Welcome India!

Well, that didn’t take long. While we have been working with companies in India for some time, The OpenNMS Group just signed up our first commercial client in that country.

I’m writing this from CPH airport in Denmark after a wonderful weekend in Norway, so perhaps one of those two countries will join the other 16 soon.

[Norway trip update coming as soon as I can get it all down]

2008: Pining for the Fjords

After breakfast we got back in the Volvo and backtracked to Geilo to take a more scenic route to Bergen. The highland route still had meters of snow

… but that disappeared as we got lower.

Did I mention the tunnels?

Norway has hundreds of tunnels. I probably rode through more tunnels this day than the sum of the tunnels I’ve ever been in over my 42 years. And we’re not talking just nice, short straight tunnels. The longest tunnel was 24.5 km long, and one tunnel we went through had a section where it corkscrewed around something like 540 degrees.

I wasn’t sure if it was a road or an amusement park ride.

While the roads we traveled on were wide and rather well maintained, we did see some of the old road tunnels. Sort of reminded me of the entrance to Moria:

“Speak, friend, and enter”

The scenery was simply spectacular. Of course there were the fjords:

and the waterfalls:

We made it to Bergen around 5pm and stopped by Alex’s house where I was able to start some laundry. He then took me into town for sushi.

It was yummy.

The evening was capped off with a ride up the Fløibanen funicular to the top of Fløyen, one of the seven mountains around Bergen. The view was fantastic.

Then it was home for a short sleep before getting up for the 17th of May celebrations.

Europe 2008: Norway

Wow. Okay, sorry for not updating this sooner, but Norway was pretty fantastic and I 1) didn’t have time and 2) had too much to say (imagine that). I traveled to Oslo specifically to meet up with Alexander Hoogerhuis.

Alex has been part of OpenNMS since 2003 (or at least that was the date of his first wishlist purchase). He runs a consulting business out of Bergen, Norway, and uses OpenNMS to help his customers manage their networks. I met him in person back in October of 2006, but before that we missed each other from a number of locations around the world – almost always Alex’s fault – so we actually assumed that since we only knew him through e-mail and IRC he must be a ‘bot and not a real person (grin). His nick, _snd, thus was an obvious choice for the #opennms channel robot, _sndbot.

I asked Alex what he did for a living and he replied that he was one part plumber, one part psychiatrist. When I ask for more detail, he explained further: he goes into large accounts and helps them streamline their networking equipment and servers, sometimes purchasing new servers but often decommissioning old ones. The psychology bit involves getting people to accept change in order to create a more manageable and a higher performing network, often using open source software.

He pointed out that he does a lot with mail services like postfix, spamassassin and amavisd, and while all of the information he uses is available on line, it is his experience with these tools that is of benefit to his clients. It is no wonder that he likes OpenNMS, since its power lends itself well to people who are used to customizing other tools like the ones he uses for mail.

Anyway, I flew into Oslo since the flights from Milan to Bergen were inconvenient and expensive, and arrived a little after 9pm. Alex puts in a lot of miles on SAS so he just hopped on a plane from Bergen, rented a nice Volvo S60, and picked me up at the airport for a scenic drive across the country.

But first we had to stop by his hosting provider to pick up a box he was shipping to Singapore. It is in the same building that serves as one of the two peer points for Internet traffic into Norway.

We then headed north to Eidfjord. It didn’t get to what I would call “dark” until after midnight, and I’m not sure it ever got really dark, but as we were crossing the highlands it did start to sleet and snow (the Norwegians have 20+ words for snow) and the clouds definitely blocked out was little light there was.

Eidfjord was reached about 3am, and Alex had picked out a couple of rooms especially for my visit. He told me to look out of the window as soon as I got up, and with that we said goodnight.

I looked out before I went to bed and could make out some cliffs and water, but I was totally unprepared for what I saw the next morning. He called my room at 9am and told me to be sure to put on some clothes before I opened the blinds. This is what I saw:

The cruise ship Aida from Germany had put in overnight. Alex actually wasn’t expecting this, and had forgotten to cover up before going to the window. So basically the people on the ship got a “scenic” introduction to Norway.

After breakfast we hopped back in the car for the rest of the journey to Bergen.

Europe 2008: Norway

There is a lot to talk about with respect to the trip to Norway, but I am running on 4 hours of sleep once again so I haven’t been able to finish it. I hope to do so in the next couple of day, but until then here’s one of the local’s greeting me in a traditional fashion.

In order to keep things, well, in order, I’ll post it on the date it actually occurred (when it is finished).

Welcome Malta!

