Prometheus and Zabbix are utilities for monitoring and alerting network services for devices and systems. This one network monitoring solutions offer scalable, reliable monitoring services, but the products differ in technology, tools, integrations and ease of use.
What is Prometheus?
Prometheus is an open-source software platform for monitoring and alerting, focused on time series data. Prometheus leverages its technology to provide extremely fast reporting of time series data sets. The network monitoring platform is best suited for cloud technologies, SaaS solutions and exceptionally large platforms.
What is Zabbix?
Zabbix is an open source enterprise-level monitoring solution that can monitor everything from small environments to large, distributed systems. Zabbix is scalable and accessible and can monitor millions of metrics with ease. Zabbix has been around longer than Prometheus and provides broader community documentation and support.
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Prometheus vs. Zabbix: Feature Comparison
|Time Series Data
|Time series, logs
|Less than 10,000 nodes
Installation and configuration: complexity and speed
Prometheus can be challenging to set up and configure. It doesn’t come with features like alerts or complex data visualization by default, so organizations must install and integrate these features separately and configure files manually.
Zabbix has more pre-installed features, making installation and configuration faster. However, Zabbix doesn’t offer some of the deeper configuration options in Prometheus that make it so powerful.
Query Language: PromQL vs. item keys
Prometheus uses the Prometheus Query Language, a proprietary language designed to assist in querying its time series data. PromQL is flexible, easy to use, and very similar to SQL, making it easy for most developers to learn. PromSQL provides advanced and granular control over Prometheus data.
Zabbix uses item keys to retrieve data; item keys are significantly more limited but easier to use than PromQL. Little development knowledge is required to use Zabbix asset keys, but some developers or analysts may encounter problems if they cannot get the stats or data they need.
Architecture: Metric Collection
Prometheus offers automatic service discovery and has a wide range of integrations. Many services already support Prometheus data collection processes or have libraries that can be added to do so. Prometheus periodically pulls metrics from the system; alternatively, stats can be pushed directly to Prometheus.
Zabbix’s architecture is divided into servers and agents; the server collects data while the agents send the data. It is also possible to install Zabbix agentless, in which case the server retrieves data from the required services in an agentless installation.
Neither architecture is inherently better than the other, although some consider Zabbix’s architecture to be older. Zabbix’s architecture lends itself better to hardware and device management; Prometheus is better for cloud services and SaaS.
Data Storage: Internal vs. External
Prometheus uses an internal time series database that provides lightning-fast connectivity to data. Unfortunately, this data is only logged for two weeks, after which an organization has to maintain its own remote data services.
Zabbix uses external, popular databases such as MySQL or PostgreSQL; an organization must build this database when installing Zabbix. Most developers can easily use MySQL, PostgreSQL and other SQL technologies, but this comes with a performance cost.
Data management: time series vs logs
Prometheus returns data extremely quickly, but is limited in its data storage. Prometheus only collects time series data and stores it in its quick-access file system for only 14 days.
Zabbix can store more complex amounts of data, such as system logs. Prometheus can be integrated into Grafana or other software packages to mimic this functionality, but Zabbix has native support.
Data Visualization: Customization Options
Both Prometheus and Zabbix offer multiple methods of data visualization and dashboard creation.
In Prometheus, users launch the expression browser. The Expression Browser is not a dashboard, but instead allows users to query the Prometheus datasets. For those who want a complete dashboard system, Grafana can be integrated to provide more in-depth insights.
Zabbix has a native dashboard system that can be customized with themes. Users can customize their dashboard with widgets and network maps, view charts and detailed reports.
System Alert: External or Built-in
Prometheus does not have a built-in alert functionality. First, Prometheus must be configured to send alerts based on alert rules. Next, Alertmanager must be installed to send the alerts. Once properly configured, this system is robust.
Zabbix has pre-built warning functionality. Alert rules can be designed to alert specific personnel during a particular event. Events can then be managed via remote commands, messages, and other user-defined response triggers. Zabbix has extensive reporting functionality.
Scalability: Performance at Scale
Prometheus tends to perform very well even on exceptionally large networks. This is due to its own time series database, cluster management and the overall simplicity of the architecture.
Zabbix performs very well up to about 10,000 nodes. After 10,000 nodes, Zabbix begins to suffer from the weight of its external relational database and the lack of reliable management for larger clusters.
Environment: service-based or machine-based
While Prometheus and Zabbix can be deployed in a wide variety of environments, Prometheus is generally considered a cloud and SaaS solution while Zabbix is a more traditional machine monitoring service.
Prometheus provides alerts for services, systems and data centers. Alerts can be triggered based on time series data. Zabbix offers more conventional alerts in terms of machines and devices. For some applications, Zabbix warning may not be robust enough; for other applications, Prometheus may be too complex.
Choosing Prometheus vs. Zabbix
Prometheus and Zabbix offer different levels of functionality depending on your organization’s monitoring needs. Prometheus offers a blazing fast, internal time series database solution; Zabbix provides easy-to-use, out-of-the-box metric monitoring.
If you need a time series database solution that’s quick and easy to query, choose Prometheus. Note that you will need additional integrations for alert functionality and storage after 14 days. If you need monitoring for a small or medium number of devices with easy-to-use, constrained queries and an all-in-one system configuration, use Zabbix.
While there are hosted solutions for both platforms, Prometheus and Zabbix are open source and free. Organizations can test both network monitoring tools on their systems to determine which solution is best for them.