Venture Capital

I came across this blog entry today entitled “F*** the VCs” (while not profane it does contain the “F-word” so don’t click through if you are thus offended). It’s well written, as are most of the comments.

We’ve thought about VC funding at OpenNMS, but I’m not sure it would work for us. Being profitable, we don’t need the money to survive. It’s also not a market share thing – our target market has changed at least five times since we started this and will probably change again as OpenNMS grows and we adapt.

VC money comes in handy when you have something that easily scales, that needs a lot of start up cash and represents something entirely new. If I ran a VC fund I’d be investing in biotech and not open source software.

An open source business plan based on services can scale, just not along the lines of the “write once, sell one million times” of commercial software. It also doesn’t require a lot of start up cash – a laptop, a mobile phone and an Internet connection got me going. And network management is not new – we’re doing things better and more efficiently, but it is not groundbreaking. As John Casasanta shows in his example conversation with a VC, it’s not a question of having a ton of decent programmers but more a core of dedicated and talented individuals.

As I often say, you can’t stick nine pregnant women in a room and get a baby in a month.

Anyway, it was an interesting article so I thought I’d share.

New Tempest, Same Teapot

Yesterday morning before I went of to work I received an e-mail from Dave McLoughlin, the manager of the OpenLogic Expert Community. It was a pretty standard form letter along the lines of:

Dear $FIRST_NAME:

The reason I’m contacting you is because Iā€™m looking for help supporting $PROJECT; we have a customer who is using $PROJECT and would like us to provide support.

Since this was sent to my Sourceforge account address, I figured that OpenLogic had spammed the admins of a number of projects, and sure enough, all of the OpenNMS admins got the same e-mail.

Now this didn’t bother me all that much. I get spam all the time and this was just another example of same. The tone of the e-mail was similar to any other sales pitch I’m likely to see, and the fact that he had done zero homework (it isn’t hard to find out that we already have a commercial venture supporting OpenNMS) pretty much indicated that they had harvested names, projects and e-mail addresses from Sourceforge without context. I just added it to the pile of e-mail from recruiters that start off with “I see you know computers. I have clients who need people who know computers” and the relatives of dead rich people who need me to hold on to some money for a bit.

However it really pissed off two of our team, and one even wrote to Sourceforge asking that OpenLogic get dumped from that site for violating the terms of use:

section 4(b) and 4(c):

Prohibited activity includes, but is not limited to:

(b) transmitting chain letters or junk mail to other users;

(c) using any information obtained from the web site in order to contact, advertise to, solicit, or sell to any user without such user’s prior explicit consent;

As I was thinking about this I wondered if this would be considered an example of “open source oversensitivity”. Outsiders might think we are a touchy bunch, but I don’t think, on the whole, we are.

Everyone has buttons, and in this case I think the tone of the letter was pretty condescending, which might have pushed a few. Some people think that open source software can’t be as good as commercial software, and when you here phrases like “take that payment in cash or merchandise,” “$25 gift certificate … just for signing up,” and “receive an iPod” it comes across more like Bob Barker than Bob Young.

My own buttons get pushed occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) but I don’t think this is inherent to open source. Recently Berkay Mollamustafaoglu found out the hard way when trying to introduce an open source project to the Netcool Users list. It appears he was within the acceptable use policy but got booted anyway.

Which reminds me, does anyone remember the Perl-based open source webUI to Netcool? I think it was called “gnomnibus” but I can’t find it on Google. It was shut down by the author’s employer when Micromuse complained.

On the whole, I think the communities around closed source tools are even touchier than the open source ones. At least with open source, community building is a stated goal, and thus dealing with issues of structure and etiquette are common. Closed source communities are more cliquish. On the OpenView Users list I was called a “communist” and accused of putting people out of work with OpenNMS. To some change sucks, while others embrace it.

So, was OpenLogic out of line? Did anyone else who admins on Sourceforge get the same letter? Enquiring minds want to know.

