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Discussing The Importance of SNMP MIBs

If you are familiar with networking you probably have heard about Simple Network and Management Protocol (SNMP). With this protocol, network technicians are able to monitor and manage their SNMP-enabled devices to keep track of the efficiency of their operations.

MIB files are one of the key points of this important protocol. Let's discuss more SNMP MIBs and some why they are important in SNMP monitoring applications.

MIBs Files and OIDs

Management Information Base (MIB) is a formatted text file that is contained within the SNMP manager. It collects information and organizes it into a hierarchical format. The manager will use this information from the MIB to translate messages before sending them to you.

SNMP MIB files are a major topic of discussion when we visit DPS clients around the country. It's also one of the first things people want to know about in our Factory Training classes.

This isn't without good reason. SNMP is a tremendously popular protocol, and it can't usually (more on that in a second) function without MIBs.

As a result, we spend a lot of time explaining the "codebook" role of MIB files in an SNMP environment. We necessarily have to talk about the underlying object identifiers (OIDs) that are explained in the MIB text.

Inside the MIB there are different managed objects that are identified by an object identifier. The OID is a unique address that differentiates devices within the MIB. For example, with an OID you can check on the exact status of a specific sensor between the variety of different sensors you might have.

You need MIB files to be able to read and understand OIDs - that's how you can monitor the status of a device.

MIB files and OIDs are an essential part of the SNMP architecture. These two components are critical pieces that allow you to monitor your remote sites and run SNMP troubleshooting.

OIDs naturally form a tree as shown in this picture. The MIB associates each OID with a readable label and various other parameters related to the object. The MIB then serves as a data dictionary or codebook that is used to assemble and interpret SNMP messages.

SNMP without MIB Headaches?

If you've ever wrestled your way through a DIY project involving SNMP, you know that it can be complicated. Maybe you can't get the MIB compiled into your manager. Perhaps your device manufacturer says "SNMP supported" on the box - but then refuses to send a MIB so that you have to buy their proprietary master software.

No matter the reason, MIBs can be difficult. With any master station, ease of setup is very important. You've got a lot of work to do when you're setting up a master station, from databasing all of your alarm points to setting up notifications. You don't need any more work than you already have.

That's a big reason we've made some moves in the last several years with the DPS T/Mon master station. T/Mon is an SNMP manager and also supports many other protocols (Modbus, DNP3, etc.).

With T/Mon, you no longer need to compile a MIB file into your SNMP manager. That's because T/Mon comes preinstalled with a variety of Device Modules that you can use to set up your SNMP devices much more quickly. Device Modules are, essentially, templates that T/Mon uses to understand exactly what each device that you install can support.

A Device Module tells T/Mon that, for example, your SNMP agent has 30 different system alarms that it can report when it encounters various problems. If you have a particular Cisco device, you will need to reference manufacturer documentation or install a MIB file.

Device Modules enable T/Mon to take care of all of that for you automatically. If the Device Module doesn't exist, DPS can make it for you. Any Device Modules that already exist will be sent to you upon request. That means that, as you continue your work with remote monitoring, T/Mon will add device support on an ongoing basis.

dpsInc OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= {enterprises 2682}
dpsAlarmControl OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= {dpsInc 1}
tmonXM OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= {dpsAlarmControl 1}
tmonIdent OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= {tmonXM 1}
tmonIdentManufacturer OBJECT-TYPE
SYNTAX DisplayString
ACCESS read-only
STATUS mandatory
DESCRIPTION "The TMON/XM Unit manufacturer.""
::= {tmonIdent 1}
tmonIdentModel OBJECT-TYPE
SYNTAX DisplayString
ACCESS read-only
STATUS mandatory
DESCRIPTION "The TMON/XM model designation.""

Converting SNMP to DNP3 at a Major Power Utility

One of the big reasons that you might be working with SNMP is that you need to convert it to another protocol. SNMP might not be the standard in your network, but you'll definitely have some devices that use it.

We recently visited a major power utility on the East Coast of the United States. In an office inside of a substation, we've met with Tyler. He explained to us that DNP3 is the standard protocol in use at the top level of their monitoring system. Still, he has so many SNMP devices that it's impractical to ignore them. He needs to have some way to process SNMP and convert it to DNP3.

In this network, it's necessary to have devices that can either output DNP3 directly or translate SNMP into DNP3. With its multiprotocol support, this is a natural role for T/Mon.

T/Mon can collect alarms from SNMP devices and build an internal alarm. With this internal alarm, you can trigger just about any kind of output that you want. You can view it on a list screen. You can view it on a map screen. You can automatically generate an email message to the correct team member.

You can also choose to output an internal team alarm in another protocol. In this case, you'd be taking the alarm that was generated from an incoming SNMP trap and turn it into a DNP3 message.

This is just one specific example. What you must understand is that you can achieve a single, unified remote monitoring system as long as you take care to install mediation solutions between the various incompatible parts.

SNMP master station
T/Mon supports over 25 protocols including ASCII, DCP, DCPF, DCPX, DNP3, E2A, SNMP, TABS, TBOS, and TL1.

Next Steps

The SNMP is one of the most widely accepted protocols to monitor and control network devices. That's why mastering this protocol is so important. If you already don't work with it, you probably might in the future. But, especially if you are starting a brand new SNMP project, it's important to arm yourself with important information to make informed decisions.

That's a reality for many of our clients - they are starting to work with SNMP but they don't know yet how it all works. So, to help them (and you as well), we've put together the How To Read And Understand The SNMP MIB File white paper. We've been in the business for more than 30 years and we have extensive knowledge about SNMP and the industry, and you can find all that in this white paper.

Download your free PDF copy of the How To Read And Understand The SNMP MIB File white paper and learn how to efficiently work with SNMP.