It's Pronounced "Duffle Tee See See"

I want to point out a post Alex Finger (OGP) wrote over the weekend.

It has been said that you can divide open source people up into three groups: Those who write open source code, those who pay for open source code and “free riders”. I think that is total crap, and Alex is one of the reasons why.

Alex doesn’t write much code, yet he has been a great contributor to OpenNMS over the years. His career is in IT management (as in managing people and solutions), and he’ll soon take a new position as a CIO. What he brings to the table is a view on open source from upper management.

It is no secret that OpenNMS is usually introduced into an organization from the bottom up (usually, but not always). We don’t have any full time sales people and most of our leads come from people who have already downloaded and installed the software. I don’t see anything wrong with that, but sometimes it is nice to be able to talk to the top people in charge, especially when you want a check written. In order to be successful when talking with those at the top of a management structure, it helps to understand them, as they process information much differently than the technical people I’m used to.

To me an open source community is a lot more than just who writes code. Everyone who uses the software can contribute. But until this weekend I did not have a good model for understanding the process of how one becomes a member of that community.

Alex has come up with something he is calling “the DUFLTCC Cycle”. It’s an acronym that stands for Download, Use, Fail, Learn, Teach, Change, Commit.

Check out his post for the full details. I especially like the “Fail” step. A lot of open source software requires a steeper learning curve than commercial off the shelf products, and usually everyone gets stuck at some point. It’s those that use those failures as a learning experience that, should they overcome them, tend to become some of the more vociferous proponents of the project.

I often paraphrase The Matrix when discussing my open source experience in that it is one thing to know the path and another thing to walk the path. Once you walk the path the use of open source seems to be a no-brainer. But how do you get that across to people who have never even seen the path in the first place? It’s ideas like Alex’s that help, and work like this is as important as any code in a community like ours.

Anthony Bourdain

Note: This post is even more navel gazing/philosophical than usual with little OpenNMS content.

Between running The OpenNMS Group and keeping my farm from falling apart I don’t have much free time. It is extremely rare that I can take a vacation, eat out with friends or family, or see a performance (although OpenNMS has grown enough in the last couple of years that I do get to take the occasional vacation – wasn’t always the case).

So it was quite the treat when I got to go out for a nice dinner last night as well as to see a lecture by Anthony Bourdain. I really like food, both eating it and preparing it, and Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite “celebrity” chefs.

I went with a couple of friends of mine who I met 25 years ago at Harvey Mudd College (the first of several schools that eventually kicked me out). They have hectic careers coupled with two children, so going out for an evening like this was rare for them as well. The only problem we had was trying to figure out how to schedule dinner, since a meal with them usually lasts about four hours. The show started at 7:30pm, so for our normal routine we would have had to start dinner around 3:00pm. We decided to compromise at meet at 5:30pm, when the restaurant opened.

For those who don’t know Anthony Bourdain, he came to fame several years ago with the publication of the book Kitchen Confidential. It was pretty much an exposé of the high end restaurant business in New York City. He wrote it mainly aimed at people who worked in that industry but it caught the attention of foodies like myself. The thing I loved about this book is that he wasn’t afraid to talk about iconic restaurants such as The Rainbow Room. He’s blunt, opinionated but quite often right, and when he’s not he tends to apologize.

In my deepest conceit I’d love to be known as the Anthony Bourdain of Open Source. He has strong views on food and its preparation, and he isn’t afraid to criticize institutions like The Food Network, his one-time employer which used to be much more aligned with his ideals but over time became more about entertainment and money (such as the Sandra Lee episode where she opened a bag of pre-cut vegetables, dumped some Ranch dressing on it and called it haute cuisine).

I feel the same way about open source. Back before Red Hat went public the open source community was focused on creating great, new software with a strong interest in keeping that software 100% free and open. Once organizations started to make money around open source software suddenly everyone wanted on the bandwagon, even if their business model was still staunchly based on closed, commercial software. Through marketing dollars it seems that “open source” has come to mean “open core“. For those companies trying to make billions of dollars on software quickly, I agree with Coté that the only way to do that in today’s market is with the hybrid model where much of the revenue comes from closed software licenses.

