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Admin Network Technologies

Monitoring by Zabbix: a working document

Intro
I panned Zabbix in this post: DIY monitoring. But I have compelling reasons to revisit it. I have to say it has matured, but there remain some very frustrating things about it, especially when compared with SiteScope (now owned by Microfocus) which is so much more intuitive.

But I am impressed by the breadth of the user base and the documentation. But learning how to do any specific thing is still an exercise in futility.

I am going to try to structure this post as a problems encountered, and how they were resolved.

Current production version as of this writing?
Answer: 5.0

Zabbix Manual does not work in Firefox
That’s right. I can’t even read the manual in my version of Firefox. Its sections do not expand. Solution: use Chrome

Which database?
You may see references to MYSQL in Zabbix docs. MYSQL is basically dead. what should you do?

Zabbix quick install on Redhat

Answer
Install mariadb which has replaced MYSQL and supports the same commands such as the mysql from the screenshot. On my Redhat instance I have installed these mariadb-related repositories:

mariadb-5.5.64-1.el7.x86_64
mariadb-server-5.5.64-1.el7.x86_64
mariadb-libs-5.5.64-1.el7.x86_64

Terminology confusion
what is a host, a host group, a template, an item, a web scenario, a trigger, a media type?
Answer

Don’t ask me. When I make progress I’ll post it here.

Web scenario specific issues
Can different web scenarios use different proxies?
Answer: Yes, no problem. In really old versions this was not possible. See web scenario screenshot below.

Can the proxy be a variable so that the same web scenario can be used for different proxies?
Answer: Yes. Let’s say you attach a web scenario to a host. In that host’s configuration you can define a “macro” which sets the variable value. e.g., the value of HTTP_PROXY in my example. I think you can do the same from a template, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Similarly, can you do basic proxy auth and hide the credentials in a MACRO? Answer: I think so. I did it once at any rate. See above screenshot.

Why does my google.com web scenario work whereas my amazon.com scenario not when they’re exactly the same except for the URL?
Answer: some ideas, but the logging information is bad. Amazon does not take to bots hitting it for health check reasons. It may work better to change the agent type to Linux|Chrome, which is what I am trying now. Here’s my original answer: Even with command-line curl I get an error through this proxy. That can’t be good:
$ curl ‐vikL www.amazon.com

...
NSS error -5961 (PR_CONNECT_RESET_ERROR)
* TCP connection reset by peer
* Closing connection 1
curl: (35) TCP connection reset by peer


My amazon.com web scenario is not working (status of 1), yet in dashboard does not return any obvious warning or error or red color. Why? Answer:
no idea. Maybe you have to define a trigger?

Say you’re on the Monitoring|latest data screen. Does the data get auto-updated? Answer: yes, it seems to refresh every 30 seconds.

Why is the official FAQ so useless? Answer: no idea how a piece of software otherwise so feature-rich could have such a useless FAQ.

Zabbix costs nothing. Is it still actively supported? Answer: it seems very actively supported for some reason. Not sure what the revenue model is, however…

Can I force one or more web scenarios to be run immediately? I do this all the time in SiteScope. Answer: I guess not. There is no obvious way.

Suppose you have defined an item. what is the item key? Answer: You define it. Best to make it unique and use contiguous characters. I’m seeing it’s very important…

What is the equivalent to SiteScope’s script monitors? Answer: Either ssh check or external check.

How would you set up a simple PING monitor, i.e., to see if your host is up? Answer: Create an item as a “simple check”, e.g., with the name ping this host, and the key icmpping[{HOST.IP},3]. That can go into a template, by the way. If it succeeded it will return a 1.

I’ve made an error in my script for an external check. Why does Latest data show nothing at all? Answer: no idea. If the error is bad enough Zabbix will disable the item on you, so it’s not really running any longer. But even when it doesn’t do that, a lot of times I simply see no output whatsoever. Very frustrating.

Help! The Latest Data graph’s Y axis only shows 0’s and 5’s. Answer: Another wonderful Zabbix feature, this happens because your Units are too long. Even “per minute” as Units can get you into trouble if it is trying to draw a Y axis with values 22.0 22.5 23.0, etc: you’ll only see the .0’s and the .5’s. Change units to a maximum of seven characters such as “per min.”

Why is the output from an ssh check truncated, where does the rest go? Answer: no idea.

How do you increase the information contained in the zabbix server log? Let’s say your zabbix server is running normally. Then run this command: zabbix_server ‐R log_level_increase
You can run it multiple times to keep increasing the verbosity (log level), I think.