2008 Australia: A Week in the Life

I am starting my third week in Australia. The trip has been pretty fun so far, but I am ready to be home. While I was happy to trade the coolness of a Sydney winter for the heat of a North Carolina summer, I have come down with a sore throat. It may be the result of a cold but it could also be due to all of the talking I have been doing. I’m thinking it is some of both.

Last Saturday I got up and tried to find a laundry. Usually the hotels I stay in have a couple of coin-operated machines, but not this one, so I found a place on Google maps, loaded up my clothes and hiked there (it was about a mile and a half away).

When I arrived it was little more than a room added on to a woman’s house, clearly designed for people to drop off their clothes and return later versus self service. She was nice about it anyway so I sat outside and read while my clothes got clean. Then I hiked back to the hotel and took a nap.

That evening I went over to North Willoughby. It was my first time taking a train to the northern shore and when we came out of the tunnel into the harbour I was looking around trying to find the Harbour Bridge in order to get my bearings, and it wasn’t until I looked down and saw Luna Park that I realized I was on the Harbour Bridge.

I had been kindly invited by Craig to come over to his house for a home cooked meal. It was a lot of fun and definitely a treat over eating out in restaurants the rest of the week.

Cars at Italian Festival
Cars at the Five Dock Italian Festival – All right hand drive

On Sunday, Paul, my contact at the client who brought me here in the first place, came over with his son Alex and we wandered around greater Sydney. The first stop was an Italian street festival in Five Dock, followed by a trip into Sydney proper. We visited the fish market, which was simply amazing. While I have been to fish markets before, including San Francisco and Seattle, the sheer variety was staggering. There was a whole section of “shrimp and things like shrimp”, a section containing all sorts of oysters, as well as the wall of “big fish you can eat”.

The Prawn Section at the Fish Market
The prawn section as the Sydney Fish Market

We ended up eating there and afterward wandered around Darling Harbour to help walk off the meal.

On Monday I boarded the train for Burwood, which is home to Ursys. Ursys provides broadband over satellite. Since much of Australia is very remote from large population centers, as well as home to a lot of mining companies who spend time out there, the only way to get Internet access for much of the country is via satellite. I was reminded that I actually had discovered them back in 2002 when I was limited to satellite at the farm as they had a linux solution for DirecPC, but due to licensing they could only sell it as an appliance so I didn’t get it (and I believe the product no longer exists).

The Gang at Ursys
The Gang from Ursys

There I met with Jessica Mayo who restored my faith that OpenNMS is accessible even with its lack of documentation if you are persistent enough. Jess had managed to figure out a lot of the OpenNMS functionality – even the advanced stuff – on her own. I was able to provide some suggestions to solve a couple of their outstanding problems, and the whole team took me out to lunch.

Tuesday found me on a bus to visit with a large communications provider. One thing a love about my job is being able to visit amazing enterprise and carrier class networks. As they say down here, there was an enormous amount of “kit” to be seen – all sorts of equipment from vendors both old and established as well as cutting edge. We are working to replace their OpenView installation with OpenNMS, so it should be fun as well.

I also came across a great story. The director of the department had found some “microbe plush toys” on thinkgeek.com and ordered a number of them for her team. When they arrived at Australian customs they were held up, because apparently the inspectors focused on words like “E. coli” and “Black Plague” instead of “Novelty Toys” on the invoice. They charged her extra for the inspection and I can only wonder what that entailed. Was it a bunch of guys in bunny suits or more along the lines of “hey new guy, come open this.”

Wednesday found me back in North Sydney visiting the offices of ICE Systems. They have a delightful take on what a conference table should be.

The ICE Pool Table
The Conference/Pool Table at ICE

ICE is a systems integrator that is beginning to focus on open source. I talked at length with Lee Curtis who has a lot of amazing ideas on how integrators can serve as the conduit for open source solutions in the enterprise.

That night I made it back to Darling Harbour to see The Dark Knight at IMAX (which is supposed to be the world’s largest movie screen). Even midweek the place was pretty crowded, but it was worth it (if you are in to that sort of thing). I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie, but the only complaint I had was Christian Bale’s gravelly voice when he was in costume. Seemed a little forced and unnecessary to me.