But I bristle when that is called open source. Furthermore, I think the window for even the open core model is quickly closing. True open source software gets better every day, and for successful projects they will continue to become viable alternatives to paid software. Thus paid software margins will continue to decrease, making them less profitable and less attractive as acquisition targets. For those commercial and open core companies they’ll have to write more software to keep up, but since their revenue model is based on closed licenses this will require even more money for programmers and result in even lower margins.

Anthony Bourdain is not a fashionista when it comes to food. He is not a locavore nor a vegetarian, and he even had the gall (gasp) to question whether or not the organic food movement was a good thing. In much the same way, while I am big on individual rights, I’m not a hippie, a tree hugger or a kumbaya free software for everyone bigot. I consider myself a hard core capitalist, and I don’t run a charity.

The commercial software industry has created a number of extremely wealthy people because for the first time something could be created that literally has an almost zero distribution cost. Even the tulip bulb bubble required something to be created each time, whereas bits are pretty much free. For some reason people have come to believe that this is the way things should be, and this was amplified even more by the Internet bubble where just an idea could result in millions of dollars.

The downside is that people have forgotten that it is possible to make money simply by helping customers and having fun doing it. To go back to my food analogy, one of the tastiest things I had on my last trip to Italy consisted of a slice of freshly baked bread topped with fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil. High quality ingredients prepared in a simple and straightforward manner. No fancy “paradigm shifts” or “clouds” – just healthy nourishment.

For some reason if you can’t have a billion dollars in revenue in five years Silicon Valley thinks you have no value. I would think in these economic times people would appreciate businesses that grow more organically. It’s all about the basics. For example, Dan Ariely had a post today quoting Gregory Clark, an economist at UC-Davis (ironically, the birthplace of Net-SNMP). He states:

The debate about the bank bailout, and the stimulus package, has all revolved around issues that are entirely at the level of Econ 1. What is the multiplier from government spending? Does government spending crowd out private spending? How quickly can you increase government spending? If you got a A in college in Econ 1 you are an expert in this debate: fully an equal of Summers and Geithner.

In much the same way, the vast majority of successful businesses are going to be based on the basics: make a good product that people want and sell it at a fair price while watching expenses. No magic and no marketing mumbo-jumbo. As straightforward as a nice bruschetta.

I want to end this rather rambling post to a reference to some recent research done by Ryan Howell at San Francisco State University. He discovered that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions. I had a wonderful time last night, even though I usually feel guilty doing something that doesn’t involve either working on the business or working on the farm (and to the bozo in seat E 210 at the DPAC, turn off your fracking blackberry during the show – you ain’t that important). I’ll probably remember, fondly, that experience much more so than anything I’ve purchased in the last year.

Working on OpenNMS, if we measure wealth by positive experiences, makes me the richest man on the planet.

The Cost of Free (gratis)

The main reason I write this blog is to document our adventures with creating a profitable company around open source.

When it comes right down to it, there are two ways to increase profits: sell more or spend less. The spending less option is something that we have a bit more control over, so we always try to manage costs.

One way is to leverage a lot of free (gratis, as in “beer”) resources on the Internet. Instead of buying a fax machine and a separate phone line, we have always used the free eFax service.

I even felt that eFax was better than “normal” faxing since it shows up as an e-mail attachment. No matter where in the world I happen to be I can get it and it is easy to file as well.

We don’t receive that many faxes, but the ones we do get tend to be important things like purchase orders, so we need it to work.

It was just one such purchase order that failed to arrive yesterday when I realized that eFax, with absolutely no warning, had disconnected our number. Since we had the free version, there is no way to reach a human, and my e-mails seem to have gone to that great mail server in the sky.

Looking back through my records, it looks like we signed up for a free eFax number in January of 2004, so maybe they limit it to five years. In any case, I’m not sure why they didn’t try and contact us. It would seem that they offer the free version in order to promote their paid offerings, and had I been told that the free service was going away I might have been tempted.

Since we were so unceremoniously dumped, I asked Jeff to find another solution and he was able to get a similar service from our SIP provider.

