We're Number Two!

Just wanted to post a quick note that in the recent Linux Questions poll on the best network monitoring application, OpenNMS came in second.

The winner, Nagios, pretty much destroyed the field, but OpenNMS got more than twice as many votes as the third most popular choice. This wasn’t unexpected, since Nagios is much more of a general purpose monitoring solution, especially within the target audience of Linux Questions. OpenNMS is built for scale, and thus appeals to a smaller set of users.

But still, it was nice that people took the time out to vote. When you work on an open source project, especially a large scale open source project, you tend to be so heads down making improvements that you forget how useful it can be “as is”.

It’s always nice to know that the work you do is appreciated, so thanks to all who voted.

Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

A friend of mine makes music, and her first CD was published by a company I had never heard of called CD Baby. I fell in love with their wonderful ideas concerning customer service. Here is an example taken from an e-mail after I bought the CD:

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved ‘Bon Voyage!’ to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Sunday, November 19th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as ‘Customer of the Year’. We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

CD Baby was founded by Derek Sivers, who has some really interesting ideas on community, running a business and social contracts. On his blog today he posted a link to a Youtube video called “Leadership Lessions from Dancing Guy”. It was from a talk he gave yesterday at TED.

If you’ve learned a lot about leadership and making a movement, then let’s watch a movement happen, start to finish, in under 3 minutes, and dissect some lessons.

It’s pretty cool and worth a few minutes to check out.

I'll File It Under "H" … for "Toy"

The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.

– Oscar Wilde

David was telling me about a program he watched on the Marriott hotel chain, where the founder was saying that he spent 100% of his time thinking about the business. That pretty much seems to jive with my experience, as rarely a moment goes by that I’m not thinking about OpenNMS.

I don’t think this is healthy, so I am trying to find some sort of hobby to occupy my mind that doesn’t involve computers. In the summer I raise vegetables but I wanted something for the winter as well.

I have a mental “bucket list” of things I want to do before I die, and I’ve accomplished several of them. I’ve jumped out of an airplane, gone trout fishing in New Zealand, had sushi in Tokyo, etc. but one thing stood out as a good choice for a hobby.

Learn to play the guitar.

In fact, I have always wanted to play a particular brand of guitar. Many years ago (I’m an old guy, remember) there was a short-lived television show called “Key West” with Fisher Stevens (who played the Indian character in the Short Circuit movies and the bad guy in Hackers). In “Key West” he ran a bar, and in one scene the camera pans across the bandstand and I saw the most amazing guitar. I described it to friend of mine who knows such things and they identified it as an Ovation Adamas.

After many years of wanting one, through the power of eBay and a bad economy, I finally own one. It’s a 2000 Millenium CB edition, one of only 75 made, and while my wife doesn’t like it at all, I think it’s beautiful.

It also has the most unusual artwork on the fret board, featuring all nine planets (remember, in 2000 Pluto was still a planet).

I’m carving out an evening each week for lessons, so perhaps at the next users conference we can all get together and play a little music.

OpenNMS Users Conference Registration Now Open

Last year, with the help of Nethinks in Germany, we held the first OpenNMS Users Conference. It was a lot of fun and so we’re doing it again this year, and registration is now open.

It will be held 6-7 May at the Le Meridien Parkhotel in Frankfurt.

Building on the success of the last conference, we’ve extended it to span two days instead of one. The first day will consist of presentations, while the second will be made up of workshops.

I am especially excited that most of the presentations are being given by end users of OpenNMS and not people either associated with the OpenNMS Group or the Order of the Green Polo. The workshops, however, feature a long list of well known contributors and should provide for a high level of technical training.

The cost for both days is 499€, but if you register by 10 March you can save 60€.

Space is limited so register early, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Congratulations Saints

Yesterday I, along with a large number of other people, watched the New Orleans Saints win their first Super Bowl.

Last year I watched the game in a hotel room in Milan (when my Steelers won their sixth championship – number 43 we miss you) but this year I was able to hold a little party.

Now, like hot dogs go with baseball, pizza is fast becoming the food of choice for football, and no Super Bowl party would be complete without some Papa John’s.

Of course, my Mom also showed up (that’s her behind the pies – “Hi mom”) and she brought enough food to feed an army. I think everyone left stuffed.

Anyway, Denise Dubie at Network World wrote an article about how Papa John’s uses OpenNMS, and how they delivered 6 million slices of pizza yesterday.

They worked so we didn’t have to (well, except for Mom. Thanks Mom).

Open Source, Social Contracts and Running a Business

When I started my first company in 2002, I had a lot of previous employers to provide examples, both positive and negative, of how to run a business. At the time IBM and Hewlett-Packard were leaders in network management, so I could have modeled my business on them.

Instead I modeled it on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

Many might think it was a strange choice, but it seems to have worked out well, at least for us.

First, they make a good product. This is of paramount importance in any business.

Second, they limited the amount of money the highest paid people could earn in salary. In their case, the highest paid person could not make more than seven times the lowest paid person.