Thursday I took a day off from visiting clients to catch up on work. I also made a side trip to Fraser Motorcycles to get an Australian Harley Davidson T-shirt for my collection (remember the OpenNMS polo offer is still open).

Friday found me as far north as I have been in Australia. After a one hour train ride and an hour on the bus I found myself near Elanora Heights and the offices of NetStrategy. We have been working with Jim Boyle for a couple of years now and his group uses OpenNMS to monitor a number of their clients’ networks. It was nice to finally meet him in person.

That evening Jim drove me back down to the ICE offices where after getting my butt kicked at pool, we were joined by Craig and we went off to the Belgian Bier Cafe in Cammeray for dinner. It was a nice end to a hectic week as we discussed food, beer and open source.

Dinner at Belgian Bier Cafe
Jim, Craig, Me and Lee at the Belgian Bier Cafe

Yesterday, I got up and did laundry once again (I found a slightly nicer place a little farther away than last week) and then Paul picked me up and this time took me to see a National Rugby League double header at Olympic (ANZ) Stadium. I have never been to an Olympics so it was cool to wander around the grounds and wonder what it was like at the height of the games.

I also find a like rugby (no “league” versus “union” rants please). The first match was between the Wests Tigers and the Manly Sea Eagles. I was hoping the Tigers would win but it was not to be (they were thoroughly routed by the Eagles). The second game was much closer. It was very cold so I purchased a sweatshirt and scarf featuring the Bulldogs, which didn’t go over so well with the Parramatta Eels fans around me, but Paul was pleased. The Bulldogs lead at the half 12-6, but they were not to score again and lost 12-26. My yelling might have had something to do with my throat as well.

Rugby at Olympic Stadium
Rugby at Olympic Stadium

For those in the US, here is a short overview to help relate American football to Rugby League (as far as I understand it).

The game takes place on a grid 100 meters long (versus 100 yards). The object is to score a “try” (i.e. touchdown) by grounding the ball within the scoring area (similar to the end zone in American football, but the goal post is on the line not behind it). The ball is similar to a football but less pointy and more rounded.

Note that to score a try the ball must be intentionally grounded with force – simply breaking the plane of the try (goal) line is not sufficient, and I saw the Bulldogs denied a score simply because the player was so wrapped up by Eels that he was unable to touch the ball to the ground.

The ball is moved forward by running and carrying it, just like in American football. However, the ball can only be passed backward. Forward movement, even accidentally as in a missed catch, results in a penalty. Outside of running, the ball can be kicked forward. The ball can be passed backward at any time.

Instead of the four “downs” of American football, a scoring attempt is a series of six “tackles”. On the sixth tackle the ball must be kicked, which results in a score or a change of possession. A score can occur if the ball is kicked into the scoring area and recovered by a member of the kicking team. The caveat is that the player must have been behind the kicker when the ball was kicked, so usually a kick results in a change of possession as the defending team is in better position.

The only way to get another set of six tackles is via a penalty, unlike the American football idea of a new set every 10 yards.

There is no strict realignment of players after a tackle, such as in American football. The defending team simply moves 5 meters down field as the offensive team kicks or rolls the ball backward to a player who then attempts to move it forward once again.

A try results in 4 points (versus 6 for a touchdown) and is followed by an attempt to score a “goal” by kicking the ball through the goal posts (the goal is worth 2 points versus the 1 for an extra point, although they are analogous). The attempt is not blocked by the opposing team (everyone just sort of stands around). However, the ball is placed behind the 10 meter line at the point where the try was made. Since many tries are scored at the very corner of the field these kicks are often at a sharp angle. The kicker has the option to place the ball farther away than the 10 meter line if they choose, but not closer.

There is also a “field goal” which is scored when a team drops the ball and then kicks it through the goal posts after it bounces once. Sounds tricky and I never witnessed one, but if successful scores 3 points.

There are a number of other rules but that is my understanding of the basics. Occasionally the play of the ball has to be reset, which is done via the “scrum”. With 13 players on a side, each side supplies six players to lock together in a circle while the ball is passed through the legs of the offensive team. The scrum is necessary to keep everyone from just piling on top of the guy with the ball at the start of play.

