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I need to monitor (and control if possible) hundreds of pieces of Audio Video gear. Every make/model uses a different protocol, usually simple ASCII strings like "status?\r" with a reply like "OK\r". Sometimes its over TCP, sometimes UDP. I also need to monitor certain properties/statuses of the device, similar to what would be in an SNMP MIB or in /proc, like the Lamp Hours of a projector.

Since the number of devices is getting quite large, I'd like to be able to use real IT tools and to be able to get a little more info than just if it responds to ping, so I need something that I can create and parse arbitrary messages in.

I looked into some Enterprise Service Bus products and they seem to be way overkill and aren't designed with this type of use in mind. If I have to set up an ESB and then point it at Nagios ... seems like years of work.

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Most monitoring systems have some kind of plug-in or extension architecture to let you do what you're talking about. Since you mentioned it in particular, Nagios has plug-ins that can extend the functionality. There are lots of Nagios plug-ins. The check_telnet plug-in might just do what you need for some of your devices, and could serve as a basis for custom development if it doesn't.

As a worst-case scenario if you're using something that's not extendable you could write scripts to present non-SNMP devices as SNMP devices. The script could receive SNMP request and proxy them to the device in its native protocol.

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^^ This. The number of times I've had to write scripts to expose arbitrary data into an NMS... – Mark Henderson Jul 11 '13 at 22:24
It's very satisfying, though, when you can get the temperature of the coffee pot showing up in Cacti... >smile< – Evan Anderson Jul 11 '13 at 22:25
I never could quite get Cacti to send an alert when the coffee pot was empty.. – Michael Hampton Jul 11 '13 at 22:54

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