OpenNMS 1.6.0: Birthing an Elephant

Sorry for the light blogging, but as you can imagine we’ve all been busy. We were finally able to release the next stable version of OpenNMS, 1.6.0, at the end of October, but I wasn’t able to write about it.

Getting a new stable release out can be painful. I often refer to it as “birthing an elephant”. We want our stable releases to be perfect, but as it has been said “perfect” is the enemy of “done”. When we get close to a stable there is always the driver of just one more fix, just one more feature, before we tag. I finally had to put a stake in the ground and say 1.6.0 will come out before 31 October, and we made the deadline by several days.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any press ready at the same time. I’ve just gotten around to writing the press release, which I share here. I guess we care more about getting the code out than advertising it, but I’m not sure that is always a good thing.

Anyway, here’s a short overview of all the work that went in to 1.6.0. Hope you enjoy the release.

PITTSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – The OpenNMS Group announces that OpenNMS, the world’s first enterprise-grade network management platform developed as 100% free and open software, has released a new version: 1.6.0. This is a stable, production release that incorporates nearly three years of development.

The last production version, 1.2.0, was aimed to compete squarely with Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView Network Node Manager product. This release builds upon that work to expand the reach of OpenNMS to other parts of the OpenView family as well as to provide an open source alternative to products such as Tivoli’s Netcool.

OpenNMS 1.6.0 sports a redesigned user interface, a number of scalability improvements and increased integration with other products. OpenNMS now runs on Windows, in addition to most flavors of Linux, Solaris and Mac OS X.

OpenNMS has four main functional areas: Automated Discovery and Provisioning, Event Management, Performance Data Collection and Service Monitoring. Each area has been greatly improved with this release.

While OpenNMS contains a robust automated discovery system, when managing tens of thousands of nodes it is often preferred to allow an external system to determine what OpenNMS is to monitor. Thus OpenNMS 1.6.0 contains a new “model importer” feature that allows node, interface and service information to be imported directly into the system using data in an XML format. One company, Swisscom Hospitality Services of Geneva, Switzerland, uses this method to manage over 70,000 devices with a single instance of OpenNMS.

Event management has been improved with the new Alarms subsystem. OpenNMS can receive events from a number of sources, such as SNMP traps, syslog, TL/1, and custom scripts. A key can be configured for each event that will allow it to be turned into an alarm. Thus if a device is generating multiple, identical events, their number will be reduced into just a single alarm. This greatly decreases the amount of event “noise” that operators see.

In addition, automated actions can be performed on alarms. For example, events that signal problem resolution, or “up” alarms, can be matched with “down” alarms to clear them. Event workflow can be built into the system by using these automations to manage the alarm list, thus freeing up the operators to focus on the most important issues.

Data collection saw many improvements as well. With the proper hardware, OpenNMS is able to collect over one million data points every five minutes. This data can be from SNMP (versions 1, 2c and 3), JMX, HTTP, or NSClient. The collected data can be exported via the web user interface. Reports showing the highest and lowest values for a particular set of data points (Top N Reports) can also be created, and 1.6.0 contains a vastly improved thresholding system. Thresholds can be generated on individual data points, combinations of data points, as well as a “relative or absolute change” such as when a value shows a sudden increase or decrease.

OpenNMS was originally designed for network service monitoring, and that functionality has been increased as well. New monitors for such things as Windows services are now available, as well as more advanced synthetic transactions. The Page Sequence Monitor was created to monitor a complete web-based transaction, while the Mail Transport Monitor determines the full round-trip availability of a mail service.

The new Event Translator feature allows for the creation of “passive services”. Passive services are those that are driven strictly by events versus an active poll. This is useful in monitoring devices that don’t support direct network connections and thus can be managed by a proxy device that then sends status events to OpenNMS.

Probably the biggest change was the development of remote monitoring. Using a small Java webstart application installed on a remote system, OpenNMS is able to monitor service availability from the point of view of the remote system. Combined with the Page Sequence Monitor one can measure the user’s experience when visiting a website from various remote locations. Papa Johns Pizza (headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, USA) uses OpenNMS to monitor its online pizza ordering system which has been responsible for more than US$1 billion in revenue.

As OpenNMS was designed as a platform, there are numerous ways for external applications, both open and proprietary, to integrate with it. There is a new Trouble Ticketing API that allows for two-way communication between OpenNMS and a number of external ticketing systems such as Jira, Concursive (CentricCRM) and OTRS.

OpenNMS is free and open software, which means that all of the code is available at no cost and can be modified and distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License. There are no commercial or proprietary versions of OpenNMS.

The application is maintained by The OpenNMS Project (http://www.opennms.org) and is supported worldwide by a large and active community. Commercial services, such as training, consulting, support and custom services, are available from The OpenNMS Group (https://www.opennms.com) which acts as a steward for the project.

About the OpenNMS Group, Inc.: The OpenNMS Group maintains The OpenNMS Project, the world’s first enterprise-grade network management platform developed under the open source model. They provide commercial services such as training, consulting, support and custom development around the OpenNMS application. This allows their clients to get all of the benefits of open source coupled with more security and accountability than they can expect from commercial software companies. OpenNMS Group consultants have years of experience with commercial management products from companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, BMC Software and Computer Associates and they use this experience helping clients in over 20 countries to improve their management capabilities while reducing costs by migrating to OpenNMS.