As a services company, we work extremely hard to make our clients happy, and this illustrates why. I happily used eFax for five years, and all it took was one serious lapse in service for me swear them off forever. While it didn’t cost me anything for the service, it will cost me should I decide to reprint our business cards and it will cost me in time to correct the number on all of our other materials.

Despite that, if I had to do it over again I probably would. The only thing I would change is that I’d leave the number off our printed materials, then the cost would have been much, much less. I’ll leverage free (gratis) whenever it makes sense, but I definitely try to limit it to things that aren’t critical to my business. This is much different than the free (libre) software on which I base my business. Vendors are always changing the rules so I’ll stick with that “free” for everything that is critical to my business.

Dear Mr. President: Buy My Software, please

Readers of this blog know that I am somewhat of a purist when it comes to the term “open source“. I believe that if you are in the business of generating most of your revenue by selling software licenses you can’t be an “open source vendor” (although there are a number of corner cases that make it difficult to categorize some companies).

Recently Matthew Aslett over at the 451 Group was kind enough to continue the discussion of what constitutes an open source vendor, and his post seems to have caused others to join in. While I don’t agree 100% with his conclusions, I’m glad people are at least talking about it. Of course, Matt Asay thinks we’re all silly and the question isn’t even worth considering, since open source and commercial software are basically the same thing.

The importance of trying to define an open source vendor becomes apparent when I see things like this open letter to President Obama from “15 leaders of open source projects and companies”.

Now I, of course, believe that government can definitely benefit from open source, but I’m not sure now is the time to be bringing it up. I mean the man is busy resurrecting the economy, trying to end two wars, and restoring the country’s international standing. Personally, I’d rather see the credit markets loosen up a bit first before really worrying about bringing open source to the government.

And I have to wonder about the motives of the signers, since many head up commercial open core software companies. I know they mean well, but couldn’t this be just a publicity stunt to get their commercial software products on the government’s radar?

Let’s suppose that the USA issues an open source mandate requiring that open source solutions be considered in any software purchase. Can you imagine how that conversation might go?

USA Government Guy: Okay, we have this mandate to move to open source solutions, so I want to know if you can help me.

Open Core Vendor: Sure. I’m certain we can.

USA: Okay, does your software do this, this and this?

Vendor: Of course, it’s our core competency.

USA: Great. Now this is important … can it do that?

Vendor: Yes …

USA: Excellent, now concerning …

Vendor: … in our enterprise version.

USA: Excuse me?

Vendor: That is only available in our enterprise version.

USA: What’s an “enterprise version”?

Vendor: Well, we have two versions of our software: the community version and the enterprise version, and the enterprise version has more features.

USA: Well we definitely need that, so I guess we’ll need the enterprise version. It’s still open source, right?

Vendor: We have built a great open source community.

USA: But the enterprise version … I get the source code, right?

Vendor: Well, no. That’s our community version.

USA: I don’t understand. I can modify the enterprise version, correct?

Vendor: I don’t see how, we don’t let you see the code.

USA: Are there limits on how I can distribute the enterprise version?

Vendor: Oh yeah, we’ll charge you a license for each device you need it for.

USA: Charge me?

Vendor: Yeah, see, you have to understand, there are three types of people in open source. Those who write code, those who pay for code and freeloaders. Those who write code we call “our community” and well, freeloaders aren’t useful for much at all, but you get to be in the third group, which we call customers.

USA: I thought open source was about sharing, both the costs, the benefits and the goals, and that it created such great things as the Linux kernel and the Apache web server. How does this apply to your product?

Vendor: You can’t get good code unless someone pays for it.

USA: Okay, I’ll bite: how much does your enterprise version cost?

Vendor: $500 …

USA: That’s not too bad, I thought it was going to be …

Vendor: … per device.

USA: What ?!? I have hundreds of thousands of devices!

Vendor: Yeah, that’s why they call it a stimulus package. I’m stimulated just thinking about it.

USA: Man, this open source thing is going to get expensive. Well, what’s the life of the product? At least I can spread the cost over a couple of years.

Vendor: Maybe I wasn’t clear. That was $500 per device per year. We work on a “subscription” model.

