Convince Your Boss to Send You to the OUCE

With this year’s OpenNMS Users Conference a little over a month away, I plan to be writing about it more in the run up to the event. I figured I should probably start on why you should go and, better yet, how to convince your boss to pay for the trip.

First off, if you aren’t using OpenNMS, why not? (grin)

In all seriousness, if you are happy with your network management solution you can stop reading now. But if you aren’t happy, are in the process of considering alternatives, or if you have a serious interest in discovering the benefits of an open source network management platform, the money you will spend to investigate OpenNMS through the Users Conference is a rounding error compared to the price of similar commercial solutions.

Second, OpenNMS is more of a platform than an application. I know of a number of organizations who manage billion dollar budgets using Microsoft Excel, but it didn’t work for them out of the box. They had to build the spreadsheets, integrate it with databases and other applications, but now they have a custom system that fits their needs. Most network management applications require the user to adapt their processes to fit the application. For most IT organizations those processes are what differentiate them from their competitors, so it makes more sense to use a platform like OpenNMS which can be customized to better complement them instead of the other way around.

Third, OpenNMS does have a steep learning curve. It is a broad and powerful tool but it does require an investment in time in order to realize its full potential. One way to get such knowledge would be to attend a week-long training class at the OpenNMS HQ. The cost would be US$2500 plus travel.

Contrast this with the OUCE. The full four day package runs 1000€, currently about US$1100, or less than half the price of the standard training course. Even with travel expenses (assuming you aren’t in Germany in particular or Europe in general) it should make more sense to go to the OUCE than to the usual training course (plus, the next one isn’t until January of next year). If you don’t have the need to go to the one day OpenNMS Bootcamp, it is even less expensive. It makes good financial sense.

Fourth, this is a *users* conference. If you come to training you will most likely get to listen to me for five days. At the OUCE you get to meet and talk with the people who *use* OpenNMS. Got a common problem? Find out how others solved it using OpenNMS. Got a weird problem? I can guarantee that someone at the conference will have a weirder one that they used OpenNMS to fix. The initial list of accepted talks is awesome and will only get better.

Fifth, a lot of the key people behind OpenNMS will be there as well (including yours truly) and so you can experience first hand what makes the OpenNMS community so special. Plus, since we don’t “unveil” new features, you can see first hand what is currently available in the development version of OpenNMS, including “big data” storage, new and improved graphing, elasticsearch integration and distributed polling via “minions”.

Finally, it’s a lot of fun. I can remember meeting Ian Norton during an OUCE several years ago. He had been forced to attend the conference by his (now previous) employer and was very unhappy about it. Not knowing who I was, he candidly ranted about issues he saw with the product. I assured him that we would work hard over the next two days to address them. Now he is one of our biggest supporters, and all it took was two days to “get it” and understand what makes OpenNMS so magical (in the interest of full disclosure, schnapps was involved).

In conclusion, if you are not using OpenNMS you are probably paying too much for a lesser solution. This may not be true in your particular case, but you should at least seriously investigate the possibility. It makes financial sense to do this at the Users Conference, even with travel expenses, plus you can see how real users, just like you, are getting the most value out of the tool. And even if you decide OpenNMS is not for you, you’ll have had some fun and can rest assured you did your due diligence when examining management options for your employer.

Hope to see you there.

2015 Community Leadership Summit

I’ve been working full time with open source software for fourteen years, and I can remember a time when we were pretty much making everything up. No one had experience with this market which most of us now take for granted, and there were a lot of questions about dealing with an open source “community” versus paying customers for open source related software and services.

Out of this arose a role, for lack of a better word, called a “Community Manager”. It doesn’t quite fit since “manage” isn’t accurate. It is hard to apply old school management techniques to a group of sometimes anonymous volunteers, many of whom you might only know by a name such as “Zaxxon476”.

One of the first people to document this role was Jono Bacon. He was one of the leaders of the Ubuntu community, one of the larger of such communities in existence. He wrote a book called The Art of Community and he also founded the Community Leadership Summit (CLS) which meets the weekend before OSCON. Due to scheduling I have never been able to be there, but OpenNMS has been a sponsor every year it has been around.

