Holiday Cards

The OpenNMS office is full of festive cheer, made even merrier by some recent cards that have arrived.

One was from Tobi Oetiker, although it is in Swiss German so I’ll assume it’s positive (grin).

I got to meet Tobi many moons ago, and his RRDtool project drives a lot of open source tools as well as a number of closed source ones.

We also got a cute card from Mike Huot. He lives in the frozen mid-west and sent us “A Minnesota Christmas”.

Both have been enshrined on the amazing, wonderful Wall of Cards.

Git Yer Learnin’ On (OpenNMS Training)

We have lots of training options available in the new year, so if you have been wondering about the best way to get up to speed with OpenNMS, wonder no more.

We will be in London the week of 26 January. We’ve leased some space at a training center near Borough Market that should be pretty convenient to anyone who works in the city.

The week after that we are in Milan, Italy.

Finally, the week of 9 February has us back in the US.

Registration is open. Please register early to insure a seat as we keep these classes intentionally small to provide the highest level of instruction.


Disclaimer: No real OpenNMS content.

One of the things I like about my job is that I get to travel around the world. While I love living in the United States, it is great to get the perspective of people outside the country. They often have a lot to offer.

I also like food. Whether its Indian in London, tacos at a small stand in Mexico, or sitting in a cafe in Naples having lunch, it’s all good.

Awhile ago when I was in France my friend Alex introduced me to the liqueur called pastis. While I tend not to like licorice flavors in general, I really enjoyed pastis and it was a perfect start to dinner.

I was reminded of pastis a few weeks ago when I was on holiday in New Zealand. We were eating at this French restaurant in Wellington and they had a nice selection of pastis (pastises? pastisi?). I had the Henri Bardouin and liked it so much I wanted to be sure to get some when I got back home.

But that was a problem. In North Carolina, where I live, “spirits” (pretty much any alcoholic beverage other than beer or wine) can only be purchased at state-controlled stores. It is rare that you can get anything unusual or obscure in these places, and I doubt there is a bottle of pastis in the entire area.

However, I am in Chicago this week and they have a place called Binny’s that carries a huge selection of beverages. I was invited over to the client’s house for dinner, and I figured that a bottle of pastis would make a great gift to bring.

Unfortunately they didn’t have the Bardouin, but they did carry one by Ricard that looked promising. The only thing odd was the addition of “caramel color” which turns it from being clear to more of a whisky color (I’m not sure why they did that).

To add a little twist to my purchase, while I was buying the bottle a TV crew from the local CBS affiliate asked me a couple of questions. My five seconds of fame begins about 50 seconds into the clip. Ben says I looked like a “gay eskimo” but hey, it’s cold here.

The Ricard, despite its color, was very nice. Pastis is similar to absinthe, and so when you add water to it the somewhat clear liquid turns milky. The suggested ratio is 5 parts cold water to one part pastis, but I tend to like it a little stronger, more like three to one.

Speaking of absinthe, I saw a number of bottles at Binny’s. I had thought that absinthe was illegal in the US, but it appears that with certain restrictions some brands are allowed. I am eager to try it, but I figure I’ll wait until I’m back in Europe and I’ll try to obtain some Verte Suisse or Jade Edouard, which are supposed to be a pretty authentic.

I’m all about the authentic.

The Soloflex Effect

The book Predictably Irrational had a big impact on me, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. It made me see how things that many would consider minor can have a big impact on decision making. Since I need to be able to showcase the benefits OpenNMS provides to clients, understanding their decision making process is very important.

I often harp on the “open core” crowd for using the term “open source” to describe their products. Some would call me a hater, but it is a distinction that is very important to me. By charging for proprietary software licenses in an “open source” product, they skew the discussion from a comparison of solutions to a comparison of software features.

Think about it. Take a look at a press release from any network management product, open core or commercial, and you’ll see it focusing on features. This one monitors VMWare. This one monitors cloud resources. And for these new features you’ll pay a licensing fee (at least for the most powerful and useful ones).

So when I go to talk to a potential customer, they focus on “what features does your product provide?” Quite often features do not lead to solutions. I call this “The Soloflex Effect”.

I’m a fat guy. I’ve always been a fat guy, but many years ago I saw an ad for a Soloflex exercise machine. For just a few dollars a month I could get sculpted abs and big biceps. So I ordered one. I wanted a “Body by Soloflex”.

It showed up in two big boxes, and each one was extremely heavy. It took both me and the delivery guy to get them up the stairs to my second floor apartment. He asked me what they were, and I told him it was an exercise machine. I said that I wasn’t going to unpack it – I would just drag the boxes up and down the stairs a couple of times a day.

Needless to say, for the first month I used the machine regularly. The second month was much more sporadic, and by the third month I was hanging clothes on it.

I had fallen for the trap that I could just go out and buy a thin body. It was just so easy, at least according to the ads. While this was nearly 20 years ago, today there are ads for the “Soloflex Whole Body Vibration Platform”. I don’t even have to work out, “just stand and let the vibration do the work.”

Many people take this approach to network management. All they have to do is by X product, and the network will manage itself. Many sales guys drive expensive cars based on this aspect of human nature.

At OpenNMS we have to do things differently. We sell solutions – not software. When starting a discussion about using OpenNMS we often don’t talk about the features of the product. Instead we ask what problems the client is trying to solve. Believe or not, this is often not an easy question to answer. “I just want to manage my network,” they’ll say, but what does that really mean?

In some of our consulting engagements we ask to spend some time in the Network Operations Center (or just with the guys who are responsible for the network in smaller companies without a formal NOC) just to see what happens on a day to day basis. We talk with those people to find out from where the most pain is coming. And then we try to address it.

For example: one client I worked with many years ago managed tens of thousands of modems (I said it was years ago). I sat in the NOC and watched while the operators spent most of their day tracking down bad modems that needed to be reset.

We found out that we could get traps from the modem bank devices when a modem reported an error, and by using event reduction we could count how many errors a modem was experiencing. Then, if a particular modem generated 5 errors in a rolling 60 minute window, we’d send a command to reset the modem, and then generate an event stating the reset had been attempted. The operators only had to take action if the reset failed.

Nowhere will you find a software company advertising an “error modem reset” feature. But this freed up a tremendous amount of time for the NOC staff. The next step was to repeat the process for the second most painful issue. Over time the NOC was much more streamlined and much more responsive since a lot of the drudgery had been taken out of their lives and they were left with interesting and challenging problems to solve. That’s focusing on solutions and not features.

Our business plan is “spend less than you earn”. My diet plan is “eat less, exercise more”. There are no easy solutions to either, but at least I’m doing well with one of them.