After a long absence, I thought I’d let my three readers know I’m back on Twitter (as @sortova). Don’t expect much from me since I can’t even say “I’m back on Twitter” in less than 140 characters, and I tend to echo the sentiments of John Cleese on the subject, but it should allow those of you with nothing better to do more things with which to do nothing.
I don’t know why I like the new year so much. It’s a pretty arbitrary holiday. I mean, yeah, the Earth has circled the Sun one more time, but is there really any difference between December 31st and January 1?
I think I like it because, no matter what happened in the previous year, the slate (to a large degree) has been wiped clean. You get a fresh start, and after 2014 I am excited to have one.
For the OpenNMS Group 2014 was bookended by two departures. The first came in January when the man we had hired to take over as CEO decided to leave us for a very senior position at Blackberry. Now considering the compensation Blackberry bestows upon its major executives, I really can’t blame him for taking the job. I am certain, however, that he could have handled the situation better. His departure was so sudden and we had a number of things going on that depended on him that it left us spinning for several months and put me in a bit of a depression.
The second departure was that of Matt Brozowski, our CTO and one of the three founders of the company. This hit me much more than Ron’s departure, because when a founder leaves any company it has to be seen as a vote of no confidence and at a minimum is a failure to meet expectations. I do understand his reasons for leaving, however. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. What we are trying to do is hard. People who have never attempted it must think it is a life of leisure – being your own boss, calling all the shots and taking vacation whenever you want. What I’ve found is that I spend most of my time acting as an umbrella to keep the crap from falling on the rest of the team so they can do the real work, and I’m tied to obligations that aren’t mine to control. I end my day by checking my e-mail and start it the same way. Only in the last few years has OpenNMS gotten to the point that I feel comfortable in taking a vacation, and even then I have a system for getting notified if something needs my attention.
Now I thrive on that, but not everyone does. I understand the lure of the safety and security of a big organization. Every so often I find myself wanting to swap places with some of my clients who make a lot more money than me and work in large corporations. But I know that, ultimately, it wouldn’t make me happy. We spend a third of our adult lives at work, and it is a shame if you aren’t doing something that makes you happy. We all wish the best for Matt and hope he finds happiness in his new position.
While both of these events were serious downers, there was a lot of good in 2014. We had the best Dev Jam ever, I think. We’ve been doing these for a long time and I think the whole team just gelled this year (plus, the Twins won). We released OpenNMS 14, which marked a new philosophy with releases with an emphasis on “early and often” and I think it’s great. I constantly discover new things in it that I didn’t realize I needed.
From a financial standpoint, the company lost money in 2014 for the first time. It took us awhile to get our focus back, but the last quarter was awesome, with revenue in December, always our strongest month, setting a new record and being up over 40% for the same month in 2013. We have a number of major announcements in the next six months that should get us back on track for an awesome 2015.
So, my parting thought to my three readers is this: if you had a great 2014, here’s hoping that 2015 is even better. If 2014 knocked you down, pick yourself up, brush yourself off and leave it in the dust. It’s a new year.
Go do great things.
This week I was able to visit the Red Hat corporate headquarters in downtown Raleigh for the first time. While I had been on their other campuses in the past, this was my first time in Red Hat Tower, a tall building that they leased from Progress Energy a few years ago to turn into their HQ. While I was using Google Maps to get there (downtown Raleigh has a lot of one way streets that confuse me) it was pretty obvious where I was headed once I turned off the highway and saw the Red Hat logo on the top of a building off in the distance.
I am a huge Red Hat fanboy. First, I love where I live in North Carolina, and this is an NC company. Second, they truly understand open source and are able to help others realize the value it can bring to their business while making money at it. With a market cap greater than US$11.5 billion, this is a real company that is also doing a lot of good (for comparison, note that as I write this CA has a market cap of US$14 billion).
Red Hat gets a lot of disrespect in certain circles because it isn’t headquartered in Silicon Valley. There is a huge “not invented here” complex out west, and I think it is in part because the Valley has been unable to duplicate Red Hat’s success with open source.
When you visit the campus you get a sense of how the idea of open source pervades every aspect of company culture. Open source is about sharing and working together, and that can be applied to many things in addition to software.
