Another Reason to Use Open Source

Even though OpenNMS is a open source project, we do sometimes receive support from commercial vendors. For example, when we do demonstrations where Internet access isn’t available, we often use Gambit’s Mimic software to simulate a network. In exchange for temporary licenses we place a link to their website in the footer of the OpenNMS wiki.

Back in 2007, Johan Edstrom, one of our OGP members, really liked the IntelliJ IDEA IDE. While most of our developers use Eclipse, he was just more comfortable with the IDE from JetBrains and since they offered free licenses for people who work on open source projects, he wrote to them and asked for one. Here’s the response he got:

We are pleased to support the Open Source community and we look forward to seeing your project’s progress. If we can be of any additional service, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Also, while it’s not required, we would be very appreciative if you would add an IntelliJ IDEA banner to your project’s site in support of IntelliJ IDEA.


This is absolutely not required. This is a no-strings-attached license, but we would be very grateful for any help leading people to info about IntelliJ IDEA!

Again… welcome!

Best regards,

Ilia Dumov
Product Manager
JetBrains, Inc

So I went ahead and added the banner to our site and all was right with the world.

The license was good for one year, and so in 2008 he renewed, again with no problem. But this year he received quite a different response:

Hi Johan,

We can’t give you free license because it will be used on your paid support services engagements. You can buy commercial licenses if you want.

All the best,

Victoria Dumova
OS Support Program Manager
JetBrains, Inc

I never tire of pointing out that the OpenNMS Project is independent from the commercial services company, The OpenNMS Group. Johan is not an employee of the commercial business, so he doesn’t perform “paid support services engagements”. In fact, his involvement in the project has not changed in the last two years but for some reason he didn’t qualify for a free license this time. Furthermore, since 100% of OpenNMS is free and open software, what would it matter? The IDE is used to help develop code, and all of that work gets released back to the community.

I must wonder what types of projects qualify as open source for JetBrains. Only those that make no money whatsoever? I can see the next e-mail: “Sorry, your license will be used to get donations on Sourceforge so you have to buy one.”

My point here is not to bash JetBrains. To complain about not getting a free license is like complaining that the bisque in a free soup kitchen is a bit salty. But it does illustrate the dangers of commercial software.

In two years we went from “This is a no-strings-attached license” to “You can buy commercial licenses”. The rules changed. Luckily for us we can probably get Johan to use Eclipse now, but what if we depended on IDEA? We’d be screwed.

With open source software the power lies in the user, not the provider. With commercial and open core software companies the revenue model is to sell licenses, and thus to maximize profit these companies are motivated to increase license revenue. This may mean selling to you licenses at a discount to get you using the product, only to change the rules a couple of years down the road.

If you are a decision maker in your company, I think you owe it to your employer and your shareholders to question any commercial software purchase. Are you willing to base your operations on software that may double in price without warning? Maybe the vendor will go out of business, leaving the code in limbo, and what will you do then?

Transitioning to open source is not easy. Although the software is free, there is a cost in time, perhaps consulting services and in getting your staff up to speed on the product. But in the long run the cost is worth it, if just to lose the reliance on outside vendors who, as this situation demonstrates, can be very fickle.

House of Representatives FTW

The US House of Representatives voted today not to delay the transition from analog to digital television since the Yeas did not achieve the 2/3rds majority needed.

As one of the few people I know who gets their television over the air, I can’t wait for the switch. Not only will it allow television stations to boost their digital signal, it will free up gobs of bandwidth for other uses.

It’s been over three years since the transition was put in motion, and if people aren’t ready now they won’t ever be ready. However, the Senate is trying to delay the switch by four months, and I can’t help but think this is motivated by more than just concern for the people. I am very happy the House saw fit to correct this and hope its action stands.

Who Did You Sleep With To Get This Job?

With all the money that is spent, why is it so hard for government to demonstrate even an acceptable level of competence when it comes to technology? I’ve long ago given up hope that they could provide something that would make me go “wow” but, jeez people, can’t you get the basics right?

At The OpenNMS Group we get paid once a month, and today I’m running payroll. This is the first payroll with our 401K deductions, so it is a little more involved than usual, but it doesn’t tend to take me very long.

Our business is headquartered in the state of North Carolina, so I have to deposit withholding taxes each month. I usually do this online, but when I went to the site today I see this message:

Okay. Cool, new services. How bad can it be? Well, pretty bad. When I go to register on NCID the first thing I see is:

I’m not sure why Verisign isn’t a recognized root certificate authority, but it looks valid so I’ll soldier on.

