Dev-Jam 007: Day 1

Today is a travel day for most people, but that also means that we started to gain critical mass early on. Having everyone together does so much for productivity, and we managed to tag and release OpenNMS 1.3.6 (official announcement will come tomorrow).

A lot of progress was made toward getting rid of the dependency on Tomcat for the webUI and replacing it with jetty (although Tomcat can still be used when it is necessary to move the webapp to another server), and we started to lay out the plans for the week (doing more with GWT, getting rid of the SVG 1.2 dependency for maps, etc.)

In other news, one of the more interesting people that I met at OSCON mentioned my talk in his blog. John Willis has been doing this whole network management thing longer than I have, and it was nice to see how much we agreed on what a management platform should be able to do.

Back to Dev-Jam, we took several breaks to play with the Wii:

although I am not very good at it … yet.

Weather issues on the east coast caused some delays, but by dinner time (around 9pm) most everyone had arrived except for Alejandro, who had been stuck in Miami since leaving Venezuela, although he is supposed to be landing soon. We ended up at Sally’s, which worked out well since Sunday nights after 9pm all of the drink specials offered over the week are in force.

It may be a little hard for me to get out of bed in the morning.

Dev-Jam 007: Day 0

We made a massive Sam’s run today. Several cases of soda, a couple cases of Red Bull, coffee, and both salty and sweet snacks. We based a lot of our purchasing decisions on last years conference, so we hope we bought enough this time.

Today both jeffg and ranger showed up. joed’s plane flight got cancelled so he doesn’t make it here until tomorrow, and Alejandro’s flight was also delayed, so instead of getting in around midnight he’ll be here around noon on Sunday. Pretty much everyone else shows up tomorrow as well.

We are hoping to tag 1.3.6 this weekend. All of the C-based JNI code has been excised from the main OpenNMS code, so now jrrd (to support RRDtool files) is optional, iplike (to allow for powerful IP address based matches when querying the database) is optional but highly recommended, and jicmp (which allows for Java to perform pings) is required but provided as a separate package.

What does this mean for OpenNMS? A number of things. First of all the opennms, opennms-webapp and opennms-docs packages are now “noarch”. This will allow us to build and release in a fraction of the time it used to take, and we will be able to provide nightly snapshots. Second, OpenNMS should build on Windows. Now, I didn’t say it would run on Windows, but it should build – which is the first step (we still need to work on any hardcoded file separators).

Since I was responsible for building on the umpteen platforms we support, I at least am ecstatic. We are also setting up some yum repos in addition to the debian/ubuntu repos, so installation should be a breeze.

In other news, OpenNMS has been appearing in a couple of blogs. One of our clients in Europe who we’d hoped could make it to Dev-Jam talks about his experiences with the app, and Coté over at Redmonk links to a post I made in the past about the glory days of OpenView.

He writes “Developers seem to have a diminished role in IT management.” This is very true in the case of OpenNMS. Unlike some other open source management projects, all of us came from a background in enterprise management, and only a few of us were “classically” trained developers. This has meant that getting to a critical mass of developers has taken us a long time, and it has made our annual Dev-Jam conference essential for the success of the project (plus it is a whole lot of fun). Most other open source projects are written by developers for developers.

On the upside, by bringing together network management professionals and not strictly developers, we’ve managed to create a product focused on their needs.

Anyway, tomorrow is the big reunion day. It’s nice being back at UMN. We went out to Big 10 for lunch and one of our favorite waitresses from last year, Meegen, was there. She’s a blast. Having an unusual name myself, we swapped stories. She won. She said that often when she tells someone her name, they don’t believe her (it’s pronounced “Me” vs. “May”), so they often ask her to spell it, as if she spelled it “Megan” they could go “aha! you’re saying it wrong”.

Well, it was funny in the bar.

Dev-Jam 007: Day -1

Friday was a travel day for me. Up at 5am, off to the airport, PDX to ORD, then ORD to MSP. The flight out was delayed but I had enough of a layover in Chicago to make the next flight, and so did my luggage.

Mike picked me up at the airport and we met up with his wife Katie, Matt and Dave at the Wayzata Yacht Club. Mike and Katie are part owners in a sail boat, so we went out on Lake Minnetonka for a couple of hours.

[Me, Matt, Katie, and Cap’n Mike – Dave took the picture]

It was nice. We then got some ice cream and I got some much needed sleep.

And the winner is …

I just got back from the Sourceforge Community Choice Awards party. So without further ado the winner of the Best Project for Sysadmins is:


The winner for Best Project for the Enterprise is:


Oh well. It was nice to be nominated in such fine company. I want to thank everyone who voted for us. It means a lot to me to get such feedback from the community. Also kudos to Ross Turk and company for a nice party, although I didn’t win the iPhone.

In too few hours I will be on my way to Minneapolis for Dev Jam 007. I leave here at 8am and get there about 5pm. Envy me.

