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.

2013 OpenNMS Users Conference

This was the week for the fifth annual OpenNMS Users Conference in Fulda, Germany. I had grand plans for blogging about the event, but as usual things got away from me and now I am getting started on the last day.

I spent last week teaching an OpenNMS course to ten students from a local company in North Carolina. While I love teaching people about OpenNMS, it took a lot out of me. Even for “the Mouth”, talking for 8 or 9 straight hours for days on end can be difficult.

The class ended on Friday and I had just enough time to head home, do laundry and pack before leaving for the airport on Saturday morning to head toward Fulda.

One of my tasks was to bring Ulf, the OpenNMS mascot. While I was waiting for my plane to Dallas (I hate flying through Heathrow so, yes, I went two hours in the wrong direction just so I could get a direct flight to Frankfurt) I ran into the UNC Womens Gymnastic’s team and they were kind enough to pose for a picture.

The rest of the trip to Frankfurt was pretty uneventful. At the airport I was met by Markus, who was acting as chauffeur, as well as Jeff who came in from Atlanta and Gary from Kansas City. We drove to Markus’s house where he and his wife Sandra had prepared a nice lunch. Some of the other people from the conference came by, and we had a great time chatting into the evening.

For dinner we visited a traditional German restaurant in Fulda called the Schwarzer Hahn. While we were eating I was able to ask a question about the German language. When I travel, I like to leave a tip for the housekeeping staff at my hotel. I asked them for the German word for “housekeeping” and they replied that there really wasn’t one, but I could try “zimmermädchen” or “room maid”. On Monday morning I left a note and three euros for the cleaning staff using my new found German words.

On Monday we prepared for the conference. For the last four years the conference had been organized by Nethinks, a certified OpenNMS partner with offices in Fulda, and I’ve been to Fulda on a number of other occasions (this year it was organized by the newly formed OpenNMS Foundation). When a friend of mine decided to make the four hour trip from Bayreuth just to visit me, I was able to show her around Fulda like a native.

Did I mention it was cold? I think it is kind of important to mention how cold it was – most of the time it was a few degrees below freezing – so the Fulda tour pretty much involved finding great places to eat and have coffee.

We ended up at Hochschule Fulda, the site of this year’s conference, and we got to see Christian’s Raspberry Pi controlled coffee maker. The interface is in the style of the replicator from Star Trek, and you can simply state, in German “Computer – coffee please”. It was kind of cool to see it work, but we found out that with Jeff’s accent the difference between “make a coffee” and “perform the cleaning function” are similar. (sigh)

Speaking of language issues, when I got back to my room on Monday night I found that my note and three euros were still on the desk. When I met Jeff for breakfast and told him about it, he asked to see the note, and when I showed it to him he immediately started to laugh. I had written “Zimmer Mädchen Danke” and apparently by adding the space I was not addressing the cleaning woman but instead I was asking to have a young woman (Mädchen) for my room. While I had other German speakers tell me that it would have been a stretch for someone to arrive at that conclusion, others start laughing the moment I mention adding the space. Of course, being German, some of them simply point out that three euros is not enough money and that three 50 euro notes would have been more appropriate.

(heavy sigh)

Tuesday morning I awoke to see about six inches of snow on the ground. Apparently it was bad enough in Frankfurt that they closed the airport. This did impact some of the people coming to the conference, but for those on trains it was only delays versus cancellations.

The conference officially started on Tuesday with a Basic Training Day. I tried to fit about two and half days of training into one, but even with some drastic cuts and pre-installing OpenNMS, it took ten hours to cover the OpenNMS basics. The class was cool and let me talk until 7pm, but I was really looking forward to Wednesday and my first “down day” in weeks.

Dinner was at the Havanna Bar, where we went to celebrate Jeff’s birthday. Tobi Oetiker had arrived (although a little late due to the snow) and it was nice to be able to spend some time with him. He had come up to do an RRDtool tool talk on Wednesday. After dinner I told everyone not to expect me until noon.

At 8:30 Wednesday morning my phone rings. Jeff is sick and can I come in and teach? I quickly shower, dress and head over to the school, where I proceeded to improvise eight hours of advanced OpenNMS training. I think it went well, and I only ran about 30 minutes over the allotted time, but to say I was exhausted at the end of the day would be an understatement.

I skipped the evening activities and tried to get a little rest, but soon realized that I needed a lot of rest. I felt ill, but I wasn’t sure if it was related to illness or just exhaustion. I went to sleep but woke at 5am in order to get my demo working for my “What’s New in OpenNMS” talk on Thursday morning. I literally had to build a fresh OpenNMS release since major bug fixes had been added by Ben Wednesday night, and I think the demo was well received with the exception that loading the VMWare topology database via OSGi failed (it had worked at the hotel).

I ended the talk with a Steve Jobs style “one more thing …” This is very hard to do with an open source project, since by its very nature open source software doesn’t hide anything (I was always amused by those fauxpensource companies that promised an “unveiling” of new software at various trade shows). My “one more thing” was to point out that the best new thing in OpenNMS is the OpenNMS Foundation. The creation of this independent users group means a lot to me, and I think it will insure the continued growth and success of OpenNMS.