Part of that is exemplified in the website opensource.com. I believe it was started in 2010 (prior to that, the URL pointed to Red Hat’s corporate page) as a method for promoting the “open source way“. It is sponsored by Red Hat but does a great job of not being Red Hat centric. This isn’t a marketing platform for Red Hat’s products as much as a platform for marketing the Red Hat philosophy.
Despite being less than an hour away, I don’t get to see the people behind opensource.com often. I used to write for them pretty regularly in the beginning until time constraints made that harder, but we have a healthy e-mail correspondence. I do run into Jason Hibbets (author of The Foundation for an Open Source City) at conferences, but this was the first time I got to meet almost everyone in person.
I didn’t notice until later that a lot of people I know at Red Hat have names that start with the letter “J” – even the CEO is named Jim.
I ended up spending about two hours there and had a great time talking about technology and open source society. Red Hat looks like a great place to work, and the red fedora is pretty much everywhere.
Thanks to a swag trade with my friend Kevin Sonney many years ago (at least a decade), I have an authentic Red Hat fedora and I learned that it is truly “old skool” due to its having a gold Red Hat logo on the inside. Cool.
I am hoping that my schedule will free up enough in 2015 that I can write for them some more. As I was telling stories, Jason B. or Jen would jump in with “that could be an article”.
In any case, with over 400,000 page views per month at opensource.com they are obviously doing something right, and it has earned a prominent place in my RSS feed. I look forward to visiting the Red Hat HQ and seeing them again soon.
Just a heads up that I have a couple of new websites that aren’t open source or OpenNMS related.
The first is tarus.io where I plan to put all of the geeky things that really don’t belong here, and because all of the cool kids seem to be getting .io addresses.
The second is forgottencocktails.com which is a blog where I’m trying to make all of the drinks in the seminal Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book. You might notice a trend in the frequency of posts there versus here (grin).
I figure at least one of my three readers might be interested in such things, but not to worry as I’ll still be providing open source insight and reckless commentary here for your enjoyment.
I’m in Germany for the always excellent Open Source Monitoring Conference (review coming) and I wanted to have data for my mobile phone. At the airport we stopped at a Relay store and bought an Ortel SIM card for 20 euros (well, €19.90). Since Ronny was with me I just let him activate the card (the process was mainly in German) and we got on the train to Nürnberg.
During the two hour trip I must have exhausted the small amount of default data that came with it, and thus began an odyssey that took over 24 hours to get resolved.
First we tried to go to the “Mein Ortel” site, but it was down.
Then, we downloaded the “Mein Ortel” app from Google Play. It loaded but we could never authenticate.
This lasted for hours.
After we had arrived at the hotel, we noticed that the website, at least, had become available. But at any point when we tried to purchase more time we’d get still another error.
They do have a customer service number, but they charge €0.49 per minute to use it. In desperation we called it but they had closed for the day, so there was no resolution to be had on the first night.
The next day we tried, unsuccessfully, to get the web site and the app to work. Finally Ronny called, was put on hold (!) and then told that they were having issues with their payment system. Why a total lack in the ability to accept payments would require so much time to determine that you would have to be put on hold is beyond me, but my guess is that Ortel just wanted to ratchet up a few more euros from me.
At lunch we went in search of another provider. We found a Base store that sold Ortel and Blau SIMs, but we were told that Blau may take up to 24 hours to activate. We then found a Vodafone store but they wanted €45 for a SIM. In the end, we decided to buy an Ortel voucher (the SIM was activated at least) for €15 and with the help of the lady at the Base store managed to get the credit applied, and I should have service for the reminder of my stay.
My question is: isn’t is fraud to take money for a service and then fail to deliver that service? I’m only here for three days and I was without data on my phone for more than a third of the trip, all due to the fact that Ortel can’t be bothered to implement network management.
I’m doubly surprised that this happened in Germany, since they tend to be more strict on these things than most countries.
Yeah, I know “first world problems”, but as someone who is in this country with nearly 300 other professionals to discuss monitoring it seems like Ortel could benefit from sending some people to this conference. As commercial network-services become even more prevalent and important, I do expect to see the implementation of fines for outages.
Anyway, if you are ever offered the option to get mobile service from Ortel, run the other way.
Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz from Texas tweeted the following:
It was in response to President Obama making a statement in support of Net Neutrality by wanting to classify broadband Internet as a utility. Despite the fact that it was about six years too late, I had to roll my eyes because I knew that if Obama came out in support of something, the Republicans would feel required to take the opposite stance.
Treating broadband as a utility is a no-brainer. It is basically an extension of the telephone system which has done very well as a utility, and it has become so important to most people and businesses that creating barriers to access would be a huge step backward. The OpenNMS Group would not have been able to survive in a world where we would have to pay to compete for access at levels that HP and IBM can afford, and there are thousands of other small businesses and entrepreneurs in the same boat.
But Senator Cruz and others have received a large amount of money from cable companies, especially Comcast, who stand to benefit the most if they can charge different rates to different content providers. This isn’t an new argument, Jon Stewart discussed it on his show back in 2006:
But now with Obama’s stance and the newly minted Republican-controlled Congress wanting to flex its muscles, expect it to become a hotter topic.
I was made aware of this through The Oatmeal, and while Matt Inman is dead on as usual, his language and analogies are, hmm, shall we say, not often for gentle ears. So while he makes his point he is basically preaching to the choir, and we need to frame the discussion in something that may actually shame the Republicans into doing the right thing.
Then I remembered Enron.
If broadband is not a utility, but seems like one, what could happen if we put control into private hands? That’s exactly what California did in 1996 by partially deregulating its energy market. This let to an energy crisis in 2000 and 2001, that according to Wikipedia was “caused by market manipulations, illegal shutdowns of pipelines by the Texas energy consortium Enron, and capped retail electricity prices”.
It’s eerie that Comcast’s shutdown of Netflix traffic is so similar to “illegal shutdowns of pipelines”. It’s already happening.
So, when faced with irrational statements like those from Senator Cruz, remain calm and just point out “so you think we need an Enron of the Internet?”. Keep saying it, over and over again.
Perhaps they’ll get the message.
My friend Nick sent me a link to a post called “Why There Will Never Be Another Red Hat: The Economics Of Open Source“. It immediately pushed a bunch of my buttons before I read the first word of the article.
First, it was from TechCrunch. I have nothing against TechCrunch and I respect a lot of their work, but they are Silicon Valley-centric, if not the main mouthpiece, and thus I have to take that bias into account when reading their articles. What works in the Valley doesn’t necessarily translate to the world as a whole, which is why a lot of Valley companies seem to quickly plateau after an initial success.
Second, continuing the theme of Valley biases, I strongly believe Red Hat doesn’t get the respect it deserves because it is headquartered down the road from us in North Carolina and not California. There is a strong sense of “you can’t make it if you aren’t here” in the Valley and that extends to a somewhat dismissive view of Red Hat. Plus, I have a big ol’ man-crush on Jim Whitehurst as he is the most successful tech CEO I know that really, really “gets” open source and thus anyone trying to tell me about the “economics of open source” without respecting Red Hat starts off on my bad side.
Finally, the author is currently at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, or A16Z as those of us in the know refer to it. In last year’s investment tour I met with a large number of people in the Valley, and the guy I met from A16Z was easily the worst of the bunch. He made the caricatures of the Silicon Valley TV show look mild. He had no interest in us since we weren’t in California and he was more concerned with who we knew than what we did. I left that popularity crap behind in high school. Granted, we only rated an audience with the lower levels of the company, which overall does have a pretty solid reputation on Sand Hill Road, but still it was almost insulting.
Let’s just say my bullshit meter was halfway to pegged before I started the first sentence.
However, I found most of the article to be spot on. In my “Is Open Source Dead?” post I talked about how open source is both greatly increasing while the classic ideals of open source (i.e. free software for everyone) seem to be going away.
My own philosophy is that, at least for certain large and complex (i.e. expensive) software, the proprietary software model is doomed. Customer needs are changing so fast that no closed system can really keep up, and we’ve seen that in the biggest OpenNMS customers. I spent the last week in Ireland and the client was complaining that before they started using OpenNMS, whenever they needed some new functionality in their management solution the proprietary vendor took too long, cost too much and delivered too little to be worth it. Using a free platform like OpenNMS made it much easier to adapt the tool to their business workflow, instead of having to change it to meet the workflow of the management software. There is value in that – value that can be monetized.