CLS - Sponsors

This year I was finally able to attend, and I wasn’t disappointed. A large, eager group of people showed up, and I really enjoyed the diversity. Not only were women strongly represented (in both attendees and session leaders) there were many people from outside of the United States.

Jono kicked off the conference:

CLS - Jono Bacon, the delicious meat

with help from another amazing fellow, Stephen Walli:

CLS - Stephen Walli, the other white meat

The format was in the “unconference” style, meaning that the attendees set the agenda. After an initial group of planned 15-minute presentations, those people wanting to host a session would write a short description on a card, get up in front of everyone and announce the session, and then go post it on a large schedule “wall” in the main hallway.

I’ve been to a number of such conferences but rarely seen such participation levels. We actually ran out of Saturday spots, but in the true cooperative style a number of people were able to combine sessions so I think it all worked out.

CLS - Schedule

The whole event had a really good vibe. It wasn’t just open source people, either. The “open source way” can be applied to a number of different fields, and it had to be stressed that in any given session you couldn’t make assumptions about the open source knowledge of the people in the room. One woman discussed how she was dealing with mental illness, and an on-line community was key to her becoming healthy. Another woman was discussing how concepts from the formal study of psychology could be applied to make communities stronger. Even proprietary companies such as New Relic were there because the user community has become key to the success of almost any technology endeavor.

I got to make new friends and catch up with old ones, so I have to admit like many conferences I spent more time chatting in the hallway than in actual sessions (as some of those session were in the hallway, I had to be reminded that my voice carries. Ooops and sorry).

For high school I went to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and I constantly run into alumni in this field. OpenNMS’s own Seth Leger went there, as did Spot Callaway and Gina Likins from Red Hat. I got a cute picture of Gina (pronounced “Jenna”) with Ulf.

CLS - Gina Likins

It looks like the second day might even be stronger than the first, but unfortunately I won’t be able to make it. As OSCON is moving to Austin next year, it will be interesting to see how that changes CLS, and I plan to make every effort to be there.

The OpenNMS Calendar

As I was spending this morning trying to get organized, I thought it would help me to post some of the OpenNMS events coming up over the next few months.

July: OSCON

The O’Reilly Open Source Conference, being held the week of 20 July in Portland, OR, USA, is probably the last great commercial open source conference. I’ll be there on the Expo floor and would love to chat with folks about OpenNMS and open source. We are also sponsoring a free concert with MC Frontalot and the Doubleclicks at Dante’s on Thursday night the 23rd:

August: Training

We are holding our formal week-long OpenNMS training course the week of 10 August at OpenNMS HQ in Pittsboro, NC. This is the best way to get up to speed with OpenNMS, plus you get to meet a lot of the people who make it happen.

September: Users Conference

This year’s users conference is shaping up to be the best yet. It will be held from 28 September to 1 October at the University of Applied Science in Fulda, Germany, which is just outside of Frankfurt.

Sponsored by the independent OpenNMS Foundation, The Call for Papers is still open. Also this year we’ll have the gang from the Bad Voltage podcast doing a live show for your entertainment.

October: All Things Open

From 18-20 October, the All Things Open conference returns to America’s Open City: Raleigh, NC (home of Red Hat). This is a great time and OpenNMS will be a sponsor this year.

Hope to see you at one or all of these events.

2015 Mini Dev-Jam

So, after this year’s Dev-Jam, several people followed us back to Pittsboro. Markus von Rüden, Ronny, Christian and Dustin all came to visit, as did Antonio. It was an extra week to get even more work done and a chance for us to socialize.

On Thursday Ben suggested we visit a really nice Japanese restaurant called Dashi in Durham. While downstairs serves noodles, upstairs is a bar with small plates. We rented the place out for a few hours.

Dinner at Dashi

It was excellent. The food was delicious and unusual, and the drinks were splendid as well.

Since our guests weren’t leaving until July the 5th, it was only appropriate to have everyone over to celebrate July the 4th. I was finally able to make Fish House Punch (there is so much of it you need a large number of people to help drink it) and we did the usual 4th of July things such as cooking out on the grill.