Attempting to use ssh items with key authentication fails with :”Public key authentication failed: Callback returned error” Initially I thought Zabbix was broken with regards to ssh public key authentication. I can get it to work with password. I can use my public/private key to authenticate by hand from command-line as root. Turns out running command such as sudo -u zabbix ssh … showed that my zabbix account did not have permissions to write to its home directory (which did not even exist). I guess this is a case of RTFM, because they do go over all those steps in the manual. I fixed up permissions and now it works for me, yeah.

Where should the scripts for external checks go? In my install it is /usr/lib/zabbix/externalscripts.

Why is the behaviour of triggers inconsistent. sometimes the same trigger has expected behaviour, sometimes not. Answer: No idea. Very frustrating. See more on that topic below.

How do you force a web scenario check when you are using templates? Answer: No idea.

Why do (resolved) Problems disappear no matter how you search for them if they are older than, say, 30 minutes? Answer: No idea. Just another stupid feature I guess.

Why does it say No media defined for user even though user has been set up with email as his media? Answer: no idea.

Why do too many errors disable an ssh check so that you get Status Disabled and have no graceful way to recover? Answer: no idea. It makes sense that Zabbix should not subject itself to too many consecutive errors. But once you’ve fixed the underlying problem the only recovery I can figure is to delete the item and recreate it. or delete the host and re-create it. Not cool.

I heard dependent items are the way to go to parse complex data coming out of a rich text item. How do you do that? Answer: Yes they are. I have gotten them to work and really give me the fine-grained control I’ve always wanted. I hope to show a real-life example soon. To get started creating a dependent item you can right-click on the dots of an item, or create a new item and choose type Dependent Item.

I am looking at Latest data and one item is grayed out and has no data. Why? Answer: almost no idea. This happens to me in a dependent item formed by a regular expression where the regular expression does not match the content. I am trying to make my RegEx more flexible to match both good and error conditions.

Why do my dependent items, when running a Check Now, say Cannot send request: wrong data type, yet they are producing data just fine when viewed through Latest data? Answer: this happens if you ran a Check Now on your template rather than when viewing an individual host. Make sure you select a host before you run Check Now. Actually, even still it does not work, so final answer: no idea.

Why do some regular expressions check out just fine on regex101.com yet produce a match for value of type “string”: pattern does not match error in Zabbix? Answer: Some idea. Fancy regular expressions do not seem to work for some reason.

Every time I add an item it takes the absolute maximum amount of time before I see data, whether or not I run check Now until I turn blue in the face. Why? Answer: no idea. Very frustrating.

If the Zabbix server is in one time zone and I am in another, can I have my view of timestamps customized to my time zone? Otherwise I see all times in the timezone of the Zabbix server. Answer: You are out of luck. The suggestion is to run two GUIs, one in your time zone. But there is a but. Support for this has been announced for v 5.20. Stay tuned…

My DNS queries using net.dns don’t do anything. Why? Answer: no idea. Maybe your host is not running an actual Zabbiox agent? That’ll do it. Forget that net.dns check if you can’t install an agent. Zabbix has no agentless DNS monitor for some strange reason.

A DNS query which returns many address records fails (such as querying an AD domain), though occasionally succeeds. Why? Answer: So your key looks something like this, right? net.dns.record[10.1.2.3,my-AD-domain.net,A,10,2,tcp]. And when you do the query through dig it works fine, right? E.g., dig +tcp my-AD-domain.net @10.1.2.3. And you’ve set the Zabbix response to type text? It seems to be just another Zabbix bug. You may have to use a script instead. Zabbix support has been able to reproduce this bug and they are working on it as we speak.

What does Check/Execute Now really do? Answer: essentially nothing as far as I tell. It certainly doesn’t “check now”, i.e., force the item to be run. However, if you have enough permissions, what you can do when you’re looking at an item for a specific Host is to run Test. Then Get Value. I usually get Permission Denied, however.

I want to show multiple things on a dashboard widget graph like an item plus its baseline (Ed: see references for calculating a baseline). What’s the best way? Answer: You can use the add new data set feature for instance to add your baseline. In your additional data set you put your baselines. Then I like to make the width 2, transparency 0 and fill 0. This will turn it into a thin bold line with a complementary color while not messing too much with the original colors of your items. The interface is squirrely, but, hey, it’s Zabbix, what did you expect?

I have a lot of hosts I want to add to a template. Does that Mass Update feature actually work? Answer: yes. Use it. It will save you time.

Help! I accidentally deleted an entire template. I meant to just delete one of its macros. Is there a revert? Answer: it doesn’t look like it. Hope you remember what you did…

It seems if I choose units in an item which have too many characters, e.g., client connections, the graph (in Latest Data) cuts it off and doesn’t even display the scale? Answer: seems so. It’s a bug. This won’t happen when using vector graphs in Dashboard. The graphs in Latest Data are PNG and limited to short Units, e.g., mbps. Changing to vector graphs has been in the roadmap but then disappeared.

