You have probably seen (or even been to) your company's data center. If not, chances are you have looked at photos of one from a major company like Facebook or Google. Why bring this up? Because when some folks think about the word 'database,' images of rows upon rows of servers holding data come to mind. Others think of the cloud, with zettabytes of data stored in rows, columns and tables.
But who thinks of Management Information Bases (MIBs) which are, in simplified terms, another type of database? MIB is a Simple Network Management Protocol flat file nonrelational database that describes which devices are being monitored. The resources in the MIB contain nodes and are in turn monitored by a network management platform.
A MIB is an important component of a network infrastructure and knowing what it can do for your network is equally important.
In another entry to our ABCs of ITIM series, we are going into the details of what MIBs are and how they work.
What is a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)?
Before we discuss what a MIB is, we must discuss Simple Network Management Protocol, or SNMP.
SNMP is an IP-based application layer protocol that exchanges information between a network management solution and any SNMP-enabled device. These devices can include switches, routers and servers. To create more comprehensible methods of accessibility to monitor networks, vendors automatically embed SNMP support in devices. It also helps efficiently manage network performance and growth, along with locating network infrastructure issues.
Since most network components have built-in SNMP capabilities, SNMP is considered the preeminent network management language. Most IT infrastructure monitoring solutions will include SNMP in their feature lists, and so it has become a top ingredient in the recipe for network infrastructure management.
What is a Management Information Base (MIB)?
MIBs are text files containing organized data from specific devices. MIBs usually collect everything in a hierarchal order. Some of these are structured into groups based on the following:
- System—Contains broad information about the device such as descriptions, user/administrator responsible and the device's name.
- Interfaces—This information can be about network interfaces, including Ethernet adapters or other point-to-point links. These categories include name, status, physical location and the number of octets received and sent by the interface.
- IP—Information about IP packet processing, like routing table information, IP packet destination and the next stop of the route entry.
Within each SNMP-enabled device is a MIB. For example, a network router will have a MIB containing data regarding network traffic and forwarding information. Conversely, a switch will have a MIB containing a spanning tree, VLAN and bridging communication.
MIBs are identified or addressed with an Object Identifier (OID), which identifies a managed object in the MIB hierarchy. Usually, an OID is a device's setting or status.
What is the Purpose of an MIB?
We have all seen binary code before, i.e. the ones and zeros that appear on a computer screen. And those numbers will translate into words via a computer. An oversimplification, yes, but the purpose of a MIB is similar to the process of translating binary code.
A MIB’s job is to take the numerical strings found in an SNMP device and translate them into readable text. When an SNMP device sends a message (which is sometimes referred to as a “trap”), it will identify the data object with an object identifier (OID).
What is the Use of MIB in SNMP?
At its core, a MIB file will contain the management information of SNMP devices. To collect configuration or status-related data from managed devices, IT and network teams typically install SNMP management software on a specific computer. That computer is sometimes referred to as a managing entity or management system.
However, depending on what the managing entity or system is, the data changes. For example, when monitoring a switch, the data could be the amount of incoming traffic, how many active ports are in the network and other metrics.
Top 5 Management Information Base Examples
The following MIB types are not the only ones that can be found on a network. However, we wanted to highlight the following to show how varied MIBs can be.
- IP Forwarding Table MIB—A MIB module to help manage IP and ICMP implementations, however, excluding the management of IP routes.
- Ethernet-like Interface Types MIB—Interfaces are usually built out of several different chips. The MIB implementation is presented with a decision of which chip to identify via this object.
- IEEE 802.5 Token-Rings MIB—A communication protocol in a local area network where all the stations are connected in a ring topology and pass one or more tokens for channel acquisition.
- IETF Host Resources MIB—Host Resources MIB defines a uniform set of objects useful for the management of host computers. The host Resources MIB defines objects which are common across many computer system architectures.
- Link Control Protocol of PPP MIB—Point-to-Point Protocol provides a standard way to transport multiprotocol data over point-to-point links.
What is MIB in Networking Traffic Monitoring?
Most networking equipment manufacturers add MIB files to their connected devices, such as routers or switches, making it easier for IT admins to track the devices’ availability status and hardware performance. MIBs also play a crucial role in several practices with network traffic monitoring, including:
- Network communication—MIBs enable smooth communication between managed network devices. Managing entities will use the MIB file of a specific managed device to decode messages. This file identifies every data object inside the message with a numerical string called OID and assigns a relevant text label. The management system then uses this file as a reference to display those OID numbers in a human-readable text format. Without these files, the messages received by the managing entity are just a useless string of numbers. Further, loading the standard and device-specific files in the management system is crucial for seamless message translation and communication.
- Capability assessment—MIB files aid IT and network administrators in examining a managed device's capabilities and any potential issues that may come up. IT engineers cannot identify the types of traps (which are messages a device sends to a management system whenever specified events occur) that one particular device can send by directly looking at its components. If the MIB file does not mention the details of one distinct part of a managed device, it cannot send component-specific alerts to the managing entity. For example, a switch without port details in its MIB file cannot send traps related to port traffic overload.
- Device management—Every SNMP device has multiple OIDs or data objects. Managing multiple OIDs of numerous network devices is often painstaking or even impossible for the IT staff in most cases. A MIB file aggregates a specific device's objects in a single location, enabling IT engineers to discover and manage them quickly. They can also utilize a MIB browser (an SNMP network management tool) to handle these files and related devices.
If you are a current network administrator who needs a little assistance trying to measure any of the mentioned scenarios above, Progress WhatsUp Gold can be your solution.
How Does WhatsUp Gold Work with MIBs?
WhatsUp Gold is an IT infrastructure monitoring tool that helps you quickly identify and resolve issues in your hybrid cloud through intuitive workflows, system integrations, and unrivaled out-of-the-box functionality. Jason Alberino, Senior Product Manager at Progress, discussed how WhatsUp Gold's tools and features help manage SNMPs and, in turn, MIBs.
"WhatsUp Gold offers significant bandwidth utilization monitoring, including detailed insight into how each piece of bandwidth is used," said Alberino. "It does this through the use of a variety of cross-vendor technologies, including Cisco NetFlow, NetFlow-Lite and NSEL, as well as Juniper J-Flow, sFlow and IPFIX protocols. WhatsUp Gold has the ability to convert raw data from these protocols into powerful data displaying bandwidth utilization."
As of the 2022.1 release, WhatsUp Gold directly monitors any SNMP-enabled device, including routers, switches, servers and firewalls. It also supports several operating systems, including Windows, Unix and Linux. Alongside its SNMP-related support and powerful monitoring capabilities, WhatsUp Gold provides network management professionals with a complete set of web-based SNMP monitor management tools. These include, among others, SNMP MIB Walker, Explorer, multi-SNMP variable probing and trending.
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