graphs with rrd tool

Use RRDtool to easily generate graphs for just about anything.

You may be familiar with graphing bandwidth usage with tools such as MRTG. From a security standpoint it’s useful to graph bandwidth usage, since it can help you spot anomalous behavior. Having a history of typical bandwidth usage gives you a baseline to judge what’s going on. This can make it easier to determine if somebody is performing a DoS attack on your site, or if a machine on your network is acting as a Warez depot.

RRDtool ( provides similar functionality to MRTG, but it is much more flexible. RRDtool is basically a tool for storing data in a general-purpose database that will never grow in size. RRD stands for round-robin database , which is a special type of database that maintains a fixed number of entries—the oldest entry is constantly being replaced by the newest data. RRDtool also has the ability to generate graphs of the data contained in a round-robin database.

The most common use of RRDtool is to make pretty bandwidth graphs. This is easily done with RRDtool and snmpget, a utility that queries devices managed with SNMP. First, you’ll need to create a round-robin database by running a command similar to this one:

$ rrdtool create zul.rrd –start N \

DS:de0_in:COUNTER:600:U:U \

DS:de0_out:COUNTER:600:U:U \

RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:1:600 \

RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:6:700 \

RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:24:775 \

RRA:AVERAGE:0.5:288:797 \

RRA:MAX:0.5:1:600 \

RRA:MAX:0.5:6:700 \

RRA:MAX:0.5:24:775 \


This command creates a database containing entries for two separate counters, de0_in and de0_out. These will store samples of interface statistics collected every five minutes from an SNMP daemon on a router. In addition, it contains several fields for automatically maintaining running averages.

You can populate the database by running a command like this:

$ rrdtool update zul.rrd N:\

`snmpget -Oqv zul public interfaces.ifTable.ifEntry.ifInOctets.4`:\

`snmpget -Oqv zul public interfaces.ifTable.ifEntry.ifOutOctets.4`

This command queries the input and output statistics for the de0 interface on a computer named zul. To schedule it to run every five minutes, you could make a crontab entry similar to the following:

0-55/5 * * * * rrdtool update /home/andrew/rrdbs/zul.rrd N:`snmpget -Oqv zul public

interfaces.ifTable.ifEntry.ifInOctets.4`:`snmpget -Oqv zul public


However, you can use whatever methods you want to collect the data. To generate hourly graphs of the data, you could run a command like this:

rrdtool graph zul_de0-hourly.png -t “Hourly Bandwidth” –start -3600 \

DEF:inoctets=zul.rrd:de0_in:AVERAGE \

DEF:outoctets=zul.rrd:de0_out:AVERAGE \

AREA:inoctets#00FF00:”de0 In” \

LINE1:outoctets#0000FF:”de0 Out”

This would create an image like the one shown in Figure 5-1.
Figure 5-1. A graph generated by RRDtool

The -3600 in the command tells rrdtool that you want to graph the data collected over the last hour (there are 3,600 seconds in an hour). Likewise, if you wanted to create a graph over the course of a day, you would use -86400.

But that’s just the beginning. After collecting multiple data sources, you can combine them all into a single graph that gives you a great deal of information at a glance. Figure 5-2 shows the relative outbound usage of several servers simultaneously, with the total average for all servers just below it. While this figure is in grayscale, the actual graph uses a different color for each server, making it easy to tell at a glance which one is hogging all of the bandwidth.
Figure 5-2. Multiple servers on a single graph

As you can see, RRDtool is a very flexible tool. All you need to do is tell it how much data you want to store and then set up some method to collect the data at a regular interval. Then you can easily generate a graph of the data whenever you want it.

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