Announcing OpenNMS 14 and Newts 1.0

It is with great pleasure that I can announce the release of OpenNMS 14. Yup, you heard right, OpenNMS *fourteen*.

It’s been more than 12 years since OpenNMS 1.0 so we’ve decided to pull a Java and drop the “1.” from the version numbers. Also, we are doing away with stable and development branches. The Master branch has been replaced with the develop branch, which will be much more stable than development releases have been in the past, and we’ll name the next major stable release 15, followed by 16, etc. Do expect bug fix point releases as the in past, but the plan is to release more major releases per year than just one.

A good overview of all the new features in 14 can be found here:

https://github.com/OpenNMS/opennms/blob/release-14.0.0/WHATSNEW.md

The development team has been working almost non-stop over the last two months to make OpenNMS 14 the best and most tested version yet. A lot of things has been added, such as new topology and geographic maps, and some big things have been made better, such as linkd. Plus, oodles of little bugs have finally been closed making the whole release seem more polished and easier to use.

Today we also released Newts 1.0, the first release in a new time series data storage library. Published under the Apache License, this technology is built on Cassandra and is aimed at meeting Big Data and Internet of Things needs by providing fast, hugely scalable and redundant data storage. You can find out more about this technology here:

http://newts.io

While not yet integrated with OpenNMS, the 1.0 release is the first step in the process. Users will have the option to replace the JRobin/RRDtool storage strategies with Newts. Since Newts stores raw data, there will be a number of options for post-processing and graphing that data that I know a number of you will find useful. Whether your data needs are simple or complex, Newts represents a way to meet them.

Feel free to check out both projects. OpenNMS 14 should be in both the yum and apt repos, and as usual I welcome feedback as to what you think about it.

OpenNMS Newts at ApacheCon Europe

Being Hungarian, I am very jealous and yet still proud that our very own Eric Evans will be presenting at ApacheCon Europe in Budapest, Hungary.

He will be talking about Newts which is a new time series data store built on top of Apache Cassandra. It will be a key part of positioning OpenNMS for the Internet of Things as well as being very useful on its own.

Eric is a dynamic and interesting speaker, so if you are attending the conference be sure to check out his talk.

And while you are there, eat a Túró Rudi or three for me.

Internet of Silos

My friend Phil sent me a link to a Gartner article listing the “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015” and I wasn’t surprised to see the “Internet of Things” at number two.

Now that mobile computing has become ubiquitous, there is a rush to network connect everything. Plus, there is a lot of money in it – take a look at the Nest acquisition. I’m not really certain this is a Good Thing™. My experience with low end network devices shows that corners that can be cut often are (i.e. crappy SNMP agents) and my guess is that in this rush to get things out the door we will end up with some serious issues.

One thing that can circumvent this is open source. By making the code transparent, especially for medical devices, there is a strong chance that major issues could be identified and corrected.

If, and that is a big “if”, we could get people to standardize around various open source software for the IoT there is a chance we can prevent the “Internet of Silos”. I first heard that term in a BBC article where it was announced that ARM (a British company) was creating an open source programming language for devices powered by its chips.

As you might expect, the article was short on specifics, but if the language is any good and the license is permissive, perhaps other chip manufacturers will port it. At a minimum it should encourage companies like Intel to also open source the technology used for their chips and the community might be able to build wrappers around both of them.

No matter what happens, we hope to support any management capabilities they introduce. We are actively working on making OpenNMS almost infinitely scalable to be able to handle the needs of the IoT, from insanely fast data storage (Newts) to highly distributed polling and data collection (Minion). We hope that the open nature of the platform will encourage more and more product vendors to use OpenNMS for their element management system, and then at least on the management front we can prevent the silos.

Why There Will Never Be Another Red Hat

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.

Damian has just released a new album (it’s excellent, buy it) and he closed his set with “Charity Case” which includes the lyric:

It’s true:
Frontalot’s destitute.
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.

Trust and the Internet of Things

One of the main things we are focusing on at Dev Jam is scalability. The goal of OpenNMS has always been to become the de facto management platform of choice for everyone, and as more and more things become connected to the Internet, scalability will be a huge issue. It’s one thing to monitor a drink machine and quite a different thing to monitor millions of them.

The main performance bottleneck in OpenNMS has always been the storage of time series data. While much of it can be addressed via hardware, we realized we needed a write-optimized system that could perform at scale. The result of that work, lead by Eric Evans, is NewTS, the New Time Series database built on Cassandra.

As a left leaning libertarian, I’m really concerned about the privacy issues of the Internet of Things. One of the reasons I work on OpenNMS is to insure that the best platform for managing this data is also one that can be privately owned. It will be the end user’s choice one how that data is stored and shared.

Yesterday Apple announced a number of new initiatives at their WWDC keynote. These included iHome, a home automation platform, and iHealth, a platform for gathering personal biometric data. Among the new shiny was a total lack of concern about privacy. An example given was an integration between iHome and Siri, where you could tell Siri “I’m going to bed” and certain actions would happen. What people tend to forget is that almost all of Siri’s processing is done on Apple servers, and if you tell Siri you are going to bed, you are also telling Apple and who knows who else. The potential for 1984-like abuse is there, and it will be up to Apple users to either trust Apple or do without.

But does this have to be the case? Do users have to give up privacy or blindly trust in third parties in order to access useful technology?

I don’t think so.

The technology is there, and I believe eventually society will demand it.

One of the oldest examples of such technology is public key encryption. It’s a beautiful system, and while the encryption aspect is important, so is the ability to digitally “sign” things. What’s brilliant about it is that no personal information has to be given up – if one trusts the key then one can trust the signature even without knowing who signed it, and third parties can verify the signature as well.

I am eagerly awaiting the release of the Angel open source health sensor. I have a strong interest in tracking my personal health data, but I also don’t want to share it with a third party unless I choose to do so. None of the popular sensors, to my knowledge, have the option of keeping that data private if you want it to be useful.

So I’m constantly on the lookout for companies and products that “get it”, that understand my desire to only share the information I choose. I want to be marketed to, show me cool things I’m interested in, but on my terms.

One company I recently came across is called Personagraph. On the surface it appears to be another analytics company, but if you dig deeper you can find that they have a strong interest in personal privacy. I learned about them on one of my recent trips to Silicon Valley, but I had to dig to find references that reflect what I was told.

Of their three main products, I’m really drawn to PG Protect. The idea is as follows:

Let’s say that I have an application that collects several hundred metrics about me. For example, totally as a mind experiment, assume that I like to watch The Big Bang Theory in the nude while eating popsicles. I might not want to share the nudity aspect with anyone, but I am okay with letting people know I like the show and that I like popsicles. In a traditional marketing application, I would need to reveal these things to a third party, which would in turn sell them to interested companies.

But what if instead of individual metrics, some sort of aggregate score was created from my likes and interests, and that anonymous score was the only thing that was presented to the third party? They might be looking for people who score high on a number of metrics and yet they could be matched with me without knowing exactly which metrics I trigger. I could then be presented with offers and ads, and then the choice could be up to me if I want to engage. Speaking of “engage”, a product like Personagraph’s PG Engage could be used by the company doing the marketing to see how well their campaign was doing, without having to know any personal information about me.

Pretty cool, huh? What I like about their products is that they provide trust without having you to take it on faith.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the privacy angle from their website. I did find a little YouTube ad that touches on it:

but the real meat can be found in this white paper. If you care about privacy, I encourage you to check it out as well as to make sure the companies providing the products and services you use are aware that privacy is important to you.