Fighting Religious Battles

George Carlin once said:

Religion … is like a lift in your shoe. If you need it for a while, and it makes you walk straight and feel better – fine … I say just don’t ask me to wear your shoes. And let’s not go down and nail lifts onto the natives’ feet.

A newbie to the free and open source software world might think it is weird to talk about religion, but most of us who have been around awhile realize that the equivalent of religious fanaticism is pretty common with FOSS. People feel very emotional about certain technologies. And while this kind of fervor has its place, it doesn’t really work within open source business.

I was on a call today where a friend of mine (and OpenNMS proponent) who was talking about a meeting he was in where a team developing a new management application was presenting their technology assessment. To almost every requirement they stated, he was able to reply “OpenNMS does that”, yet when they presented their final scorecard OpenNMS was rated pretty low.

On further examination, it turns out that while most requirements were rated on a scale of 1 to 5, there was a category that basically said “fun to work with” that had some obscene weighting like 1 to 200. Of course, that meant the development team could basically fix their report anyway they wanted (and in this case it was for a technology based on Javascript).

My response was “oh well”.

I don’t fight religious battles.

Our job at the OpenNMS Group is to help people who want to work with OpenNMS get the most out of it. We don’t spend much time trying to get people to switch. For the most part, if there isn’t an immediate, pending reason why a switch is necessary (such as a large renewal bill for a commercial product coming up or they have outgrown their existing solution) there is little use for us to spend the time.

For example, another big OpenNMS fan got a new job, and he was trying to get OpenNMS in to replace their Spectrum/Netcool solution. He writes:

What the real problem here is that the two main Architects go way back 17-20 years, They fought to get Spectrum here when the shop had Cabletron, then Netcool about 5-6 years ago. Both are very good Perl programmers and have written custom scripts to tightly couple the two systems. Real good work.

But the Spectrum guy won’t go down with out a fight, chewed my tail more then once for even bringing up open source. The Netcool guy doesn’t want OpenNMS in here because it will cut into his turf and he worked hard to get it in here in the first place.

I replied:

I don’t know, man. Sounds like a losing fight from my perspective.

OpenNMS is not a free or low cost solution. It’s a powerful replacement for tools like Spectrum, OpenView and Tivoli. Sure, there are no licensing costs, but it does require just as much expertise as Spectrum to customize in order to get the best value.

Of course, I’d love to see another OpenNMS user, but I’m not sure how much help I can be selling it. Think about it, the best I could reasonably hope for would be a Greenlight Plus contract out of the deal. This would be two weeks on-site and a year of support.

So I send one of my guys out there and they meet your two main Architects. They are hostile and refuse to cooperate (kind of like Congress) and so my guy has a miserable time of it, but still manages to get some stuff done. Then comes support – these guys open ten tickets a day complaining about what OpenNMS can’t do. It costs me a guy just to deal with them.

It ain’t worth it.

When it comes to our mission statement of “Help customers, Have fun, Make money” it is much better to focus on people who really want your help and want to succeed than to try to usurp the incumbent solution. While it may mean a lost opportunity or even losing a client, it’s a win in the long run.

2 thoughts on “Fighting Religious Battles

  1. I think this is a very valuable lesson. Sometimes software isn’t the right in every situation, and not just for technical reasons.
    I think that from a “vendor’s” point of view, you need to identify the area you’re best at, that aim to excel in that area. “Sales” in other areas might come as a consequence, but it’s better to do one thing well than to try and be one solution for all people.
    Similarly, from the end-user’s point of view, it’s important to have confidence in your software, and have it be a good fit for the rest of the organisation Sometime’s that’s not the case, even if you think the support behind the software is excellent.

  2. Been there, seen that. Went as far as having an iframe showing OpenNMS data inside a frame claiming it to be “another” network management solution 😉

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