The game consists of two 40 minute halves with a 20 minute halftime break. Like soccer, the clock rarely stops, but unlike soccer no time is added on at the end.

And yes, there are cheerleaders. The ones for the Bulldogs resemble the cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys. However it was so cold they wore long coats for much of the game. Wrapped in my Bulldogs scarf and “jumper” I understood completely.

Here, Eat This

It’s past 1am here so forgive me if this post rambles more than usual, but I wanted to get this thought down while it was still fresh.

I am always on the lookout for new analogies for explaining open source. Some don’t quite hit the mark, such as selling open source software is like selling bottled water, but I think I came up with one today that rings pretty true.

I am often amazed at how little mainstream business understands or knows about open source. To me for many applications it is a no-brainer to use open software.

But today I was thinking. What if I was walking down the street and a person, out of nowhere, offered me food? Nothing really strange or compelling about the person making the offer, just “hey, free food”.

I think my reaction would be very similar to the way most businesses approach open source. First I’d be thinking – is it safe? My second reaction would be – what’s the catch? I mean, I’m pretty much used to paying for food, so free food is kind of suspicious.

I think the analogy works. Of course, it all comes down to trust. If you trust in the person giving you the food, no matter what the context, you are more likely to eat it.

I’ll flesh this out more later, but I need sleep now. Talk amongst yourselves.

Brand New Fancy Social Web 2.0 OpenNMS.com Website Portal Thingie

I have been having a good time here in Australia, although I miss home. We brought one of our horses back from training, so I missed out on that, but then I also missed out when we turned our colt into a gelding so I guess it’s all even in the end (well, maybe not for the colt).

I plan to post an update this week on all things Oz, but at the moment I wanted to announce the new OpenNMS Group website.

I mentioned earlier that we are trying to be a little more professional in our marketing. Not so much to puff out our chests and tell people how good we are, but to get across some points about the business side of OpenNMS.

We constantly get asked about our “enterprise” version, as people are always looking for the catch – if OpenNMS is any good it can’t be completely free. We are also asked how we can possibly make money if we don’t sell software. Plus we needed to make it even easier for people to understand what we do, what it costs and how they can get it.

While I had much of the content in mind, I didn’t have a decent design to display it. Then I thought of a pretty decent layout, one which you might find familiar. It wasn’t until I had some free time 10,000 miles away from home that I managed to get it built.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

2008 Australia – Money

Australia has the prettiest paper currency in the world.

Well, I think technically it’s made of plastic, but it is gorgeous. Each denomination is a different, bright color as well as a different size, and for protection from counterfeiting there is a clear, embossed plastic window (different for each bill) in the lower corner. Sure, the Euro is similar but it just doesn’t work as well, and we’ll just ignore US currency, although once drab it had a sort of stately elegance but has now turned into a hideous mashup of bad color and worse design. Some compare counterfeiters to artists and I guess the goal was to make money so ugly that no artist would want to copy it.

Australian coins, on the other hand, are less than perfect. There is no penny (amounts are rounded to the nearest increment of 5) and sub-dollar amounts are silver, while the dollar and two dollar coins are gold.

That is pretty straightforward, but the sizes are all wrong. The 50 cent coin is about the size of a small truck tire, and the two dollar coin is tiny – about the size of an American dime (but thicker). I didn’t think I had much change at lunch because of all the little gold coins but it paid for my meal and then some.

On another good note the US dollar is rallying lately and thus the exchange rate has dropped in my favor. Let’s hope it stays that way at least for the next couple of weeks.

Today was my first day at the client site, and it went pretty well. They had a place for me to sit and I was given a fancy key card/badge so I can come and go as I need. The downside is the network is pretty locked down and I’m having to use a Windows box as a desktop. I use putty to ssh into the OpenNMS server and IE (gasp) as my browser.