The OpenNMS Group has added a new country to our list of clients. A company in Malta has purchased support. They join the USA, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Israel, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Italy and Trinidad.

Who will be number 16?


Europe 2008: European Environmentalism

Antonio pointed out to me that there is very little “unsettled” land in Europe. He once flew over Montana, and he remarked how uninhabited it was. In contrast, even flying over remote mountainous sections of Italy you will see buildings and lights.

That is one reason that it seems Europeans are more focused on the environment, or at least conservation.

Automobiles, one of the great carbon consumers on the planet, are much smaller here. Many run diesel engines which are more efficient than gasoline (although some might say that they pollute more but the diesel in Europe has considerably less sulfur than the diesel in the US). There tends to be more public transportation, although I heard one person on the radio in the UK complaining about increased restrictions on cars and he pointed out that a bus running with few passengers could pollute more than if those passengers took separate cars, but at least the option exists.

Fuel prices for cars in Europe haven’t changed much since I was last here, perhaps a 10% rise versus our 50% rise, but that is due in part to the weak dollar. In any case, it is still twice as expensive to buy fuel here than at home.

But I saw two things in Milan that were both quite clever, rather inexpensive and could produce some serious savings.

The first involved escalators in the Metro. We got off the train and were heading up when I noticed that the escalator was not moving. I went to take the stairs and Antonio said “don’t worry” and kept going. The escalator started up as he got close.

How cool is that? Considering the number of airports/train stations/shopping malls/etc. that I’ve been in where the escalators just kept going and going with no one on them I can guess that the energy savings over time would be huge.

I saw something similar when we got back to the hotel. It was nearly 1am and when we exited the elevator onto our floor, the lights in our hallway were dim, but came on when we approached.

This has the added benefit of removing that bright bar of light from the hall that always creeps in under the door of my hotel rooms. Bonus.

My friend Lyle is always comparing open source efforts like OpenNMS to his efforts in renewable energy. In both cases we are trying to strive against the inertia of how things have always been done, and there is also that eureka moment when our clients understand that they can realize savings (in money, time, or carbon emissions) without much sacrifice, if any at all.

Oh, I got a stack of copies of his new book, so if your support renewal is near expect a book along with your OpenNMS shirts. Yours truly is featured prominently in one chapter.

Europe 2008: Milan

I’ve always enjoyed coming to Italy. This is my first trip to Milan, and I think it is a beautiful city. It has more trees than in the south, and since Naples is suffering through a garbage strike it is quite a bit cleaner, too. (grin)

I like the Italian people and I love Italian food. On Tuesday, Antonio (OGP) met me at the airport and we headed into town. He took me to eat at Dalla Zia, which is where Matt went last January, and it was very nice. It was funny – of the six tables around us, four were speaking in English, which confirms Milan’s reputation as a cosmopolitan town.

Antonio is amazing. He has been involved with OpenNMS since 2003, and he is pretty much solely responsible for the success of the application here. OpenNMS is managing the network of the Carabinieri, the state police, and we are making a lot of progress with various large telecom companies in Italy.

And he continues to surprise me. He likes to sing, and on Wednesday when we were walking to the Metro he started singing Supper’s Ready by Genesis. Not only is this an obscure song, it is in English and it runs something like 20 minutes long. He knew all of the words. Amazing.

We spent all day with one of the largest telecom providers in the country. They are trying to migrate away from OpenView to OpenNMS, and we have been doing some great work with them. They are not an easy customer due to the size and complexity of the network, but they seem to be getting a lot of value out of OpenNMS and our services. It was also nice to see that almost half of the people in the room where female. It is rare in data communications to work with women, so I can’t yet tell if this is a telecom thing or an Italian thing.

But life on the road doesn’t stop with just one all day meeting. That evening Antonio and I met with a company that develops telecom equipment and software in Italy, as well as providing services. They want to use OpenNMS to manage their new offerings. It offers a compelling story, since why should anyone build against OpenView or Tivoli if OpenNMS can be modified and distributed for free?

The main entrance to Stazione Centrale

We made it to the restaurant around 10pm. He took me to Centro Ittico, which advertises itself as a “Raw Fish Cafe”. Think sushi – Italian style. It was fantastic. It was off the end of the Stazione Centrale, which is huge (check it out on Google Maps).

While we had a meeting this morning, Antonio suggested that I skip it and just take the bus to the airport. The extra two hours of sleep have done me no end of good. Tonight: Oslo

Free Riding in Commercial Open Source Companies?