Now the next thing I get is:

What? In this day and age I don’t expect every web application to support every browser perfectly, but it should support every standards compliant browser and at least Firefox well enough for something like this. Since Internet Explorer is Windows only, I need to write the North Carolina State government to ask for my free copy of Windows so that I can use the services that my tax dollars helped create. Sheesh.

But considering the level of competence displayed by the designers of this abomination, I’m going to assume that there is nothing that really requires IE but that they were too lazy to test it using other browsers, so I’ll see what happens.

Well, about halfway through the registration process I get this error:

Great. This system is going to be the only way of paying my taxes electronically in a week and this is how well it has been tested. Although 500 errors indicate something is wrong with the server, I’ve seen with OpenNMS cases where IE rendered relative links differently than every other browser, and even though I filled out submitted a form to report the bug I’m sure the answer will be to blame Safari.

I did manage to get an NCID, and when I went to logout I got:

Close the browser? Why? Does the application not clean up after itself?

What’s even funnier (in a sad, developing into maniacal laughter sort of way) is if you hit the “exit” button you get:

No wonder people have no faith in government anymore. One would assume with all of the web programming talent available in the area they would be able to get someone who knew what they were doing. Of course for a website like NCID you’d want to use only the best technology, like, say, FrontPage:

	<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en-us">
	<meta name="GENERATOR" content="Microsoft FrontPage 6.0">
	<meta name="ProgId" content="FrontPage.Editor.Document">
	<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Type" CONTENT="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">

Gaaaaah! I assume it was some politician’s relative with a copy of Frontpage for Dummies that won the bid.

I’m going back to mailing in my tax check. They’re only going to waste it anyway.

Happy Birthday Macintosh

Unless you’ve been away from the news for the last week, you’re probably aware that today is the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh computer. It all kicked off with the famous “1984” Super Bowl ad.

I didn’t use my first Mac until 1986 and I didn’t buy one until 2003, but in between I often used the machines of friends or at work. Also in 2003 I rescued an original Mac that was on its way to the dump.

When Giles Turnbull asked on Cult of Mac if anyone still had an original Mac that worked, I wrote up a short history of this machine and he was kind enough to post it on his website.

I think my Mac is a little unusual in that it has been upgraded and can be connected to the Internet. You can’t really do much with it outside of FTP, but there is rudimentary support for web browsing (Through MacWeb and NCSA Mosiac) as well as IRC (through ircle). I hopped into the OpenNMS channel on freenode but that screen shot didn’t make the article.

It’s a lot of fun to see both how far things have come in 25 years, but to also realize how far ahead of its time was the original Mac.

2009 OpenNMS Users Conference Europe Update

Things are moving forward for our first ever users conference, which will be held at the Le Meridien Parkhotel in Frankfurt on 14 March. I’m getting very excited about this, and it looks like we’ll have at least 6 OGP members in attendance.

The morning will consist of a short training course with a subset of our “A Day in the Life” training. This will cover a number of issues faced by systems and network administrators and how to use OpenNMS to solve them.

The afternoon will consist of two tracks of one hour presentations on various aspects of OpenNMS, including using maps, syslog integration, reporting, using OpenNMS with Asterisk, etc.

We are still making final changes to the agenda. Jonathan is coming from the UK and I believe he’ll be doing a talk on the OTRS integration (which will probably take the place of my remote poller talk). I want to add an OGP roundtable at the end of the day to discuss the OpenNMS Roadmap and what is coming in the future, as well as to demo our trunk release with the WMI integration and other new features.

The cost will be 220€ with an early bird special of 199€ until 22 February. We’ve also reserved a block of rooms at the hotel which are first come, first serve.

It should be a good day, and I’m looking forward to seeing some of you in person for the first time, as well as meeting a bunch of new people. Many thanks to Simona at Nethinks for doing a lot of the work setting this up, and please feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions or comments (or just use the comment section below).

How Much is that Project in the Window?

It’s snowing here today. For many who live in cold climates you are probably saying “big deal” but it is rare to have snow where I live and this is the most significant snowfall we’ve had in four years. By the end of the day we could have up to six inches (15 cm).

Sortova Farm in the snow

Since it happens so rarely we don’t have the equipment to clear the roads quickly so everything pretty much shuts down. At the OpenNMS Group we’re used to working from home several days a week so it will be business as usual, but I did cancel two meetings today and it frees me up to watch the coronation at noon.

It also allowed me some time to browse through my news feeds, and I came across an interesting post by the 451 Group.

I like the 451 Group, mainly because they realize that OpenNMS exists (grin). In addition, they seem to have a good understanding of the open source marketplace.