Does anyone else have the issue when looking at the OpenNMS main page on IE that the outages box and the categories box are right next to each other, with no space, but if you slightly resize the window the space magically appears? Seriously, our webUI may not be the best but that just bad rendering on IE’s part. I’ve thought about installing Firefox but I figure I am exposed to IE so rarely I might as well use it to note any weirdness.

I was pretty well adjusted to the time until yesterday, when I lay down for a short nap and slept 14 hours. It actually works out pretty well, since I can get up around 4am to 5am and communicate with the US before heading out to the client, and there isn’t much for me to do in the evenings. Still hoping to get some folks together on the 20th.

2008 Australia – Old Friends

For the first year I maintained OpenNMS, I worked out of my house. It took a little adjusting, mainly to the lack of human contact. My wife has a career of her own and thus I was home alone for most of the day. I related to the rest of the world through IRC and mailing lists.

I’m not sure how I made it through that first year. Luckily, the nascent OpenNMS community was there to help, and I had my friends at the Triangle Linux Users Group (TriLUG) as well.

Unless you’ve experienced this, it is hard to describe. I was once arguing with the CEO of another open source project (one with the “hybrid” business model of community [open] vs. enterprise [closed] versions) who viewed the code his company produced as a gift to the community, and not really community developed. He was proposing some changes to what would be in the open vs. closed versions of his software and I asked him what his community would think of it. He replied “if the f***ers, don’t like it, f*** ’em.”

This really pissed me off. I replied that it was much different with OpenNMS, because when it was just me, it was those “f***ers” who kept me and the project going when there was nobody else. That is part of the reason I am so adamant about keeping OpenNMS open.

Anyway, my main interaction with large number of humans was the monthly TriLUG meeting. I’d get there early, chat, stay for the presentation and pizza, and once we got kicked out of the room, stand in the parking lot chatting for another hour or two.

One of the key organizers of TriLUG in those days was Jeremy Portzer. Right about the time OpenNMS started taking off he took a job with Blackboard in Washington, DC, and about 18 months ago he transferred to the Sydney office. Since I was down here we decided to meet for dinner last night.

It was nice. I got to meet the Blackboard team in Sydney (there are other employees spread across the country but most work from home) as well as spend some time downtown. I took the ferry from Parramatta to Circular Quay and then walked to the high rise building where the office is to meet Jeremy. We then got some beer a local pub (I tend to drink VB when I’m here) and then had a great meal at a restaurant on The Rocks. While you can’t really see it in the picture above, this was what we were looking at as we ate.

Jeremy also hooked me up with a SIM card so that the phone that Alex gave me would work here. We stopped by his apartment to get it on the way to the train station. He has a really nice apartment, small but with a great view, and a large balcony that overlooks Central station from 12 stories up.

I hoping to meet other folks while I’m here. I’m going to be in North Sydney on the 20th and I want to see about getting a group of people together for beer and conversation. If you are local and want to help me organize it, please drop me a note. I’m thinking we can meet somewhere central, perhaps back at Circular Quay. I’m open to suggestions. That, and more beer, of course.

Well, That Wasn't Too Bad

I just dropped AU$245 for a month of internet access at the hotel (it was the best deal). The hotel itself came through and not only had early check-in for me they upgraded me to an “Executive Spa Suite”. So now it’s downstairs to grab a little something to eat and then nap time.

It should be easy to sleep – Sydney seems to have inherited London’s weather – cool and damp.

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

I’m writing this from LAX, where in 180 minutes I will be crammed into a big flying tube for about 15 hours with 300 of my closest friends.

Envy me.

I really like visiting different places, and I’m surprised at all the amazing towns and wonderful people I’ve met solely through OpenNMS. But, seriously, sometimes the air travel is a drag.

For example: at RDU today I saw a used diaper rolled up sitting on a chair. C’mon people, it’s an airport, there are trash cans every ten feet. What kind of rude, ignorant slob would leave a diaper out like that.

Heh, which reminds me. Children shouldn’t fly until they can drive.

My secret to healthy flying is Zicam and washing my hands every chance I get to the degree that I could enter an operating room and not cause any problems. So far so good.

Next post from Sydney.