Peter Levine started to win me over with “Red Hat is a fantastic company” (grin) and I as I read on I found my head nodding in agreement. He states
Unless a company employs a majority of the inventors of a particular open source project, there is a high likelihood that the project never gains traction or another company decides to create a fork of the technology.
While I estimate OpenNMS has around 40 to 50 active contributors, at least 15 of those are on my payroll, either directly or indirectly as contractors. While I definitely would like to increase the overall number, we are growing fast enough that we can usually hire someone who contributes a lot to the project, and then, since they can spend their full time on it, we as a group continue to contribute greater and greater amounts of the overall code. When I started out on my own back in 2002, I think at least half of the code came from outside of the .com side of things. Now it is probably closer to 5% or less. It has managed to let us focus on our direction for the application.
Then Levine continues:
To make matters worse, the more successful an open source project, the more large companies want to co-opt the code base. I experienced this first-hand as CEO at XenSource, where every major software and hardware company leveraged our code base with nearly zero revenue coming back to us. We had made the product so easy to use and so important, that we had out-engineered ourselves. Great for the open source community, not so great for us.
I’ve heard this tale from a number of people. Become successful and someone like IBM could dump 100 developers on your project and take it over. While we haven’t experienced it directly (rarely do people tell me OpenNMS is “easy to use”), we are constantly finding out about companies who have either based products on OpenNMS or used OpenNMS to provide services for profit. I think this is great, but it would be nice to capture some of that effort back into the project, either in the form of contributions or cash. It is one reason that the next major release of OpenNMS will be published under the Affero GPL.
So, with all this doom and gloom, what is the solution? Levine’s answer is “sell open source as a service”. I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly what we pitched to A16N. It’s something of a “win/win”.
This recipe – combining open source with a service or appliance model – is producing staggering results across the software landscape. Cloud and SaaS adoption is accelerating at an order of magnitude faster than on-premise deployments, and open source has been the enabler of this transformation.
If you have the in house development staff to leverage open source, it makes sense to become active in the community. David just finished a five stop roadshow in both the US and Europe describing the OpenNMS roadmap over the next year as we position the product for the Internet of Things. He met with our largest customers and all of them are eager to get involved, many pledging, OpenDaylight style, to provide the project with developers. They get input into the direction of the product and we get great open source code.
But what if you aren’t a large medical information company or a worldwide financial institution? You may need what OpenNMS can provide but don’t have the time to build in the workflow or customize it. We will have a solution for you.
The only issue I ended up having with the article was when he compared Red Hat to Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, etc. Sure there might not be another Red Hat, but I don’t expect to see another Microsoft (operating systems and office suites), Oracle (enterprise software), or Amazon (online product distribution) either. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be new mega-companies. In ten years I expect there will be some huge companies that no one today knows about, probably in the areas of 3D printing and biotech (specifically integrating tech into the human body). Enterprise software companies will be represented by a number of large-ish but nimble companies leveraging open source, and I wouldn’t count out Red Hat just yet as they too are pivoting to follow this new business model.
I want to close with one little story. I spent last week in Ireland where I just happened to be in Dublin where the band Wheatus was touring with my friend Damian (MC Frontalot) opening. They had a grueling schedule (shows almost every night) but I managed to see their concert and talk with them afterward.
I need you
to buy my CD so I can buy food.
He often pokes fun on the changing nature of the music business (his song “Captains of Industry” suggests that he is not a musician but instead is in the T-shirt business), and we talked about various business models. I pointed out that acts like Elton John are living the high life from work that basically peaked in the 1970s, and that sort of “royalties for life” model is gone. In its place are artists who sell directly to their fans, often including personalized premiums for a higher price, and touring. The band Phish tours extensively and they make millions, all the while encouraging their fans to bootleg their music, something old school musicians wouldn’t think to do.
At this point Brendan, the founder and front man of Wheatus, joined us and stated “there is nothing an old musician can teach a young one about the music business”. That quote really resonated with me.
In summary, I really enjoyed this article. It mirrored a lot of our thoughts over the last year as we seek to make OpenNMS successful. Remember, our plan is for OpenNMS to be *the* de facto management solution of choice and for that to happen will take a lot of work as well as money. But one thing that we will continue to do to emulate Red Hat is to keep publishing as much software as possible under an OSI-approved open source license.