I am constantly disgusted by executive salaries these days. Being a previous employee of NORTEL, now in bankruptcy, I find it highly ironic that the executives responsible for driving the company into the ground received huge retention bonus to keep them from leaving. In a just world they would have had no where to go, and particularly they would not be financially rewarded for poor performance.

To me a salary should exist to cover the basic necessities of living, but the real compensation should be based on the performance of the company. Let me stress that I want there to be no limits on overall compensation – if the company is doing well I want everyone’s “upside” to be unlimited. But getting a huge salary just for showing up feels wrong, especially if the company is doing poorly.

Steve Jobs, one of the most successful CEOs ever, takes home a salary of just $1.

Back to Ben and Jerry’s. The one other thing they did that I admired was to donate a certain percentage of pre-tax profits to charity.

I like donating to charity, but I find that I am most eager to give to those organizations that are a) small and b) concerned directly with something I care about. Thus each year I give to the EFF, the FSF and the SFLC, plus a number of local charities.

When the earthquake in Haiti happened, we were shocked and saddened like most of the world. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure how. Luckily, the opportunity came in a most unexpected way.

Matt and Jeff (along with Alex) were hanging out in the OpenNMS IRC channel (#opennms on freenode.net) when a man named Andris Bjornson joined and started asking questions about OpenNMS. It turns out that he works for an organization called Inveneo that supplies bandwidth in rural and under-served areas in the developing world. Haiti was the perfect example of a place that needed their services, since a lot of the relief effort is run by non-government organizations (NGOs), and they rely on communications in order to maximize the good they can do.

Haiti’s communications infrastructure, such as it was, was destroyed by the earthquake, and Inveneo is using wireless technology to provide a timely replacement. Of course they need some way to manage this infrastructure (as you can imagine, it is in high demand) and they chose OpenNMS.

Andris installing an antenna in Port au Prince (click for more pictures)

Andris has been using OpenNMS for awhile, but he had some questions and there were some issues in managing the radios they were using. The guys in the channel were more than happy to help out, but we wanted to be involved in a more formal way.

We decided to donate a commercial support contract to Inveneo to help them out in Haiti.

It’s pretty cool to be involved, at least in some small way, with getting Haiti back on its feet. It was also cool to have OpenNMS chosen from all possible apps out there to play a role.

You can read more about Inveneo and OpenNMS in this press release, and please consider donating to their efforts.

Open source has a large social component, and I have a theory that being involved in open source software makes one generally more interested in social issues. I want to hear from others about their experiences with social causes tied to open source. Jon “Maddog” Hall is also a fan of Inveneo, and I’d love to have more examples.

UPDATE: Here’s a network diagram of the Inveneo network, and the “How to Deploy” document mentions us by name.

Marketing, now Sales? WTF?

The OpenNMS Group has finally moved into double digit employee numbers with the hiring of Brad Miesner as our Vice President of Sales.

I know what you’re thinking – a sales guy? Earlier you post that you hired some folks to do marketing, and now you hire a sales guy?

First, let me point out that I’ve known Brad for over ten years and he started off in a technical role. So he’s not just some guy with no network management knowledge who’s going to pester people to spend money.

Second, interest in OpenNMS has grown to the point that it can be difficult for us to handle, in a timely manner, requests for information about our services. I always focus on our existing customers first, sometimes to the detriment of potential clients, but Brad will insure that our future clients receive the attention they deserve.

But most importantly Brad will have the role of “customer satisfaction manager”. We tend to build close relationships with our clients, and if we should happen to drop the ball, these clients might be a little hesitant to complain directly to the people at OpenNMS with whom they are working. Brad will proactively be in touch with all of our partners to insure that we’re providing the best service we can, and if there are ways we can improve, it is hoped he will hear about them.

Brad comes to us from Network Appliance, voted by Fortune Magazine as the number one “Best Place to Work” in 2009. He was doing really well there, and I think his decision to join our band of open source revolutionaries speaks well for both the company and our future sales prospects.

We are extremely happy to have Brad join our team.

Oh, at one time he worked for a little software company called Zenoss, but I think he’ll quickly adjust to working in open source.


Dear Lazyweb: jQuery help

We launched a new OpenNMS Group website this week and I am having a small problem. On the home page we have a jQuery script called Crossslide that rotates some pictures in the banner:

It works fine on Firefox, Chrome, Safari and IE8. It doesn’t work on IE7 and I have absolutely no idea why. I’ve reformatted the code, used both relative and explicit paths, and … nothing. No errors either.

I have no experience debugging Javascript issues within IE, so if you can help I would appreciate it.

Marketing and the New OpenNMS Group Website

Last year was a pivotal year for the OpenNMS Group. In addition to having our five year anniversary, we finally hit a critical mass of customers that found us with some discretionary income. We used most of it to hire new people, but we felt it was time to actually spend some money on marketing OpenNMS.

