Why People Need Support

I like to think that the people who use our services get value for their money, but I sure many more ask the question “why do I even need support?”

At OpenNMS, we don’t sell software (all our software is free). I like to say we sell time. At the moment, anyone who has found out about OpenNMS, installed it and decided to use it obviously possesses well above average intelligence, impeccable taste and is most likely devilishly attractive. They are capable of figuring out issues without a support contract, either by experimentation, using the free resources such as the mailing lists, or both. But do they have the time?

Normally, most of the trouble tickets we get concern configuration, a few involve actual bugs with OpenNMS itself, and more than you would think are the result of vendors not honoring standards. We spend a lot of time figuring out issues with things like poorly written SNMP agents and even operating system problems.

And then there are the bad MIBs.

Recently I got an e-mail from a person who uses the Anevia Flamingo product. They wanted some help using mib2opennms to convert Flamingo SNMP traps into a format they could use.

Usually I have to politely decline helping people who contact me privately about OpenNMS issues. It wouldn’t be fair to our paying clients if I spent time helping people one-on-one for free, so I point them to free resources like the mailing lists. When I have time I try to help out there, as that gets archived publicly and might help others. The catch is that you may or may not get a timely answer to your question on the list, whereas you can always pester us about support tickets.

But this question involved mib2opennms. I’ve been using that tool for six years and my mib2opennms-fu is strong, so I took the Anevia MIB I was sent, cranked it through the tool and sent back the output.

I received a reply that it wasn’t working and the user was still getting unformatted trap errors like:

Received unformatted enterprise event (enterprise:. generic:6 specific:2). 3 args: ."" ."1" .""

I went into the file I had created and noticed that the enterprise id was missing the last “.30”, which is why it wasn’t matching, so it was off to look at the MIB.

It started off normally enough, with some object definitions:

anevia OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { enterprises 20967 }
anevia1 OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { anevia 1 }
tsnmp OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { anevia1 1 }
manager OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { anevia1 12 }
aneviaManager1 OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { manager 1 }
aneviaManagerTraps1 OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { aneviaManager1 30 }

and then later in the MIB came the trap:

inputDownTrap TRAP-TYPE
  ENTERPRISE aneviaManager1
  VARIABLES { streamerInputIndex, streamerAddress }
    "This trap is sent when an input on a streamer becomes unavailable,
     and can no longer provide any useful data, the provided index is the
     index of this input."
  ::= 2

At least the mystery of the missing “.30” was solved. The “ENTERPRISE” value for this trap should be “aneviaManagerTraps1” instead of “aneviaManager1”. Easy enough to fix. But then I noticed that instead of the two varbinds listed in the MIB, the agent was sending three (see above) where the first one was blank (as well as being just the enterprise OID).


The second varbind value of “1” could easily be the streamerInputIndex and “” could be the streamerAddress but these won’t be correctly reflected in the events file since they’re off by one due to the mystery blank initial varbind.

This is the case of a poorly written MIB and a poorly implemented agent, and there is little we can do about it but work around it in configuration. I asked the user to make sure we had the latest Anevia MIB and was told we did. I wrote Anevia support but since I don’t have a relationship with them I never got a reply.

This happens way more than you might imagine, and we’ve gained a lot of experience in diagnosing and either correcting or working around such issues. Because we’ve seen stuff like this before, we can do this quickly, which is why I like to say I sell time. It only takes a few issues like this to have a support subscription pay for itself.

[Note: This post isn’t meant to be a pitch for services but a rant about the time I wasted playing with the Anevia MIB, but if it helps sell a support contract, that’s cool too (grin)]