That is still a key to our success: OpenNMS will always be free and OpenNMS will never suck.
I am currently on holiday and have been blissfully unaware of work related things for a week now, but I wanted to comment on a couple of items mainly because it is hard for me to keep my mouth shut.
As most of the world knows, Apple recently introduced two new iPhones. Their main feature is that they are larger: the iPhone 6 is the size of a Nexus 4 while the iPhone 6 Plus is slightly smaller than a Galaxy Note 4.
And that was pretty much it.
This is why I miss Steve Jobs. Jobs had the ability to create things I didn’t know I wanted. His vision for the first iPhone became the dominate paradigm for an industry. Heck, I can remember when OS X Tiger came out and the big feature was Time Machine and I thought it was a joke – at least to announce as a major feature – until it saved me on a number of occasions from a catastrophic disk failure.
Bigger phones, and only slightly faster ones at that, don’t qualify.
I do think that Apple Pay will finally get NFC payments into the mainstream. Only Apple has enough clout to get the banks in line, but what does that really get you? I live in a fairly rural section of North Carolina, USA, and I can pretty much pay for anything under $75 with a swipe of my credit card. No need to dig out or unlock my phone, just swipe and go. I can’t see myself using my phone for the same thing.
But that probably labels me as an “Apple hater”.
I am a big fan of Stephen Fry, and during this trip I read a post where he commented on how much he liked the new iPhones. Besides being an awesome actor he is quite the technologist, and I respect his opinions. But I really disliked this post because of his references to “Apple haters”.
There was a time when I was definitely on the blunt end of “Apple hate”. I bought my first Powerbook in January of 2003 when, outside of certain tech circles, they were non-existent. But jump ahead 10 years and now Apple is the 800 pound gorilla with more cash on hand than the US government. I don’t know of a college kid, outside of those using Linux, who would be caught dead with anything other than a Macbook. They are fashion statements, and Apple is the new Microsoft. They are “The Man” and so I find it funny when any criticism of them is met with virulent attacks on the critic.
Case in point: today on Slashdot a person was having issues with iOS 8. I read through a few of the comments to see if it was an isolated case or a trend, but the discussion immediately devolved into fan boys vs. haters.
My favorite laptop of all time, and I’ve owned a number of them including many from Apple, was that first 12-inch Powerbook. It combined the best of open and closed software, but over the last decade everything Apple seems to be locked up tighter and tighter. And while I applaud their efforts to safe guard their user’s information, the recent iCloud breach shows that they can’t think of everything. Seriously, we addressed brute force password attacks in BBS software in the 1980s, yet Apple missed it.
On the iPhone 6 launch day I found myself in Paris looking for a SIM card so I visited a couple of shops selling iPhones. There were no lines but I did see at least one phone being sold – an iPhone 6 Plus – and it was huge. Granted, this was in the afternoon so maybe I missed the fan boy lines, but at least here it was just another day (despite huge banners on the FNAC stores).
Another reason I miss Jobs is that he would never have pre-announced the Apple Watch. It would have been ready for the Christmas shopping season, not some nebulous time in March. It wouldn’t have been square and flat, either.
So, why am I posting this? It’s mainly a vain plea in the hope that Apple will consider opening up its hardware to allow for real innovation. Things are obviously stagnant over in Mountain View and they could use a shot in the arm. Unfortunately, the fact that they lock everything down is even spilling over to vendors such as Samsung, who now lock down their bootloaders so that alternative software can’t be installed. Heck, even Apple’s new NFC support is limited to their single app and my guess is that users will have to wait for the inevitable jailbreak to use the technology for which they paid good money. And, really, what would it cost them? I’m not asking them to support non-Apple software just to put the technology into the most hands.
Tim Cook apparently opened the Palo Alto Apple Store on launch day, which I thought was cool, but he told a Samsung phone user that they needed a new phone.
For me, at least, freedom trumps newness. Just being new isn’t enough. I think I need to join with Mad Dog and just start asking “why would you want a proprietary phone?”.
There are a number of significant dates in the history of OpenNMS. I wasn’t around when the project was started, but I’ve been told it began some time in the summer of 1999, most likely in July.
