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ASCII-based monitoring tools

Go-To Tools

Article from ADMIN 63/2021
If you like ASCII-based monitoring tools, take a look at three new tools – Zenith, Bpytop, and Bottom.

A long time ago, I was a system administrator for a couple of HPC systems, but I also inherited two Hewlett-Packard (HP) N-class servers (mainframes). Along with two WORM storage units, these were the main servers for the core engineering group. They were busy systems, and I had to work hard to keep up with administration, backups, and software patches.

When a CPU failed in one of the servers, and HP discovered that the previous admin had configured them in high availability (HA) mode – even though they were not licensed for HA – I had to "uncouple" the servers. During the process, I lost access to them. For a new admin, this was a bit unnerving, but with the help of some more experienced admins, the servers soon were back up.

During this time, I only had terminal access (ASCII) to the servers, so I used ASCII monitoring tools to help debug the problems. The combination of the stress of getting the servers back in a usable state as quickly as possible and the invaluable help from the ASCII tools indelibly put ASCII monitoring tools on my list of go-to tools and tricks.

I admit I am a sucker for new monitoring tools. Although I'm comfortable with the ones I use, I do enjoy seeing new ones and trying them out. Because of the history I just disclosed, this is particularly true for ASCII-based tools. Recently, I have learned about some new tools that look interesting.


Zenith, a new monitoring tool to me, monitors and presents ASCII charts of an extensive list of metrics. You can even zoom in on these charts, which is something I have not seen before, and manipulate processes, including changing the priority or sending signals to them. An example of the available metrics includes:

  • CPU, memory, network, and disk usage charts
  • Top users of CPU, memory, and disk
  • A process filter table (kind of like Top)
  • NVidia GPU
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