USA: I am so confused. If I have to pay you that much each year, I might as well go with the solution from IBM or Microsoft like I always have.

Vendor: But we’re open source.

USA: Some of your product is open source, but it seems like it exists solely to drive people to your commercial “enterprise” product. Both Microsoft and IBM create some open source software, so how are you different?

Vendor: We put “open source” on our website.

Ooooh, I’m going to hell for that one.

Arrivederci Milano

Today we will finish our training and we’ll head to the airport to start our trip home. One more hotel room and one more night in a strange bed.

The Gang at the Milan Training Course

It’s been a good week. One thing I love about working with OpenNMS is that since we don’t do any marketing our clients are pretty much self-selecting. They have an interest in OpenNMS and, with respect to training, a desire to learn about the product that makes teaching a pleasure.

As eager as I am to get home I will miss the food here. I consider myself very adventurous when it comes to eating different things, but even I was a little surprised at the … variety … of food served on the fish crudo plate Antonio ordered for us a couple of nights ago. It takes a little getting used to when your seafood is so fresh that it moves when you sprinkle lemon on it.

The next big trip will be Frankfurt in March for the first OpenNMS Users Conference. We have quite a few people signed up already, and there is even one guy coming from Oregon so while it is being held in Europe there is no reason to limit it to just Europeans. Remember that the early bird registration discount will end soon, so be sure to sign up for a day filled with examples of how OpenNMS is used in the real world taught by the people who create it.

Netcool? Hyperic IT is Not Cool

I’m certain that the title of this post will raise some eyebrows, and not just for the bad pun. I’m not talking about the Hyperic we all know and love. As much as I disagree with open core software’s business strategy of using the term “open source” that doesn’t mean I don’t like the people involved, and the Hyperic crew are pretty nice folks.

No, the Hyperic I am talking about is a company calling itself Hyperic IT.

I was working in Milan today when I entered some search terms into Google. Google uses your source IP address to direct you to the site most customized for your location, so while I am in Italy takes me to

One of the terms I searched on was “opennms” and I noticed that Hyperic had bought an adword link. I clicked on it and was taken to There I saw the expected orange and blue, and since the site was in Italian I just figured they had opened an Italian office like with our

I dropped Javier a note to ask him about this and he replied that he had no idea that site existed. On further examination it appears that a company called netEdge Srl is taking the open source part of Hyperic, forking it, and selling it as Hyperic IT.

Look, I personally think taking the open source part of an open core project and forking it is fantastic. But open source code does not mean you can steal someone’s brand. That is most uncool.

For a company like The OpenNMS Group, the OpenNMS brand represents most of our value. What more do people want – we give away all of the source code under a free license – at least let us build our identity and reputation around the trademark. Yet some people don’t understand this and think they can take that, too.

By calling the product Hyperic IT, using the same color scheme and even the Hyperic HQ logo in their screenshots, this company is obviously trying to rip off the real Hyperic. If their product was any good they could have renamed it something else, easily removed all of the trademarked logos (a la CentOS) and worked to build their own business instead of trying to steal someone else’s.

If they are willing to so blatantly steal from others, would you really want work with them?

From what I can understand from my friend Antonio, this company is an Srl or Società a responsabilità limitata, similar to our LLC (I could be wrong since my Italian is weak). If this is the case, since Hyperic is trademarked in the EU, the people at netEdge may not have the protections of a corporation and could be held personally liable for their actions. Not too smart.

I’m hoping this blight is soon removed from the Internet.

Monty Widenius Leaves Sun

I read on Matt Asay’s blog that Monty Widenius has left Sun. As usual, I disagreed with his interpretation of that information, but I found it ironic that it happened while I was in Milan as a guest of Sun Italia.

I see Sun as a company that is trying hard to understand open source. They have made some impressive moves in the area, from OpenSolaris and OpenJDK to the acquisition of MySQL. But while eager to change they are also, like many of us, trying to figure out how to support open source while staying in business.

