A couple of years ago I went to my first barcamp, barcampRDU. A barcamp is advertised as an “un-conference”. Instead of setting up a schedule of speakers, a bunch of people get together and sort of build the speaker list from the attendees. The part I like most about barcamp is hangin’ with folks between presentations. It’s something that is a little harder to do at a conference you pay to attend since no one wants to miss out on the presentations (or at least they pretend not to want to miss them).

I can’t remember if it was whurley or John Willis who first brought barcampESM to my attention. I want to think it was both: whurley brought it up at LinuxWorld but John Willis helped make it happen with his enthusiasm for the project. The idea was to get a bunch of end users together with a bunch of vendors in a barcamp-style setting, but the reality turned more into just a bunch of vendors. Despite that I had a lot of fun, although I felt very much like an outsider most of the time. The reason follows.

We had two of the “big four” in the room, BMC and Tivoli (IBM), and one of the “little four”, Zenoss. All of them sell software. The big guys are trying to figure out how to get their lower end stuff maintained for less, and the little guys are just trying to sell software into the space being vacated by the big guys. Both see “open source” as the solution to their problems. If the big guys could build a community around the low end stuff they could focus their resources on expensive high-end solutions and software, and the little guys can’t build a market for their “enterprise” software unless they get some mindshare by releasing a small subset of their code as “open”.

You might think I’m being a little harsh here, but let’s be real. The big guys sell to the C-level, and old-school management isn’t sexy enough to catch their attention any more. They need new stuff like “Business Services Management” etc.

The little guys are all financed by VCs, and in order to get that money they had to produce a business plan with revenue projections – projections based on selling software licenses. So how will such a project respond to a user who implements the “enterprise” functionality as open source? I don’t think they could accept the code and commit it while at the same time satisfy shareholders who expect software revenue. They’d have to make up some excuse about why they couldn’t commit it, and unless the independent community was strong enough to fork the code, nothing would change.

So I was a bit of a duck out of water. I don’t know the first thing about selling software, or what needs to be done to make it easier to sell. But I do know network management, and so did most of the attendees, so I felt comfortable talking to them.

John Willis is a big Tivoli user, and he brought in two other heavy hitters, Doug McClure and Heath Newburn. Both guys were really cool and really knowledgeable. There is no denying the appeal of an end-to-end framework, but in practice it has been extremely hard to realize. I take a bit of pride in the fact that OpenNMS is being used on some huge networks, but these guys are managing some ginormous networks, since only the huge companies can afford ’em (grin). I’m certain I can learn a lot from these guys.

Speaking of heavy hitters, I got to see Doug Stevenson (Dougie Fresh) for the first time in many years. Doug has forgotten more about network management than I will ever know, and he’s had experience with pretty much everything out there. We used to call him the Elvis of network management.

Dougie and Me

He’s doing well, currently working on Tivoli, and after a heart attack in 2004 he’s in the best health I’ve seen.

Oh, nice lead in for a little story. When Doug was at AOL, he worked for a guy named Scott, who used to work for me. I was on the phone with Scott back in 2001 when he had a heart valve tear. He didn’t know he had Marfan syndrome and it had caused his valve to weaken, and he had to be airlifted to the nearest large hospital for emergency surgery and a valve replacement. When I talked to him a few days later, a had to say, “Scott, I know I like to run my mouth, but dude, next time just say you have to go.”

Of course Doug had to call Scott after his heart attack to let him know he wouldn’t be in for awhile. For once I know there was a manager who understood completely what one of his guys was going through.

Anyway, back to barcampESM.

Coté showed up and introduced me to Michael Nels and Kartick Suriamoorthy from Alterpoint/Ziptie. I really want to check out Ziptie now. It’s a configuration management tool written in Java, and there might be some integration points that we could leverage.

All I need is time. Ah, what I’d give for a 36 hour day (as long as everyone else stayed on 24 hour days).

Me, Frank and Chris

I got to meet Charles Crouch from Red Hat (JBoss). He is working on the Red Hat fork of the Hyperic code base that JBoss licensed a few years ago. And I also got to meet Frank Sheiness (archon~ from the #opennms IRC channel) and Chris Bowman from Korcett, but more on them later.

I’m sure I’m missing other people. Bill Karpovich and Erik Dahl from Zenoss were there, and Erik has promised to wear an OpenNMS polo if I send him one. I got to hear how they got started with the “Zen of Open Source Software”. Chip Holden from BMC was on a panel with Erik, Heath and me moderated by John.

Man, I really didn’t get to spend as much time with everyone as I wanted.

There was a little bad news. As whurley was riding his skateboard toward the venue with a bunch of gear on his back, a woman walked out right in front of him. When he planted his foot to stop, the weight on his back shifted and caused his ankle to twist. After hobbling around for most of the day he went to the doctor and came back on crutches. They are not sure if it is broken or not.

Overall I was glad I came. The crowd was cool and I really like Austin. Many thanks to BMC and Zenoss for footing the bill for lunch and dinner. Also, check out the new Open Management Consortium site. It looks like they are breathing new life into the project (but don’t participate in the stupid “What’s your favorite open source monitoring tool?” poll – perhaps it will get less like Tiger Beat as the site gets going).