Today Matthew Aslett wrote that Intalio has raised funds to acquire 8 to 10 open source companies in the next year. It was interesting to me for a number of reasons. Most open source business models that I’m aware of have being acquired as the exit strategy, but many of them take the VC route to get there. Most VCs are looking at a big payout, say north of US$100 million, but the number of companies that can spend US$100 million on an acquisition is small. However, the number of companies that can spend, say, US$10 million, is much larger, so it would seem that the safer way to get acquired would be to either bootstrap the company (like we did) or get a small amount of angel funding to get started and to keep the company small and focused. Plus the model of acquiring smaller companies worked well for JBoss.

Another reason I found this post interesting was Intalio’s list of requirements for a possible target:

Small (25 employees is a maximum, less than 10 is preferred, mainly engineers)

The OpenNMS Group has six employees, and half of those were added in the last 18 months. We are all technical – there are no full time sales or marketing people.

Open Source or ready to go the COSMO way

Duh. We’re free and open to a fault.

Exceptional technology that took many person-years to develop

OpenNMS has been around since 1999. A tremendous amount of work has gone in to building it, both from the commercial side as well as the community side.

Architecture compatible with the one built for Intalio|BPP

From what I can tell, OpenNMS would be a good fit. We’re written in Java utilizing a lot of the new enterprise technologies such as Spring and Hibernate.

Support for industry standards (J2EE, WS-*, etc.)

Got that. The newest OpenNMS code adds REST-style interfaces, we support most industry standards (SNMP/WMI/TL1/HTTP), and there is always lots of XML.

Active user base (the larger, the better)

With 50,000 unique visitors to and 5000 downloads each month I think we can check that off.

Committed customer base (the larger, the better, but small is OK too)

We’ve had over 100 customers in 18 countries, with over 50 current support customers, and our first commercial support customer (from December 2001) is still a client.

Committed employee base (location irrelevant, we’re in 13 locations already)

I’ve never worked with a better group of people. I think “committed” is too weak a word to describe their dedication to both the company and the project. While most of us are near RTP in North Carolina, Jeff is in Atlanta, so the fact that location is not important is a plus.

Profitable or break-even

Yup, got that. Since our business model is “spend less than you earn” we’ve been profitable since our first day in business.

Little or no debt

Heh, since we’re bootstrapped the opportunities for debt have been pretty limited (banks are a little wary of loaning money to companies with no liquid assets). So while that has caused us to grow more slowly than I would like, the company remains closely held and well positioned to ride out the current economy.

So it looks like we’re a pretty good fit, which gives me a little more confidence that what we are doing is the right thing (remember, I’m making most of this up as I go along so any reassurance is nice).

Since snow gives me time to reflect a bit, I’ve been thinking about what kind of company I’d be willing to allow to acquire us. They’d have to be doing cool things and provide a great work environment. They’d also have to have a serious interest in investing in the OpenNMS project itself, versus just buying it for the name or to get us out of the way. Their business would have to fit in with our mission statement of “Help Customers – Have Fun – Make Money”.

In exchange they would get the best bunch of guys on the planet. Seriously, each day these guys amaze me. They’d get a solid customer base and a mature, profitable product line.

One problem would be that they’d also get me. I’ve often wondered about my role should we ever be acquired. When I search Monster for “loud-mouthed, opinionated, free and open source bigot” I get no hits [Update: heh, actually I get eight]. My job at OpenNMS has always been to hire people smarter than me, which I’ve succeeded at beyond my wildest dreams, so next to them I start to lose my relevance.

I think the role I’d be best suited for would be Community Evangelist, or Vice President of Openness. I hate the term “community manager” because it seems to refer to the open source community as a resource to be manipulated, versus something to be nurtured and grown. Would Community Gardener work? God knows I’ve got the fertilizer (grin). I’d love to see if I could get as excited, and thus get others excited, in projects that compliment OpenNMS as I do with OpenNMS itself.

Fun thoughts for a cold day.

OpenNMS 2009 User Conference – Europe

I am very excited about our first ever user conference. While we’ve had our annual Dev-Jam developers conference going on five years now, this will be the first event aimed at the end users of OpenNMS software.

It will be held on 14 March in Frankfurt, Germany, which will be the weekend after CeBIT. We are currently finalizing the details of the venue and cost. Our guess is the cost will be around 200€ and will include catering and a really nice OpenNMS polo shirt (although not a green one).

The format of the conference is to have several training seminars in the morning, break for lunch, and do more “real world” presentations in the afternoon.

The event is being sponsored by the OpenNMS Project, The OpenNMS Group and Nethinks. You mayremember Nethinks as the focus of a rant of mine from awhile back. We are now getting along famously and they have done a lot of the work to organize it. The other great contributor has been Alex Finger (OGP) who is taking the lead from the project side of things.