In the past I’ve had a personal distaste for marketing. I always saw it as, well, something close to lying. For example, in my last post I talked about a company claiming its web site is “the epicenter of all open source projects that relate to IT monitoring” when it clearly is not.

But that is par for the course for many companies. They don’t have a story to tell so they have to make one up, or at least embellish the news they have. This is because their ultimate goal is to be purchased by a large company, preferably in a short amount of time, and so they have to seem bigger and more popular than they really are. Hence the emphasis on downloads and web site registrations, etc.

I count our success based on happy customers and money in the bank.

To me, a project is more successful that has 50 people who find it valuable versus one million who download it and never use it.

Our mission statement of “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money” has produced happy customers, and we’d like to have more. Specifically, we’d like to have more customers for whom OpenNMS is a great solution. As a services company it does us no good to have a client that is a poor fit. We just end up working harder for a client who can’t be made happy. We want to focus on getting the word out about the value of using OpenNMS to those people who most need it.

Enter marketing – a way to focus on introducing the value of our services to those who would truly value it.

Last year I hired two people to help us come up with (gulp) a marketing strategy. I am lucky in that they have turned out to be amazing.

The first was Phil Marsosudiro. I’ve known Phil for over 25 years. We met in high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. NCSSM is a two-year public residential high school for students to focus on mathematics and the sciences at a level not normally available in a public school environment. It was a great experience, and I met some amazing people – Phil being one of them.

Phil and I share the same philosophy when it comes to business. The idea is not to take as much money as you can, as fast as you can, from customers, but to instead create value for them that allows both parties to make money.

He brought Margaret Gifford to our team. Margaret is the first “real” public relations person I have ever worked with, and I am surprised someone of her background happened to be local. She’s been a Senior VP at Ogilvy and worked in corporate communications at Hewlett-Packard, among other things.

Together, they are a marketing dream team.

Since neither of them had a background in open source software, I had to tell them about our business. It was harder than I thought. When you work day in and day out in a particular field, you start making assumptions about what people know. To me using open source software is a no-brainer, but to the majority it is still somewhat of an unknown. Going through the exercise of explaining what we do and why it is valuable to people outside of the field was enlightening.

The first thing we focused on was why the heck would anyone need network management in the first place, much less open source network management. This literally took a couple of weeks.

What we came up with is that network management is a lot like maintaining an automobile. If you buy a brand new car and do little maintenance, it will run fine – for awhile. But without oil changes, new filters and keeping it clean it won’t last nearly as long as it could, and the investment made in buying a new car will yield a lot less than it should.

It’s the same way with computer hardware and software. Companies, at least successful ones, invest in information technology in order to provide some sort of productivity gains that should translate to the bottom line. But unless they have management, it is almost impossible to tell if it is providing value, and without the ability to tune it and detect problems, one can be sure any positive value will be less than what it could be.

Which is why they need OpenNMS. In Phil and Margaret’s words, the OpenNMS Group is there to “Get the Network to Work™”.

I know it sounds a little “sales-y” but that is at the heart of what we do. Papa John’s isn’t in the business of buying servers or building a website – they are in the business of providing quality food to their customers as quickly and easily as possible. The servers and the websites are there to enable that, but they aren’t the reason the company exists.

The next hurdle was to be able to tell people why an open source solution like OpenNMS was better than commercial software. I’ve known for years that OpenNMS was more powerful, scalable and flexible than things like Unicenter, Tivoli and OpenView, but how to get that across to people who haven’t “walked the path”?

Now a lesser marketing person would just put words up on the website claiming to be better. I could imagine seeing something like:

OpenNMS can expedite virtual paradigms and benchmark mission-critical technologies in order to grow ubiquitous solutions and visualize visionary experiences with the final goal to repurpose value-added experiences and harness magnetic relationships.

(I had help with that)

I hate stuff like this. Instead, Margaret insisted that the reasons to use OpenNMS and the OpenNMS Group should come from the people who use it and find it valuable, and not from the people who make it.

After months of hard work, I’d like to present the new OpenNMS Group website. While there is a lot of text describing what we do, the emphasis is on the stories from our customers. At launch we have been able to get two case studies approved, with many more in process.

The first is from New Edge Networks. If I had to pick a company that shared our dedication to helping customers and having fun doing it, New Edge would be at the top of the list. I’ve been able to watch them grow over the years, and OpenNMS has been able to grow along with it. In their environment, OpenNMS gathers data which is presented directly to their end users. At the moment this means data collection on over 160,000 interfaces. This is something that the most expensive commercial products would have trouble doing.

The second is Papa John’s Pizza. They were the first company to allow on-line ordering at 100% of their US stores, and OpenNMS makes sure that billion dollar business is working smoothly. We are now working on a project to extend that to manage all of their 3,400 stores worldwide and not just the data center.

But enough talking from me – read about it in their own words. These are the people that we help, have fun with and together we make money. We want to meet more.

Shouldn’t that really be the role of marketing?