The one thing we couldn’t do was fireworks, as there are pretty strict limits on them in North Carolina. I thought we could substitute a bonfire (I generate a lot of stuff to burn on the farm) but with the large amounts of rain we have been getting it really wouldn’t catch.

Then Jesse asked “Do you have any gasoline?”

Against my better judgment, I got some gas and while it improved things, the fire still wasn’t blazing like a bonfire should. Then someone suggested I get the leaf blower.

Tweet about the 4th party

Now, I have a really nice leaf blower. It’s a four-cycle Makita that makes me feel like Magneto. It did the job.

4th of July Bonfire

Remember, don’t try this at home.

Speaking of home, everyone made it back safely. It was nice seeing them for an extended period of time.

The next chance I get to see old friends will be OSCON coming up in two weeks. Remember that OpenNMS is sponsoring an MC Frontalot concert with the whole band at Dante’s on July 23rd. Hope to see you there.

Free Frontalot Concert at OSCON Sponsored by OpenNMS

Hey. Lots to catch up on in this post, but the TL;DR is that the OpenNMS Group is hosting a free concert to coincide with this year’s OSCON conference in Portland.

(Please read to the bottom to see how this ties in with the EFF and Ulf)

It will be held Thursday night, July 23rd, at Dante’s, which Google Maps describes as a “Hip, dungeonlike rock venue”.

Map of Dante's and OSCON

Lookie there – we’re “hip”.

The Concert (note how I capitalize it because it is just that epic) will feature MC Frontalot along with his band. This will be the first time I’ve ever gotten to see a Front show with the band (thus “epic”) and I’m really looking forward to it.

And just to throw a little whipped cream and a cherry on top of this huge nerdy/geeky sundae, the opening act will be the Doubleclicks. Yes, you read that right, Angela and Aubrey will be there bringing their unique brand of nerd-folk to the same stage as the man who invented nerdcore rap.

And did I mention it is free? Doors open at 8pm, show starts a little after 9pm.

Plus, for you free and open source software fans, there might be a little extra surprise. Be there to find out what it could be.

Now, the long version on how this all came about.

Chris Dibona once said that his job was to give money to his friends. While our budget here at OpenNMS doesn’t come close to his, I did take his words to heart and we strive at all times to support the FOSS community.

I consider part of that community to be the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). If it wasn’t for the EFF defending a free and open Internet, open source would have a much harder time existing. Usually we give a fairly large donation at the end of each year to support them.

Last year I didn’t. To be honest, 2014 kind of sucked for me for a variety of reasons, and we really weren’t doing well enough to support a donation.

A few months ago I got introduced to Chad Essley. He is the animator behind the MC Frontalot video for the song “Shudders”. While I had yet to meet him, he shared my love of the EFF’s work and decided to auction off some of the artwork from that video and to donate the proceeds. The “grand prize”, if you will, was to have a special remix of “Shudders” made to include some new artwork. Since 2015 is going much better than last year, we decided to bid on that prize and we won, so now I can present the new and improved “Shudders”, which includes everyone’s favorite kiwi, Ulf.

Note that about 1:25 minutes in you can see a pretty accurate rendition of the OpenNMS headquarters.

Anyway, I really enjoyed working with Chad, and I found out he lives in Portland, Oregon. Portland is also the usual venue for the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON). While OSCON has definitely become much more focused on the latest Valley fads over FOSS, it is still the one place I can be sure to see all of my FOSSy friends each year, so I never miss a chance to go. Now I can add Chad to the list of people I get to see.

Then it dawned on me – why don’t we do a little guerrilla marketing and host a show? Thus after all the swag laden Docker parties are over, people can come by and enjoy some geek-centric music in a cool place.

So I approached Frontalot about doing a concert and, again, since we’re doing better this year, I felt we could spring for the whole band. He agreed, and then used his powers of persuasion to get the Doubleclicks on board. Dante’s is also helping us out, so be sure to come out and buy lots of beer in appreciation.