I am way too tired to be writing what is sure to be a controversial post, but I don’t think I can help myself. In fact, I have little self control at all and I tend towards Wilde’s comment that the best way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

[Note: on re-reading this it is a little harsh, even for me, so feel free to skip this post and move on to my travelogue from Milan]

I like Matt Asay. I think he’s a really smart guy, and he’s even gotten our back in the past. But lately I have to wonder what he’s been thinking. Today, especially, he went off on what he calls “free riding” in open source.

It really pissed me off.

Let’s revisit the definition of open source, shall we? The “open source definition” has 10 items (sort of a Bill of Rights), and the first three are:

1. Free Redistribution of software
2. Source Code to the software
3. Derived Works can be made from the software

Let me be blunt: the “enterprise” versions of so-called open source products built under the hybrid model violate all three of these rights. You purchase software under a restrictive license that doesn’t include the source code and doesn’t allow you to modify it. Sure, there is some small part of the code that meets the definition, but the hybrid company exists solely to profit from the sale of software.

That’s a pretty stupid business model.

Open source implies free distribution of software, which is the antithesis to commercial software. So the only reason I can think of why a commercial software company would tie itself to the term “open source” would be for marketing reasons. They want to capitalize on the success of projects like Apache and the Linux kernel, but without making the commitment to free the software. Why does this bother me so much? Because now I have to constantly explain to people what open source really means with respect to OpenNMS and it affects my ability to truly market OpenNMS as a free and open alternative to OpenView and Tivoli.

In his post, Matt divides open source communities into three groups, those that contribute code, those that contribute cash, and “free riders”. Now, when he says cash he means “folks that pay for a license to our proprietary code”. In that sense Microsoft must have a huge open source community.

People who contribute code are pretty self-explanitory, but what about the freeloaders – I mean “free riders”? What is their usefulness?

He comes up with two reasons, which I’ll paraphrase here:

1) They give the commercial “open source” company an edge by eating away at the market share of the commercial “closed source” company.

2) They provide numbers to help create a market share around the “open source” company’s software, thus increasing their valuation to investors as this is a greater pool of people to “convert” to “cash customers”.

Is that it? Without working hard I can think of several others:

3) They find and report bugs.

4) They contribute useful documentation if the community has a decent wiki or other such system.

5) They answer questions from new users on mailing lists and forums, thus driving interest in the application.

6) They suggest new features that may make the software better at its chosen task.

7) They promote open source software within their organizations.

There is some serious monetary value to these tasks, but it seems from Matt’s post that unless is its converted into actual cash it is not worthy. It isn’t a problem in a truly open project, since it is the community that should benefit from this work, but if your business model is to sell software licenses then, yeah, I guess all of those freeloaders would get you down.

Then he goes on to say

The more free-riders, the more encouraged would-be purchasers will be to free-ride, as well. Why should you be the only sucker paying for what everyone else is using for free, and quite comfortably?

This sucks for a commercial software company, but it doesn’t bother me at all. The OpenNMS Group is a services company. We don’t sell software, so if you don’t need our services why should we charge you for them?

If you are a commercial software company with an open source component, however, this can be a big problem. In fact, if you can’t meet your software revenue targets the smart thing to do would be to withhold crucial pieces to push more people to buy your proprietary code. Can you really call this model open?

Then comes the paragraph that sent me straight to the keyboard. I’ll break it up into pieces:

Ultimately, someone must pay for software in order to have it written.

If he means cash, that’s bullshit. It is quite possible to develop great code without a cathedral of paid developers. It will take longer at first, but it can be done.

Of course, “pay” could mean donations of time and effort, which do have a monetary value, but I don’t think that was his point at all.

There are huge benefits from open sourcing one’s code, but open source is not a substitute for the hard work of development, sales, marketing, etc.

Hard work of sales and marketing? Excuse me? When has a commercial software salesman ever added benefit to an open source project. The sheer idea of a seller of free software is ludicrous. Yeah, good sales and marketing will help one sell commercial software, but it is hardly necessary for the health of a truly open source community.

So what are the “huge benefits” of open sourcing one’s code? Well, if we rule out cash and freeloaders, that only leaves contributed code. Note that these benefits are “huge” so there must be some monetary benefit from the sweat equity of these volunteers. But how are these volunteers paid back? By having their efforts commercialized. They are barred from free access to the entire code base, which is only available in exchange for cash, yet their efforts obviously save the commercial entity money since they get features for free and usually with a copyright agreement that lets them create commercial derivative works from that code.

All companies, mine included, have some idea of an “exit strategy”. In the case of these hybrid commercial software companies, the idea is to get bought. The purchase price will be determined by their software revenue, so you can bet your life that the acquiring company will do little to open up the software, and may in fact commercialize more of the code.

