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SNMP OID: Introduction for Industry Professionals

In the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), OID means an "Object Identifier."

To define OID, it's an address used to uniquely identify managed devices and their statuses. Want to know the temperature reading coming from a sensor at your mountaintop remote facility? There's an OID for that.

If you're a professional responsible for your organization's large-scale network management system, read on. Here we will break down the concept of OIDs so you can take that knowledge with you onto the job and keep your enterprise's operations running smoothly.

SNMP Definition: Simple Network Management Protocol is an application-layer protocol that allows for the exchange of monitoring and managing information between network devices.

SNMP MIB tree
The branch of the SNMP MIB tree structure and its OIDs used by DPS Telecom equipment.

How do you read an OID?

The format of an OID tree can be confusing at first. It's a huge string of numbers like this:

SNMP OID example

Then we look at the first few numbers, which rarely change:

The first part of the OID will be the same for every piece of equipment you'll ever use:

OID explained

We're partway through this OID. What do we know so far?

So far, we know that a private enterprise will be declared as the manufacturer of this SNMP device. This will be true for virtually every network device you work with. That makes "1.3.6.1.4.1..." an almost-universal prefix to OIDs. Let's continue:

OID explained

Now we know we're working with an RTU from DPS

If you have questions about DPS RTUs, you can ask them here. Notice how long the "device manufacturer" number is ("2682"). There are a lot of manufacturers out there, and they all must have a unique integer value. This section of the OID also told us that we're working with an RTU, which collects alarms from non-SNMP equipment.

Native SNMP gear would have a different OID value here. Let's finish reading this OID now:

OID explained

You've completely read through this OID

Now you know that you're dealing with the state of discrete alarm point #1 on an RTU manufactured by DPS Telecom. Not bad for a string of numbers, huh?

Who decides on the structure of SNMP OIDs?

OIDs are defined in the SNMP MIB file, a kind of "codebook" for SNMP. The manufacturer (DPS Telecom in this example) spells out the second half of the OID for their own devices by supplying a MIB file to their users. The first half is established by a standard referenced "RFC" MIB used worldwide.

Let's Consider the OID From a Slightly Different Angle Now...

The Management Information Database (MIB)

To monitor network alarms, you must know your alarm points. Your apartment or house address indicates a specific location by country, state, city, zip code, street, and house number. SNMP systems have OIDs that define each thing for the SNMP agents and manager.

We can compare MIB to OID as being similar to a domain name to an IP address.

OIDs point to network monitoring objects stored in a database called the Management Information Base (MIB). A MIB object holds the structure of the network alarms being monitored (like a map of the "city"), and it uses the OIDs to keep track of the individual components (like the address to a house or other location).

In this example, an SNMP OID is like the address the fire truck would drive to if the fire alarm sounded. What if a fire broke out at your house, and you called the fire department with GPS coordinates (representing the Object ID or OID)? The fire department would have to look that up in its MIB to determine the correct street address.

In telecom, SNMP OIDs describe specific locations in the managed network. The OID allows the MIB to translate the location of the event into a status description for your network administrators.

MIB ASCII file

What Does an SNMP OID Look Like Again?

1.3.6.1.4.1.2681.1.2.102

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Dot Format notation

While it may look daunting, the OID follows a simple structure, with each "dot" segment identifying a part of a network element. Going back to the home address example, the beginning of the Object Identifier tells us the hemisphere of the world, the country, state, city, zip code, street address and eventually leads us to our driveway. In the above OID, the specific "driveway" is 102. With this structure, very specific elements can be identified and located even in very complex networks.

An SNMP Manager (ex. T/Mon LNX) translates these SNMP OIDs into a value that is then assigned readable labels in the MIB. This allows the SNMP manager to produce messages that can be read by people.

MIB and SNMP Manager

When the SNMP Manager, a T/Mon, in this case, will collect information by requesting the value ("state") of any object it is monitoring, it sends a message with that object's OID to its Management Information Base. The MIB will decode the address and attach a text description to it. This allows the SNMP Manager to present the value of the alarm condition with the identifying description of the labeled alarm.

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So for example, let's say the SNMP Manager wants to know if there is a car in the driveway of your house (a "yes or no" question, often referred to as a discrete alarm in the alarm monitoring world). The SNMP Manager would look up the corresponding reference in the MIB in order to "poll" (ask) if there is a car in the driveway at 123 Main St. The MIB references 123 Main St. and translates it into the OID of your driveway.

In our example OID above, it would be 123 Main St = 1.3.6.1.4.1.2681.1.2.102. The driveway (or alarm point we want to monitor) would be represented by the "102" portion of the address. The "value" reported is the current state of the driveway 102 : occupied by a car or not.

The sensor at the driveway reports back: Nope. Nobody's in the driveway.

snmp manager agents
The manager uses the MIB to decode OIDs from each device.

This message is captured by the SNMP Manager which again uses the Management Information Base to tie the OID sensor message that was reported by the "driveway sensor" (a simple "No" response) back into the human-readable 123 Main St. which is displayed.

If an SNMP managed object does not have an OID listed within a MIB, the SNMP Manager cannot identify it. Even if that object has a sensor and can transmit data, the SNMP Manager is blind without the MIB. For a condition or device to be monitored, it must have a corresponding MIB definition.

Vendors and Their Unique MIBs

Finally, remember that the first several pieces of each OID are almost always the same. These upper location levels are defined by a series of standard reference within the MIB. These series are called RFCs, or Requests for Comments.

The RFCs that define SNMP OIDs are part of a larger group of RFC documents that define the Internet as a whole. Individual vendors create their own SNMP enterprise MIBs that only include the OIDs for their devices.

If you have unique requirements, look for a vendor that can create custom SNMP MIB files.

Real-World Scenarios

Here at DPS, we will occasionally have clients that require specific MIBs for their applications. One client, James, needed to be able to identify all of the printers on his LAN via SNMP by asking every device for its OID at user-defined time intervals. He needed to email any reporting events to the SNMP monitor, and he had to do that without busting his budget.

Another client had a need to send certain SET commands to remote units at some microwave sites. The units were not capable of sending those commands. Our solution had custom OIDs that were configured with variable bindings to accept SNMP Traps. This allowed monitoring and control of the remote microwave sites with the ability to toggle up to 40 discrete relays in the managed system.

This solution saved them money and downtime and increased the use of existing equipment for the customer.

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