Can I create a baseline? Nope. It’s on the roadmap. However, see this clever idea for building one on your own without too much effort.

I’ve put a few things on the same Dashboard graph. Why don’t they align? There are these big gaps. Zabbix runs the items when it feels like, and the result is gaps in data which Zabbix makes no attempt to conceal at the beginning and end of a graph. You can use Scheduling Intervals on your items to gain some control over this. See this article for details.

Besides cloning the whole thing, how can I change the name of a Dashboard? Answer: If you just click to edit a Dashboard the name appears fixed. However, click on the gear icon and that gives you the option to edit the dashboard name. It’s kind of an undocumented feature.

My SNMP MIB has bytes in/out for an interface when what I really want is bandwidth, i.e., Megabits per second. A little preprocessing on a 64-bit bytes value and you are there (32 bit values may roll over too frequently). See this article for details.

In functions like avg (sec|#num,<time_shift>), why is the time_shift argument so restricted? It can’t be a macro, contain a formula like 1w-30m, or anything semi-sophisticated. It just accepts a dumb literal like 5h? Answer: It’s just another shortcoming in Zabbix. How much did you pay for it? 🙂

I have an SNMP template with items for a hostgroup of dispersed servers. Some work fine. The one in Asia returns a few values, but not all. I am using Bulk Request. Answer (to your implied question!) You must have bad performance to that one. Use a Zabbix proxy with a longer timeout for SNMP requests. I was in that situation and that worked for me.

Riddle: when is 80% not 80%? Answer: when pulling in used storage on a filesystem via SNMP and comparing it to storage size! I had carefully gotten a filesystem 83% full based on the output of df -m. But my trigger, set to go off at 80%, never went off. How could it be? The 83% includes some kind of reserved user space on the filesystem which is not included when you do the calculation directly. So I was at 78% or so in actuality. I changed the trigger to 75%.

My trigger for a DNS item, which relies on a simple diff(), goes off from time-to-time yet the response is the same. Why? Answer: We have seen this behavior for a CNAME DNS item. The response changed the case of the returned FQDN from time-to-time, and that is enough to set off the Zabbix diff()-based trigger! We pre-processed the output with a RegEx to just get the bits we wanted to examine to fix this.

Related question. My diff() trigger for a DNS item does NOT go off when the server actually goes down. What’s up with that? Answer: Although you might expect a suddenly unavailable server constitutes a “difference,” in Zabbix’s contorted view of reality it does not. I recommend an additional trigger using the function nodata().

Does the new feature of login using SAML actually work? Answer: Yes, we are using it in Zabbix v 5.0.

My OIDs for my filesystems keeps shifting around. What to do? Answer: Use low-level discovery. It’s yet another layer of abstraction and confusion, but it’s probably worth it. I intend to write up my approach in my practical Zabbix examples blog post.

After an Zabbix agent item goes bad (no data), Zabbix refuses to test it for a full 30 minutes after it went bad, despite an update interval of 5 minutes. Why? Answer: In one of the worst architectural decisions of all time, Zabbix created the concept of unsupported items. It works something like this: the very moment when you need to be told Hey there’s something wrong here is when Zabbix goes quiet. Your item became unsupported, which is like being in the penalty box for 30 minutes, during which time nothing works like you naively expected it to. Even the fact that your item became unsupported is almost impossible to find out from a trigger. An example of software which treats this situation correctly is Microfocus SiteScope. In Zabbix in version 5.0 there’s a global timeout for all unsupported items. Ours is set to 30 minutes, you see. In some cases that may make sense and prevent Zabbix from consuming too many resources trying to measure things which don’t work. I find it annoying. For DNS, specifically, best to use a key of type net.dns and not net.dns.record. That returns a simple 0 or 1 and does not become unsupported if the dns server can’t be reached. V 5.2 will provide some more options around this issue. For a HTTP agent and I suppose many other items, it’s best to create triggers which use the nodata() function,  which can somewhat compensate for this glaring weakness in Zabbix.

I wish to use a DNS value instead of an IP in net.tcp.service[service,IP,port] because I use geoDNS or round-robin DNS. Can I? Answer: It seems to work, yes.

Can I send alerts to MS teams? Answer: This is obviously a fake question. But the answer is Yes. You set up a Connector in a MS Teams channel. It’s pretty staight forward and it’s pretty cool. I’ll try to publish more in my Zabbix tips post if I have time.

Get a lot of false positives? Answer: Yes! On F5 equipment this one is vexing me:

Resolved: BIG-IP is unreachable via SNMP for 15 minutes

And for others (pool member unavailable for a few minutes) I tried to require two consecutive failures before sending an alert. Basically still working on it.