If you ask me the entity getting the free ride is the “commercial open source” company. Was the purpose of this post to make people feel bad for just using the code and thus drive software revenues? Software license revenues have no place in free and open source software.

Nor is [open source] a winning business model, in and of itself.

Again, wrong. My company posted a 21% net profit last year. We used that money to almost double our staff, and we plan to do it again this year, and we did it without a single software license being sold. It may not be a palatable business model for Silicon Valley, but it works fine in the rest of the world.

If you have to violate the definition of open source for your revenue, why call yourself an open source company? The emperor is naked, folks, and his little hoo-hoo-dilly is hanging out. Perhaps if enough of us laugh at him, he’ll put some clothes on and get the frack out of our damn yard.

Europe 2008: Trains, Automobiles, Gordon Ramsey and Planes

We woke up to another unusually beautiful day in London, and started to make our way to Heathrow.

The cheapest way was to take the Tube, and the first leg of the journey was a little awkward as it was rush hour and we were traveling with luggage. But a few stops along the Piccadilly Line the crowds started to thin and we were able to find seats out of the way of the other passengers.

Then I made a travel mistake; a rookie mistake unfitting a seasoned traveler. About five stops away from the Terminal I remarked that “hey, we’re making great time”.

No sooner than I said this, the conductor came on the loudspeaker to announce that someone had thrown themselves under a train in front of us, so they were closing the Piccadilly Line and we were encouraged to find other transportation. I’m afraid that I wasn’t as sympathetic as I might usually have been to such news (and I’ve been told it happens more than you might think) but we did have more than two hours to make it to the airport so I wasn’t that worried – we just needed to find a cab or a bus to make it the rest of the way.

David got us into a minivan with a number of other displaced travelers heading for Terminal 5. We sat in the back, and it was kind of fun to watch the locals deal with a driver who was trying to take advantage of the situation. He was asking £15 per person, and they quickly beat him down to £10, which was, of course, to our benefit as well.

A view of Terminal 5 upon walking in.

So we made it to Terminal 5 with time to spare. Despite all of the problems reported with the new building, it is amazing.

Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food at Terminal 5

After checking in, we were both hungry so we decided to eat at “Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food“. Ramsey is huge in the UK. You can’t get away from him. To me he is just the required British curmudgeon on Hell’s Kitchen (all American reality TV shows seem to need an irritable Brit) but in the UK he is on billboards everywhere. And while I seriously wish I had thought of it first, it was pointed out to me that he can look a lot like Davros from Doctor Who. He did win points with me when it was reported that he really likes In-and-Out Burger.

Separated at Birth? Davros and Ramsey
(images yoinked from the web)

We sat at a tiny little table in a real fashionable parlor and had the “Classic” breakfast. It was actually quite good. Not really worth the price but good nonetheless.

After breakfast David and I split up. He was off to Frankfurt for some more OpenNMS seminars and I was off to Milan. Unfortunately for me, the first plane we boarded had a faulty toilet so we had to disembark and get on another plane (a process that was made rather more difficult than it had to be: wait on the plane, get on the jetway. Wait on the jetway, get on the stairs. Wait on the stairs, etc.) But eventually BA came through and I was on my way. Time for a nap.

Europe 2008: A Day in London

We held our first OpenNMS “A Day in the Life” seminar in London today. Our host was Paul Wolf of Brainstorm. I met Paul a couple of years ago when he worked directly for Opera Telecom and he brought me over on a Greenlight project.

The Brainstorm offices are in the Highgate Studios building, near the Kentish Town tube stop. It has a serious “web circa 2000” feeling about it, with well appointed offices with painted brick walls, exposed conduit and industrial lighting. The glass-walled conference room was adorned with stenciled HTML code. It was cool to see two instances of OpenNMS up on the walls when I walked in.

It was a great place to hold the seminar, and I think everyone had a good time. We ran a bit long, but we had a lot to cover and it was our first shot at this new presentation. I think the next one will be timed a little more reasonably.

But that didn’t prevent us from heading out to the Junction Tavern, a rather nice pub a short walk away. The weather in London has been amazing, so we took advantage of it and sat out on the patio. Jonathan Sartin (OGP) managed to meet up with us, with his coworker (also a Jonathan), and we had a couple of pints and a nice meal.

Dave, Paul, Zygis, Sevan, Jonathan, Jonathan and Craig

I’m off to Milan tomorrow. Sorry about the short post, but I’ve had about 12 hours of sleep in the last three nights so I’m off to bed. I’ll update tomorrow if the Internet access from the hotel is usable.