to experiment with further.

"Essential SNMP, Second Edition" could have been so much better. It
covers all the areas required to become the SNMP equivalent of the
Llama, but with so many bugs it just does not make the "O'Reilly" grade.
I may suggest this book to colleagues who want to get a feel for SNMP
and network monitoring, but would definitely refer them to other sources
for practical examples.

[*1] The community string needs a -c flag before it. This may be a
side-effect of this being the Second Edition where the first edition
uses a now-unmentioned snmp tool with a different syntax. Their test
router changes names several times too, sometimes even within the same
install script. 

[*2] A getnext of .1 (iso) will not return .1.3 (org) as implied from
the discussion, you will likely go straight to .
(sysDesc.0), as this will be the first *accessible* OID.

[*3] See: esnmp2/ch11/ in   

[*4] Why did favourite, Net::SNMP, still not make it onto the list, I
wonder? Unlike all of the other modules, this one can poll multiple
devices in parallel. See

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