At lunch on Thursday I heard a nice story. One of the attendees had a performance review via Skype the day before, and he was told that he had received a prestigious “innovators” award from his company. The reason was his introduction of OpenNMS to this large corporation that had been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on products from HP and BMC.


Unfortunately, I missed the rest of Thursday. I simply could not go on. I went back to the hotel and crashed, but managed to get up in time to visit the Havanna Bar for the conference social event. We had over seventy people in the upstairs dining room, and I spent most of the night with a table of Germans and Ville, a Finn who works at Vaadin and is living in Frankfurt.

At one point the talk turned to language, and it was pointed out that there are only five words in German that end in the letters “nf”. I thought that was cool, since the German word for “five”, fünf, is one of those words. However, no one at the table could name all five, and one person found an article that stated there were only four (apparently there is a dispute).

This bothered me, since I felt it was important that there be five since fünf would be one of them, so Ville and I decided to introduce the word “pünf” to the German language, which is defined as “the feeling when one realizes they should have stopped eating 15 minutes ago”. Both of us were feeling very pünf at that moment.

Speaking of language, I think we should all adopt the German term for the mobile phone, which is “handy”. My reasoning is that the word “phone” is outdated (I rarely use the “phone” function of my handy). John Scalzi in “Old Man’s War” called them “hand terminals”. That is accurate if a little long, so we should shorten it to “handy”.

At one point in the evening I remember looking around the room at everyone laughing and talking, and thinking “I put this in motion”. Not the conference, as that was done by better people than me, but when I took over the OpenNMS project in 2002 to keep it from dying, I never thought that it would grow so much beyond what I started.

I left the event a little early, as I was still not feeling my best, and I walked back to the hotel through the light snow. I got to sleep a little after 11pm and slept in until 7:30. When I awoke I felt better than I had all week, so I am hoping it that I was just tired and that I’m not getting sick.

So far on Friday I’ve seen a couple of cool talks. Almost all of the talks in this conference are being given by OpenNMS end users. I saw one on integrating OpenNMS with Salt Stack (a Puppet/Chef-like configuration management tool) and one on the new Scale Free Topology Provider.

I hate that I missed most of the talks yesterday, but I think the organizers have done a great job with this conference and I look forward to what they come up with next year.

The only thing I would change is the weather.

Odds and Ends

Just a few notes that I wanted to share today.

First, OpenNMS was mentioned on Somos Libres, a website promoting free and open source software in Peru, in its “Best Free Software in 2012 According to Users” article in the “Essential for Communication Networks” category. I thought that was pretty cool.

Next, we have training scheduled later this month in London at the Red Hat offices. This is probably a one-time deal for us to be able to hold training in such a convenient location and we only have a few seats left, so if you are interested please be sure to register (if you have contacted me to reserve a seat rest assured that I have done so, but please register as well). The next training in the US will be held in April.

Finally, the OpenNMS Users Conference, sponsored by the OpenNMS Foundation, will be held in March at the University of Fulda. Early bird registration for that event ends on the 15th, so if you want to save a few euros be sure to sign up soon. This will be the place in 2013 to learn about the latest changes to OpenNMS as well as to meet many of the people behind the project.

The OpenNMS Foundation

I am extremely excited to be able to finally announce the formation of the OpenNMS Foundation.

As one of the stewards of the OpenNMS project, I have tried my best to separate the .org project side of OpenNMS from the .com commercial revenue side. Every bit of code we (the .com folks) write is published under an open source license, but I think the key to any great open source project is to have a vibrant and active independent users group.

Part of that thinking comes from my experience with Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView product line. At one time it was the de facto standard for network management, driven in large part by an ecosystem of integrations and add-on products from other vendors. The independent OpenView Forum users group used to have conferences with attendance in the thousands. That users group was key to the success of the OpenView platform.

Of course, when those “other” vendors such as SMARTS, BMC and Micromuse started to become large, HP reacted in the wrong way and sought greater control over the OVForum. That was the beginning of the end.

The number of independent contributors to OpenNMS has always been a source of pride to me, but I never felt quite confident that our merry band had what it took to survive without the OpenNMS Group. That started to change a couple of years ago when a cluster of OpenNMS users and developers formed in Fulda, Germany, a little town outside of Frankfurt and home to a university.

Part of the choice of location was due to the influence of Nethinks, one of our German partners. They hosted three successful user conferences and employed one of the founders of the users group. Fulda is also home to a top-notch University, which brought in even more people to the project. Earlier this year, that group along with others got together and formed a non-profit organization to promote open source and OpenNMS.

I’m not sure any of my three readers will understand how happy this makes me. When Oculan decided to stop working on OpenNMS, I was certain the project would die without someone to maintain it. Even as the community and our company grew over the years, I was still afraid that circumstances could arise where the project would die. For the first time in over ten years I feel certain the project could continue without me and without the direct influence of the OpenNMS Group.

The first order of business of the new Foundation is to hold the seminal OpenNMS event in the form of a users conference. Created totally by users for users and held at the University of Fulda, this event will bring together developers, contributors, corporate sponsors and, of course, users, for several days of OpenNMS geekery.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

So save the dates of 12-15 March, 2013, and be sure to register. Sponsorship opportunities will be available as well.

I also want to express heartfelt thanks to the folks behind the OpenNMS Foundation for making one of my dreams a reality.