I’ll be there to talk about the project and to demonstrate the upcoming features in 1.8 (such as native WMI support). Jeff is coming to talk about OpenNMS and Asterisk, both from a “how to monitor Asterisk with OpenNMS” viewpoint as well as integrating OpenNMS notifications with the phone system [be sure to check out Jeff’s presentation at Asterisk World in February]. I believe a couple of other OGP members will be there as well, so it should be a great introduction for those who don’t know much about OpenNMS as well as a chance for current users of OpenNMS to learn how to use it better and to get their questions answered by the team that develops it.

In order to gauge interest we have a “pre-registration” form set up. If you think there is a greater than 50% that you can be there, please pre-register to help us plan a little better.

If I still have your attention, there will also be an OpenNMS seminar in Milan, Italy, on 4 February at the Sun Microsystems office. This is much more of a business oriented seminar. If you are interested in attending that, please drop Antonio or me a note.

I will be in Milan to help teach the OpenNMS training course that we are holding there. We have very few seats left so please register or let me know soon if you are interested.

The Games We Play, Part II

Today is my 43rd birthday. When you get to be my age, it is just another day (although please don’t let my blasé attitude lead you to think I’m not happy to have made it another year) and I tend, now, to only focus on those birthdays that end in a zero.

Over the weekend I got not one but three video games for my PS3.

It’s funny. I have had my Playstation for almost a year and these were the first titles I’ve gotten for it. I bought it mainly as a Blu-ray and media player so I never really have played games on it (although we did borrow a few). As an old guy I tend to use the Wii (insert joke here).

I’m pretty excited to see what the state of the art of gaming has become. The first game I got was Grand Theft Auto IV, extry crispy edition, which comes with a CD with the music from the game, a duffle bag and a keychain all contained inside a safe deposit box. I got it from my friend Bob, who told me it was cheaper to by the set than just the game. Nothing says I love you like hookers and violence.

I also got the latest Tomb Raider. I played I-III on the PC and I’ve always liked these games, although they have become a bit dated. I’m eager to see how well the franchise has aged.

But the game we’ve been wasting most of our time on is LittleBIGPlanet. It is pretty much the polar opposite of GTA IV. It’s kind of silly but a load of fun, and the Stephen Fry narration is priceless.

I haven’t searched for it yet, but my guess is that LittleBIGPlanet is going to be the next big platform for machinima. With the ability to highly customize both the characters and the environment it is a natural, and while the characters don’t “talk” neither did the guys in Red Vs. Blue so perhaps that won’t be a problem.

I wanted to write about something fun on my birthday, because if my time on this planet has taught me anything, it’s just that you really need to enjoy what you do. I love working on OpenNMS, and am I thankful for all of the folks who make it possible for me to do so.

Matt Raykowski, OGP

Some days I absolutely love my job, and today is one of them. Today we inducted Matt Raykowski into the Order of the Green Polo (OGP). The OGP is the governing arm of the OpenNMS Project and it is made up of those people who have made (and continue to make) major contributions to the application.

This is what makes OpenNMS so great. Building on Matt Brozowski’s highly scalable collection engine, Matt Raykowski added native WMI support so that OpenNMS can now gather Windows performance data. I want to emphasize the word “native” since there is no proxy or additional software (such as the SNMP Informant agent) required to be installed.

There is still some ways to go before the feature is ready for the stable branch, but it should be included in the 1.8 release later this year. However, it is in trunk and thus people are encouraged to test it by either building from source or by installing the nightly “snapshot” packages. I am looking for some people with large Windows networks who can help us test its scalability. My guess is that it will be orders of magnitude greater than the other solutions that are out there.

When I go on and on about the ideals of true “open source” it is work like this that illustrates exactly what I mean. While there is a myth that just by calling your project “open source” thousands of qualified people will give up nights and weekends to work on it, it is possible to build, over time, a small but dedicated group of people who do just that. But to make that happen requires a level of trust that the work won’t be commercialized, that it will remain open and continue to be appreciated and developed for time to come.

This is the biggest flaw in the “open core” model and exactly what makes “open source” so powerful. Sure, the open core guys get contributions, but I doubt they get such powerful features. Even if they did, they’d probably want to make them “enterprise only” and try to sell them. At OpenNMS we encourage work like this and have built a platform to make such things possible, and a major part of that is keeping all of the software free and open.

I’m humbled that Matt trusted us enough to spend the months it took to create this feature, and I hope in at least a small way his membership in the OGP provides some compensation. I’m sure his dedication will continue to make the project even better, and move us closer to becoming the de facto network management platform of choice.