Matt explains Monty’s departure as

Widenius’ ideals don’t translate well to a big software business

I see it as just the opposite. Open source spells the end of big software, if big software is defined as companies that make billions of dollars from selling software licenses. True open source projects exist outside of any one company or any one person. They have a life of their own and they continue to grow or they die. Those that grow tend to grow in directions that are the most useful, since the energy powering that growth are people with immediate problems to solve.

As such they will continue to put pressure on commercial software by providing, for free, the features that are most needed by the most people.

I was asked during our seminar today how we maintain the quality of OpenNMS code. I talked about test driven development and pair programming, along with our annual Dev-Jam where the key people in the community gather to learn, regroup and focus. This allows us to insure that each release of OpenNMS is better than the last.

Matt states one reason that Widenius left was “that the MySQL 5.1 release wasn’t ready for public consumption”. On thinking about this I decided I needed to add one more reason to use open source to my growing list. Open source does not have any artificial deadlines for releasing code. While we have a schedule and a roadmap for OpenNMS, we’ll release the next version only when it is ready.

In my mind Monty is a role model and I wish him all the best.

Congress FAIL

Well, it didn’t last. Today Congress passed a measure to delay the digital television cutover until June. The revised bill allows television stations to switch over any time during that period, and this change was enough to get it passed in the House.

Call me paranoid, but who does this benefit? The sponsors of the bill are all crying that it’s the poor people and elderly that aren’t ready for the switch, but since the new bill allows stations to switch early I’m assuming most will (since at this late date they were probably ready to do so). Chances are if you were going to lose TV on the 17th you’re still gonna lose it.

However, those companies who want to start utilizing the freed bandwidth will have to wait four more months. Or, in the case of some, they will have four more months to get ready without existing competition.

So I ask again, who does this benefit?

Let the Sun Shine In

It’s been cold and snowy for most of my stay in Milan, but today the temperatures warmed and the sun came out.

We held a seminar on OpenNMS and open source for over 20 of Italy’s best and brightest IT decision makers and professionals (I know this because they were interested in OpenNMS, so it goes to reason that they were intelligent, amazingly witty and very attractive to the opposite sex).

I was limited to a 20 minute presentation and 10 minutes of questions which is extremely hard for me to do (since the guys in the office say it takes me more than 20 minutes to introduce myself) but I think it went well.

I started off with a discussion of software business models, and then talked about the various permissive and restrictive open source licenses. I couldn’t resist doing a slide on open core software since it is my own personal goal to make sure that open core is seen as the commercial software business model it is versus an open source one, and this being Europe I think it was well received. While I think it is quite possible for open source and proprietary software to live side by side, I don’t think this is possible within one company (well, at least a small company – IBM might be able to pull it off).

The reason is simple: If there are proprietary features that drive software revenue you can bet that they won’t ever become part of the “community” edition. In fact, I bet that any contribution from the community that threatens that revenue stream will be refused. The goals of an open source community and a commercial software company are hard if not impossible to align.

I then talked about the OpenNMS business model. Since our mantra of “Spend Less Than You Earn” allows us to exist year after year, there is no danger of OpenNMS ever going away. With our active and growing community we will keep improving OpenNMS and thus provide pressure to our commercial competition. In our target market of large enterprises and carriers, solutions are driven by knowledgeable professionals both within these companies and via outside consultants, and by making OpenNMS the best tool for the job we expect to see widespread adoption both through the commercial side of OpenNMS as well as from the community.

It may take ten years, but I fully expect OpenNMS to one day be the default platform for any large scale management solution.

The people in the room today together spend more than 10M€ a year on network management. They have suffered through expensive solutions that never delivered on their promises and they have had few options but to switch to another expensive solution.

While downloading OpenNMS doesn’t instantly fix their problems, combined with the right hardware, services and perhaps some custom development it can immediately start to reduce costs while increasing functionality. Once in place OpenNMS does not require expensive maintenance contracts and can represent a much lower cost of ownership than a commercial product.

But most importantly OpenNMS represents freedom. The fact that the code is 100% open moves the power from the vendor to the client. This seemed to be important for the people in the room.

I managed to get all this and more in my allotted time, and I think it was well received. We have a number of large projects going on in Italy and, while challenging, it gives us a chance to shine.

Just like today’s sun.