March of the Geeks – OSCON

Even in rather bohemian Portland, it is easy to find the Convention Center this week. With Ubuntu Live running for the first two days, and OSCON for the last three, all one has to do is stand on the street, look for a T-shirt with a Linux/Open Source theme (or Tenacious D for that matter) and follow them. Soon you will merge with more long haired, T-shirt wearing laptop luggers as they congregate on the site of the conference.

I haven’t been here long, but in the speaker’s room I ran into Brian Aker and there is a homemade rapid prototype machine build by RepRap as well.

Pretty cool, and looking forward to more.

OpenNMS vs. Netcool

First of all, let me state that I really liked most of the time I spent as a Netcool consultant. I started working with Angela Dawes about a month before Micromuse opened their New York office, and I spent my share of time on Townsend Street in San Francisco during those crazy bubble days.

But the price of the tool was crazy expensive, and although it was very flexible, there were a number of times that heroic effort was required to get it to do what you wanted it to.

Like OpenView, Netcool has grown to represent a large suite of products, and at the moment OpenNMS can only replace some of them. While OpenNMS’s service monitoring capabilities have always been a better alternative to the poorly designed ISMs (Internet Service Monitors), it now has the capability to replace much of the functionality of Omnibus and Impact.

One of the major features of Omnibus was what Micromuse called “event deduplication”. You had to define all of the events Omnibus could receive, and part of that definition was a key that would cause any two or more events with the same key to be merged into one. OpenNMS has a feature called “event reduction” which does a similar thing, although with Micromuse you pretty much lost any deduplicated event, whereas with OpenNMS you have the option of keeping the individual events as well as viewing the data as a “reduced” alarm.

OpenNMS also provides the ability to manipulate alarms via database commands to both the OpenNMS database as well as an external database like Impact.

This is pretty much old news, but I saw something yesterday that I thought was wonderful, and I wanted to share.

We have many users who use all of the features of OpenNMS, and others that focus on service monitoring, data collection or events. The last crowd, event centric OpenNMS users, are rather recent additions since they were drawn to OpenNMS for the new alarm features.

I recently did some work for an “event centric” client that wanted to move from a Netcool installation to OpenNMS. We did a Greenlight and they were pretty happy with the results as far as events were concerned.

I thought it was a cool project because our alarms system is meant to work perfectly with the “telecom” version of alarms. In the telco world an “alarm” is an event that comes in with a variety of parameters, and when it is resolved the same event is sent with a particular varbind set that indicates the alarm is now cleared. Thus a device is said to be “in alarm” or “not in alarm”.

By configuring OpenNMS to receive those events as traps (see the file) and then using automations to match the “ups” with the “downs”, the client can now tell at a glance the status of his large telecom infrastructure just by looking at the alarms list.

But that was not what was so wonderful. It’s one thing to have me come in to configure OpenNMS, but we aim to put the power of the tool into the hands of the user. Netcool had a feature where you could display events in a histogram format, like this:

The client asked me if there was a way to use our data collection to graph events over time. We worked out a method where a script would periodically run and grab events from the OpenNMS database and post the results to a text file in the document root of the apache instance on OpenNMS. Then using the HTTP data collector, we were able to go out and periodically grab those event totals and store them. The resulting graph looks something like this:

This is useful to them, and is something that Netcool would have problems producing. However, I pointed out that if they liked the way the histogram stuff looked, they should check out our jfreechart integration. I pretty much left it at that.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I was on their system working on a separate issue and I saw that the main OpenNMS page now looks like this:

Pretty much the same information they were getting from Netcool, and the beauty of it is that they were able to come up with it on their own. Now granted, these are smart people (all OpenNMS users tend to be considerably above average in intelligence, as well as possessing impeccable taste) but they had only been using the product for a short time and yet it exactly met their needs.

That is why I drone on and on about OpenNMS as a network management platform, or a network management tool, versus “application”. An application implies a set way of doing things, whereas a tool is as powerful as the artist who wields it. Companies used to differentiate themselves by the applications they could afford to buy. With open source, everyone has access to the same tools, and the differentiation comes about from how well the company can execute its ideas. I’d rather be choosing my vendors on the size of their brains versus the size of their wallets.

Houston, We Have A Booth

OpenNMS has always focused on making a great product versus pretty marketing stuff, and nothing is more evident of this than the OpenNMS “booth” presence.

We only go to conferences that invite us, and we’re still trying to figure out how to best do them. Usually we make sure that at least half the people in the booth are from the community at large and not The OpenNMS Group. Then we figure we need some sort of sign.

For the first show it was off to Kinkos and we got our logo on a vinyl sign. This is the original logo that is evident in this picture from LinuxWorld San Francisco 2005:

We thought this was pretty cool. It was the first time the OpenNMS logo had been rendered that large. But while I know what OpenNMS stands for, and you know what OpenNMS stands for, not many other people seemed to figure it out.