A word about SSH checks and triggers
Through the school of hard knocks I have learned that my ssh check is clipping the output from the executed command. So you know that partial data you see when you look at latest data, and thought it was truncating it for display purposes? Nuh, ah. That’s all you’re getting to go up against in your trigger, which sucks. It’s something like 260 characters. I got lucky in a sense to discover this early by running an ssh check against dns resolution of amazon.com. The response I got varied almost every 60 seconds depending on whether or not the response came out of the dns cache. So this was an excellent testbed to learn about the flakiness of triggers as well as waste an entire day.

Another thing about triggers with a regex. As far as I can tell the logic is reversed. So you think you’re defining the OK condition when you seek to match the output and have it given the value of 1. But instead try to match the desired output for the OK condition, but assign it a value of 0. I guess. Only that approach seems to work for me. And getting the regex to treat multiple lines as a unit was also a little tricky. I think by default it favored testing only against the last line.

So let’s say my output as scraped from Monitoring|Latest Data alternated between either

proxy1&gt;test dns amazon.com
Performing DNS lookup for: amazon.com
 
DNS Response data:
Official Host Name: amazon.com
Resolved Addresses:
  205.251.242.103
  176.32.98.166
  176.32.103.205
Cache TTL: 1, cache HIT
DNS Resolver Response: Success

or

proxy1&gt;test dns amazon.com
Performing DNS lookup for: amazon.com
 
Sending A query for amazon.com to 192.168.135.145.
 
Sending A query for amazon.com to 8.8.8.8.
 
DNS Response data:
Official Host Name: amazon.com
Resolved Addresses:
  20

, then here is my iregexp expression which seems to do the correct thing (treat both of these outcomes as successes):

{proxy1:ssh.run[resolve DNS,1.2.3.4,22,utf-8].iregexp("(?s)((205\.251\.|176\.32\.)|Sending A query.+\s20)")}=0

Note that the (?s) at the beginning helps, I think, to treat the newline character as just another character which matches “.”. I may have an extra set of parentheses around the outermost alternating expression, but I can only experiment so much…

I ran various tests such as to change just one of the numbers to make sure it triggered.

I now think I will get better, i.e., more complete, results if I make the item of type text rather than character, at least that switch definitely helped with another truncated output I was getting from another ssh check. So, yes, now I am capturing all the output. So, note to self, use type text unless you have really brief output from your ssh check.

So with all that gained knowledge, my simplified expression now reads like this:

{proxy:ssh.run[resolve a dns name,1.2.3.4,22,utf-8].iregexp("(205\.251\.|176\.32\.)")}=0

Here’s a CPU trigger. From a show status it focuses on the line:

CPU utilization: 29%

and so if I want to trigger a problem for 95% or higher CPU, this expression works for me:

CPU utilization:\s+([ 1-8]\d|9[0-4])\%

A nice online regular expression checker is https://regexr.com/

And a very simple PING test ssh check item, where the expected resulting line will be:

5 packets transmitted, 5 packets received, 0% packet loss

– for that I used the item wizard, altered what it came up with, and arrived at this:

(({proxy:ssh.run[ping 8.8.8.8,1.2.3.4,22,utf-8].iregexp("[45] packets received")})=0)

So I will accept the results as OK as long as at most one of five packets was dropped.

A lesson learned from SNMP monitoring of F5 devices
My F5 BigIP devices began producing problems as soon as we set up the SNMP monitoring. Something like this:

Node /Common/drj-10_1_2_3 is not available in some capacity: blue (4)

It never seemed to matter until now that my nodes appear blue. But perhaps SNMP is enforcing a best practice and expecting nodes to not be blue, meaning to be monitored. And it turns out you can set up a default monitor for your nodes (I use gateway_icmp). It’s found in Nodes | Default Monitor. I’m not sure why this is not better documented by F5. After this, many legacy nodes turn red so I am cleaning them up… But my conclusion is that I have learned something about my own systems from the act of implementing this monitoring, and that’s a good thing.

To be continued…

References and related
A good commercial solution for infrastructure monitoring: Microfocus SiteScope.

DIY monitoring

The Zabbix manual

A nice online regular expression (RegEx) checker is: https://RegEx101.com/.

Another online regular expression checker is: https://RegExr.com/.

Just to put it out there: If you like Zabbix you may also like Specto. Specto is an open-source tool for monitoring web sites (“synthetic” monitoring). I know one major organization which uses it so it can’t be too bad. https://specto.sourceforge.net/

Since this document is such a mess I’m starting to document some of my interesting items and Zabbix tips in this newer and cleaner post. It includes the baseline calculation formula.

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