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mauve.proto

README

** Mauve Alert

  a messaging system for system and network administrators to help you sleep 
  better, and be attentive to your computers.

    Holly: Purple alert! Purple alert!
    
    Lister: What's a 'Purple Alert'?
    
    Holly: Well, it's sort of like, not as bad as a red alert, but a bit worse
           than a blue alert. Kind of like a mauve alert, don't want to say 
           'mauve alert.'
           
    Rimmer: Holly, wipe the rabid foam from your chin and start again.

** Introduction

If you run a network where too many scripts know your mobile phone number,
or you run up huge text messaging bills, your inbox is filled with
wall-to-wall red alerts of questionable urgency, or you want to be able
to make use of SNMP without a huge effort up-front, mauve may be for you.

Mauve is not a network monitoring system, but it makes it very easy to
construct a reliable one from only shell scripts and cron.  If you have a 
network monitoring system (or more likely, several), mauve lets you consolidate
or reorganise how it alerts you and your team.

Many monitoring systems only deal in red alerts, and put a lot of design
effort into screaming like a baby.  The result of having multiple monitoring
systems all screaming  at once, is that it's  difficult to keep on top of what 
alerts are actually important.  The weary sysadmin learns to ignore their 
text message noise in certain patterns, at certain times  of day, filters their
email and so on, at the risk of ignoring something critical.

Mauve is intended to be a bucket into which the sysadmin can easily throw 
alerts.  He can then decide on a central policy for distribution to his team,
saving the screaming red lights for really urgent problems.

Many controls are built into mauve to ensure alerts are responded to by team
members.  If it doesn't know any better, the system will send SMS messages to
a mobile phone, emails, or instant messages, and wait for the user to 
acknowledge its alert(s), reminding the user at configured intervals.

The user can also run a special client which suppresses the normal alerts
clogging up her email or phone.  This mode of operation is intended for users
with 24/7 connected devices with richer alerting functions than a simple
text message beep or email chime.  They are by their desks running a particular
program.  Mauve comes with a simple prototype for Linux, and a smartphone
client for Android phones. [TODO]

** Important data in mauve

An alert is an event signalled by a system in your network, and it suggests
that something needs attention within a timeframe of a few minutes to a few
days.  Alerts are not intended to be useful for helping you organise jobs
that can take longer than this, and are not intended to organise multi-stage
complicated jobs.

Alerts are raised and cleared only by the system, and acknowledged by people.

An acknowledgement is a message to the server that someone is attending to
the alert, and that it can expect the alert to be cleared within a particular 
time frame.  mauveserver provides a web interface through which users can
acknowledge alerts.

Alerts are sent in a group, in a single packet called an "alert update".
Individual alert systems can send a complete update, specifying all the current
alerts that they are aware of - or they can send updates consisting of alert/
clear messages as each change occurs.  

The information flow looks like this:

            (single UDP packets)
                  alert                  notifi    (SMS/email etc.)
                 updates                 cations
[alert source 1] ------> [             ] -------> [person 1]
[alert source 2] ------> [alert station] -------> [person 2]
[alert source 3] ------> [             ]    ...       |
   ...                          |                     |
                                \-----------<<--------+
                                    acknowledgements
                                     (web interface)

** Alert updates

The alert update is the most important data structure and is described fully
in the mauve.proto file.  See later on in this document for how these fields
are use to implement various monitoring patterns in Bytemark's network.

Alert updates are not intended to span more than a single UDP packet, and
are therefore limited to 64KB.  Their format is a packed binary defined by
Google's protobuf tools, and a single alert describing typical network events 
will be in the order of 100s or even 10s of bytes.

** Alert transmission and network architecture [NOT IMPLEMENTED, BAD IDEA?]

Alert Updates are intended to be transmitted several times simultaneously 
through a network of relays, each of which will forward to the intended 
destination (the Alert Station), i.e.

              --------> relay ----\
             /                     \
Alert source ---------> relay ----\ \
             \                     \ \
              \                     \ \
               --------------------v v v
                                Alert station


The canny administrator of a multi-homed mauve network is anticipating total
network failure and/or heavily congested links.  Relay stations should be
positioned such that simultaneous transmission from a single source in the
network will result in different paths being taken to relays and/or final
destination.

Alerts signal often fleeting events, and may not be of any significance if 
they do not arrive at the alert station within a minute of transmission.
Transmission of an alert should be a "fire and forget" event, and the onus
of reliability of transmission lies with the network designer rather than
any protocol or queuing.

Therefore we allow simple proxying of alerts, and the alert sender should
send alerts to all proxies and the final destination at once.  The
destination will only process the same update once, so it's safe to try to
transmit through many different paths.

As currently implemented, the alert station in a mauve system cannot be 
duplicated or replicated reliably, and I'm not keen to try.  A failover alert
station must be part of your planning!
   
** Alert stations [TO REVISE]

Alert stations are the central point in mauve's alert system.  They are the
destinations for devices to send their alerts.  It is a feature of the mauve 
alert protocols that many alert stations can  be configured, and they should
all contain the same information.

Devices send their alerts to every configured alert station.

Monitors can connect to multiple alert stations to find out which is the most
up-to-date.

            send/clear alerts                   copy alerts
   devices --------------------> alert station -------------> alert monitor
                                               <-------------
                                              acknowledge alerts

** Software components of mauve

Mauve is a set of tools to construct an alert system that suits your network.
It has several front-end tools:

   mauvesend   - a command line tool to send alert updates to a server
   
   mauveserver - the alert receiver, which stores incoming alerts in a database,
     consults a configuration to decide who needs to know about which alerts,
     and sends out texts, emails or jabber messages.
     
   mauveclient - a prototype client program allowing a person to acknowledge 
     alerts.

** Installation