We do know, however, that the project and first bits of code were posted on Sourceforge on 29 March, 2000, so we have used that as the official birth date for the OpenNMS project.
My personal involvement with OpenNMS started on Monday, 10 September 2001, when I joined Oculan. For obvious reasons it is an easy date to remember. I decided that I was going to take over the OpenNMS project when Oculan decided to stop working on it on 7 May 2002, which happens to be my mother’s birthday.
But probably the most important date in the history of the project is 1 September 2004, which was the first day of business for the OpenNMS Group, Inc., the company I started with David Hustace and Matt Brozowski. It’s been a wild ride this last decade, but we’ve managed to survive if not prosper when a lot of other companies, including Oculan, are no longer around. The office in which I write this was the first office for the company, when all three of us squeezed into its 120 square feet.
I meant to write something yesterday, but I was off on my usual Labor Day retreat in the mountains where there is no electricity and no mobile phone coverage. I spent most of the day climbing a mountain, and so it seems appropriate to end with this song.
To paraphrase Mr. Shatner, why do I work on OpenNMS? Because I’m in love.
I got to spend a few days down in Austin this week. I like this town, and as most people know it has become a bit of a hotbed for tech with a lot of companies either moving here or opening offices (I just found out that Atlassian, makers of Jira and Bamboo, among other things, is opening an office in Austin).
Usually when I come to town I get to see Eric Evans. Eric, the guy who coined the modern usage of the term “NoSQL“, lives an hour away in San Antonio and outside of the daily scrum call I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like. However, he just had rotator cuff surgery and when I sent him a text about meeting for dinner his reply was “I’m not yet wearing pants and can’t tie my shoes so the answer is probably no.”
Yeah, there is a “no pants” theme to this post.
On a whim I decided to see if my friend, favorite mad scientist and evil genius William Hurley (aka whurley) was around. As luck would have it, he was.
Speaking of people I don’t get to see very often, whurley is one of them. I think it would be a full time job just to keep up with his projects, and we haven’t had a chance to spend any time together for several years so we tried to cram a lot of catching up into a short evening.
When we drove up to his house the first thing I noticed was a candy apple red Cadillac ELR parked out front. whurley has a large Twitter following, so Cadillac gave him the car to drive and tweet about. This is Cadillac’s entry into the luxury electric hybrid market. It has pretty aggressive styling for a Cadillac, but it is more of what we old folks used to call a “2+2” instead of a true four seat car. It took some acrobatics to get three full sized adults into it for a short trip to grab some Chinese takeout.
Another pleasant surprise was to find out that he is now married, and I got to meet his bride Pamela. As might be expected with anyone associated with whurley, she is exceptional, and welcomed us into her home with short notice.
whurley knows that I am a privacy advocate, so he showed me a TED talk he did on the issue, but instead of leading with, say, references to 1984, he goes back in time to talk about the Jacquard loom. This loom was one of the first programmable machines, a forerunner of computers, and it was used to manufacture cloth for clothing. If you think about it, clothing could be considered the earliest form of privacy, so it is a bit ironic that this ur-computer was used to create privacy whereas modern computers are now used to decrease it.
One of the reasons I like being around him is he makes me think. As an old guy, I am constantly amazed at how the younger generation seems to be so eager to give up privacy by sharing pretty much all details of their lives on-line. I’ve also noticed that there seems to be less concern about nudity. I’m not saying that all twenty year olds are running around naked, but compared to 30 years ago when I was in high school, the socially accepted norms for modesty have changed greatly.
But now this seems to make sense. If clothing is the primal form of privacy, one would expect this from a culture in which privacy is less important. And I’m not sure this is a bad thing, as I don’t believe anyone should be ashamed of their bodies, plus it helps me toward earning my “Dirty Old Man” merit badge.
In David Brin’s book Earth he envisions a world without privacy, and there are a lot of positive aspects to it. Recently Scott Adams has blogged about the subject, and he makes a number of valid points. The issue I have is that the world we are creating isn’t a utopian transparent society but instead one in which an oligarchy controls the majority of information to use however they see fit, and to me that is dangerous.
So I plan to strive to increase my privacy and, with few exceptions, I’ll keep my pants on.