If you are new to the Doubleclicks, as I was, this is one of my favorite songs of theirs:

The show is open to everyone, so you don’t need an OSCON pass to attend. But I’ll be wandering around the OSCON Expo floor handing out some goodies that are just for conference attendees. I’ll post more when it gets closer to the date, and I’ll tell you how to find me.

I am extremely excited that we are able to do this. It promises to be a great time.

Early/Often on the Horizon

Lots of stuff, and I mean lots of cool stuff is going on and to paraphrase Hamlet I have not enough thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. I spent this week in the UK but I should be home for awhile and I hope to catch up.

But I wanted to put down a at least one thought. When we made the very difficult decision to split OpenNMS into two products, Horizon and Meridian, we had some doubts that it was the right thing to do. Well, at least for me, those doubts have been removed.

It used to take us 18 or more months to get a major release out. Due to the support business we were both hesitant to remove code we no longer needed or to try the newest things. Since we moved to the Horizon model we’ve released 3 major versions in six months and not only have we added a number of great features, we are finally getting around to removing stuff we no longer need and finishing projects that have languished in the past.

In the meantime we’re delivering Meridian to customers who value stability over features with the knowledge that the version they are running is supported for three years. Seriously, we have some customers upgrading from OpenNMS 1.8 (six major releases back) who obviously want longer release cycles, and even if you don’t need support you can get Meridian software for a rather modest fee coupled with OpenNMS Connect for those times when you really just need to ask a question.

Anything OpenNMS does well is a reflection on our great team and community, but I take personally any shortcomings. At least now I can see the path to minimize them if not remove them completely.

It’s a good feeling.

♫ To Be Thick as a Brick ♫

In keeping with the musical theme this week, I thought it would be cool to post about a little bit of OpenNMS “bling” now featured at the Chatham County Public Library in Pittsboro, NC.

OpenNMS Brick

We like to both talk about OpenNMS as well as support the local community, so when I found out that the library was raising money by selling personalized bricks, I thought it would be cool to get one.

OpenNMS Brick

We also have one to be installed at the Tesla Museum. I’m going to have to take a road trip to get a picture of that one, or see if Jeremy Garcia will drive over when it is open and take one for us.

Zabbix and OpenNMS

The network management application space is rather cluttered, with a number of “fauxpensource” offerings that can really confuse the landscape when people are looking for truly open solutions.

Two exceptions to that are OpenNMS (‘natch) and Zabbix.

According to the Wikipedia article, Zabbix was started in 1998, which makes it a little older than OpenNMS, which I’m told was started in July of 1999 although we use March 29th, 2000, as the official “birth date” since that’s when the project was registered on Sourceforge.

Despite being in the same space and about the same age, I’d never really used Zabbix or interacted with their community until 2009 when I met Rihards Olups.

Rihards is kind of “the Mouth of Zabbix” and I met him at the 2009 Open Source Monitoring Conference where he brought me some gifts from his home in Lativa. He repeated the gesture at this year’s OSMC, and I asked when would be his next trip to the US so I could return the favor. He pulled out his handy and said “Are you anywhere near Raleigh, North Carolina?”

Since that happens to be pretty much my home I was happy to find out that he was coming to town. Even though he was sick with the flu that had been going around, we managed to get a gang together for dinner.

Left to right, that’s Rihards (with the awesome beard), Eric (who was in town from Texas), Sarah, Seth, David, Me, and Ben.

We went to The Pit, which is an acceptable, local barbecue restaurant that is much more “presentable” than some of my favorite dives although the food isn’t quite as good, and then afterward we went next door to the “barcade” and played games.

I played pinball (one of my favorite things to do) and Rihards played his first game on a real pinball machine. Yes, I’m a bit older than him.

One of the things I like about my job is that I can go most anyplace and find like-minded free software people. It’s awesome and I always have a good time. I hope to visit Riga in September around the time of the OpenNMS Users Conference and meet more.

Meeting the J-Team at opensource.com

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.

The J-Team: Jason Baker, Jeff Mackanic, Jen Wike and Jason Hibbets

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.