Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Instant OpenNMS Starter

Disclaimer: Packt kindly sent me a free copy for review.

TL;DR: Rating 4/5. Recommended for beginners and intermediate.


The book itself is short, but packed with information. A fast reader with some experience with OpenNMS should be able to finish it in 4 to 6 hours. Beginners will probably want to follow the pointers to the online documentation, check the configuration files and possibly experiment so they should allocate more time.


Before being published the book has been reviewed by Jeff Gehlbach. Anyone who has been involved with OpenNMS for some time know him, as he is one of the many brilliant minds working for the OpenNMS company, the commercial entity which develops and supports OpenNMS. Surely his involvement serves as a kind of seal of quality for the book. I for one was surprised by the clarity with even the most complex aspects of OpenNMS were presented in such a short text.


Instant OpenNMS Starter is divided in three main parts: installation, quick start and an advanced section that the book calls ‘the top 5 features’. The final section is a reference of sites and humans with more information on OpenNMS.


The author has been careful to link to the relevant sections of the online wiki when he felt that the wiki content was adequate, without devoiding the book of any additional practical information. For instance in the installation section he actually describes a more secure way of installing OpenNMS than that described in the online user guide and he does so by simply citing the extra steps while leaving to the online documentation to specify the rest.


The quick start section is useful for those in a hurry to just have something monitored with OpenNMS and needing to for a pointer on what all those links in the web ui do.


The advanced section is where probably you will spent most of your time as it describes the most interesting features of OpenNMS which are:
  1. service assurance through polling
  2. data collection through collectors
  3. thresholds and notifications
  4. events, alarms and automations
  5. reports


IMHO one glaring omission in this list is the Provisioning system which was introduced with OpenNMS 1.8 and is a key feature because it covers a critical aspect: how nodes are added into OpenNMS for monitoring. I reread the book twice hoping that perhaps it was mistake on my part, but I could not find a single reference to it.


The book covers each of the five areas with enough depth to give a dedicated beginner useful pointers and background on how to implement the most advanced features of OpenNMS. The author again intelligently uses links to the online wiki to extend the text.
Only the section on reports felt a little thin. In defense of the author one could say that the reports area is so complex that it would have quickly grown out of hand for this kind of book. Perhaps in a second edition he should consider expanding it to at least mention the possibility of creating Jasper reports from collected data.


Instant OpenNMS Starter is clearly aimed at, and I recommend it for, people starting with OpenNMS, evaluating it or who might have inherited a working installation and now have to maintain it. Users seeking to master one of the 5 areas listed above should certainly consider buying it when the online bits and pieces feel not enough or too sparse.
By the title it should come as no surprise that advanced users are not likely to find any new or useful information at all, but, again given the price and the short text, it could still be used as a kind of self-check.

Update Oct/2/2013

There was a brief exchange of emails on the opennms-discuss mailing list with the author, I think it gives useful context to some of the items in my review. I reproduce it under here in full (link) :

Regarding Provisiond, I agree that it needs to be there. When I wrote the book I had to follow very specific guidelines from the publisher. In the top 5 features section I had to decide how to organize it. It was either going to be Capsd or the new and improved Provisiond as one of the 5. When I wrote it, Capsd was still enabled by default and I thought it was easier to get started with. If I would redo it now, I would change the section to Provisiond with a simple mention of how it evolved. In fact, I am preparing this very section now and will make it available on my site. Would be nice to have a revised edition though, I'll check with the publisher. Regarding reports I think it would be nice to have a similar short book of its own on the subject, going through OpenNMS' default reporting capabilities, more advanced custom JasperReports and maybe some modern ajax report dashboards built on top of the nice RESTful API (something I've been wanting to explore). Just thoughts...



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