When we had our logo contest and voted on the new logo, we also needed a new sign. Here it is from SCaLE:

This, also a Kinkos special, is a slightly larger sign with both the logo and our tagline: Enterprise-grade Open Source Network Management.

Plus SCaLE was the first show we had booth babes. (grin)

Well, being the finely tuned marketing machine that is OpenNMS, we decided it was time for something a little more formal, so I present to you The Booth:

That’s brozow, me and ranger in our best gansta poses. Since ranger owns the only copy of Photoshop he is the default graphics artist, and he did an amazing job with the graphics on this thing.

Minus booth babes, this will premiere at LinuxWorld Expo in a couple of weeks, along with our new, yes new, 24-inch Mac monitor. We have arrived.

So think of OpenNMS as just another highly successful, commercially backed project with amazing marketing … just minus the millions in VC money.


Open Source and the Press

I really like reading Dana Blankenhorn‘s blog on ZDNet, and I felt a special resonance with his recent “The open source way to truth” post.

The mainstream industry press has a weird relationship to open source. At best it comes across as aloofness, almost like a parent admiring a small child who has learned how to tie his shoelaces – “Awwww, look what he did! Isn’t that cute?” At worst it is downright arrogant, as in the latest open source management tool “review” on Network World.

Of course, OpenNMS was left out of the comparison, as were a number of other open source projects. The only ones reviewed have received between $4 million and $24 million in venture funding, and thus obviously can afford decent marketing firms. This is important, as Dana writes “Tech journalists are uniquely susceptible to spin.” The author of the Network World review apparently did his research by leafing through his press inbox.

In today’s world any research probably starts with a Google search. Seriously, give a fifth grader the task of writing a paper on King Arthur, and his first action will be to go to Google and search on “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.” Go to Google and search on “open source network management” and OpenNMS is the number one hit (and has been for years). We don’t do anything special to get this ranking, it has just happened.

I’m actually glad that we were excluded from this review, because I am sure in the eyes of this author we would have been found lacking. OpenNMS is not designed to be a “pointy-clicky” out of the box application but a powerful tool, and like any tool it takes an investment in time to learn how to use properly. This bake-off appears to be extremely superficial. There is no mention of the actual requirements, or details of the scale of the network that is being monitored. There is a vague “It displays a map of the discovered nodes. It checks for connectivity problems and it notices performance problems. It alerts you via e-mail or pager” … it rubs the lotion on its skin, etc.

The arrogance part comes in the results, which Network World calls its “Clear Choice”. Clear choice? First, there was a 10% difference between the number one and number two products, hardly a clear choice. Second, as someone who has spent a lifetime managing networks, no application, including OpenNMS, is the clear choice for every situation. It would take me less than 30 seconds to come up with a situation where any of the three products reviewed would be the best choice, if that long. That’s why requirements are so important, and why OpenNMS choses flexibility over ease of use.

Dana writes “What that means for journalists is we should probably cover you more closely and vendors less so.” Perhaps when covering open source a little more research effort is required, since the vendor doesn’t always come to you. I look to Sourceforge as a great place to start when researching open source applications. Despite its faults, it is still the closest place to a comprehensive open source bazaar we have. That is why I am very excited to see OpenNMS nominated for “Best Project for the Enterprise” and “Best Tool or Utility for SysAdmins” in their Community Choice Awards (and remember to vote if you haven’t already). None of the three open source management tools reviewed, although they are active on Sourceforge, where nominated in these categories. These nominees were determined by the community, not by who had the most downloads, the most money, or the best press releases. Like our Gold Award from Tech Target where we beat out HP and IBM, this came from the people who actually use the application, and not some marketing firm.

I’ll take that over the “clear choice” any day.

Deacon of Dev-Jam, Robert Hanson

Last year we started a Dev-Jam tradition of having a special guest. Dev-Jam is all about building up the OpenNMS developer community and what better way than to bring in an expert from another open project to cross-train.

Last year we had Ben Hale from Interface21 come and tell us all about Spring. We then spent the last year “springifying” OpenNMS. This year the development focus is on the webUI, so we wanted someone to tell us about cool web tools.

First I had to come up with a name for this person. Mardi Gras has its King of Carnival, the Oscars has its Master of Ceremonies, and now OpenNMS has …

The Deacon of Dev-Jam

We are very excited to have as this year’s Deacon Robert Hanson, author of GWT in Action. We have started using the Google Web Toolkit in our Dashboard feature, and we’d like to expand it to other areas of the webUI. We are very lucky to have Robert join us for the first half of Dev-Jam, and as an added bonus everyone who attends will get a copy of his book. Well, everyone but Robert, that is.

So, remember, Dev-Jam registration closes on July 20th. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Google was an early silver sponsor and this week we added Sun Microsystems as a silver sponsor as well.