OpenNMS Gets a Grown Up

There are lots of exciting things going on here in OpenNMS-land and I want to tell you all about them, but it seems that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

I am excited enough about our latest hire that I wanted to take the time to share the news. Raeford Wall has joined The OpenNMS Group as our Controller. We are about to enter a high growth phase of our company and our needs have grown beyond my abilities with Quickbooks and that one semestre of accounting I took at Duke.

Note to CJ Skender: Debit left, credit right; dividends are not expenses; depreciation is not cash.

Ray is the real deal. He has an MBA from the renown Kenan-Flagler School of Business at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he has been involved in commercial banking for over 27 years. He’s also no stranger to growing businesses, having been the organizing Executive Officer for Patriot State Bank in 2005 (recently sold to Capstone Bank).

He will be taking over all financial duties, as well as HR, and will use his experience to continue our focus on profitability through customer satisfaction. I am looking forward to both getting a better handle on the health of our business as well as relying on Ray’s experience to make sure we can continue to deliver the best products out there. I call him a “grown up” because he is not a tech geek but a seasoned businessman, and that’s what the company needs right now.

He is also a bargain hunter, and today I used my truck to transport a bunch of office supplies that Ray located from another company in the area. With his help, we should be able to fill all of those chairs we just got, someday soon.

OSCON 2013: Day 3

I’m calling this post “Day 3” of but that is a bit of a misnomer. While there were some OSCON events on Friday, the Expo closed Thursday night and as the holder of an Expo-only pass …

Instead I decided to grab a Zipcar and hop over the border to Vancouver. I am an unabashed fan of Zipcar, and I look forward to the opportunity to use them whenever possible. Portland is one of their major cities, and I had a choice of two cars that were parked directly in front of my hotel in the City Center.

I chose the red A3, and I rented it for a couple of hours so I could scoot across the border to visit one of our largest and oldest clients, New Edge Networks.

Well, technically they are Earthlink Business Systems, and while I think Earthlink is a good brand I still think of them as New Edge.

The car was fun, if a little dirty. It looks like someone who had it before me got into some mud. The thing I like about Zipcar is the community – not only are we customers but they have built a culture where you feel more like you are borrowing a friend’s car than renting one – so the interior was very clean as that just happens to be the way we Zipcar users roll.

Another courtesy is that you should leave at least a quarter of a tank of gas in the vehicle, and the person before me followed that to the letter (grin). I thought it would be good to fill it up on the way back, so I got to experience getting gasoline in Oregon. Oregon, along with New Jersey, requires an attendant to fill your tank, and it took a second for me to understand why the guy at the gas station was being so attentive. He was familiar with Zipcar, and that part of the process went smoothly, as fuel is included in the rental fee.

I had a little time on my hands before dinner, so I decided to visit Powell’s. Of course, I felt the need to leave my mark, if just for a little while before the smurfs took it back.

A small group of us met at Vault Martini for happy hour. Tina and Jason showed up from Earthlink, and much to my surprise Jason Aras (OGP) also showed up. I was thinking that he was mad at me since I was having trouble getting in touch with him via e-mail, but he assured me that it was due to him being crazy/busy at StackMob. The fifth person in our little group was Ken Eshelby. Ken works for the State of Oregon where he has done some amazing customization work on their instance of OpenNMS, but we have not been able to get permission to do a detailed case study (yet).

We talked tech and politics (these are a few of my favorite things) and then grabbed dinner. My only requirement is that dessert was going to be Voodoo Doughnut.

As usually there was a line, so I used it as an opportunity to get rid of a large number (sigh) of L4 XMP Bursters.

As for my dessert choice, I am nothing if not a fan of the classics.

It was a great trip with great people and great weather. I look forward to the opportunity to do it again.

OSCON 2013: Day 2

My Thursday morning started off with a visit with Matt and Moira at the City of Portland. One of the reasons I like this city is that they are also cool enough to use OpenNMS, and I had a nice lunch discussing tech and politics during another amazing Portland summer day.

Afterward I did have one little errand to run, just on principal.

When I made it to the convention center, there was one stop I wanted to make before the show ended and that was the New Relic booth.

Although they have been around since 2008, I had never heard of New Relic until just recently when they hired MC Frontalot to make a video. They have raised over US$115MM for their hosted application monitoring platform, which is amazing until you find out that their Chairman is Peter Fenton. You have probably not heard his name unless you follow Silcon Valley venture capital, but Peter has been involved in every big deal in the open source space, so he has this reputation of having the Midas touch.

The product is pretty neat. It’s agent driven and cloud hosted, so there is little set up once the agent is installed. It monitors your web-based applications to locate bottlenecks, and has a really nifty drill down feature to show you exactly where the performance issues lie. The have introduced a mobile version as well that you can instrument into your mobile applications.

It is not open source, so there exists an opportunity to disrupt their business model, and they focus on applications, so there is, say, no way to tell which part of the network is causing the delay if a network delay is detected (maybe a good integration with OpenNMS would help that), but they obviously have something people want since they have tens of thousands of customers willing to pay for it. Plus the folks in the booth were just so nice. Gautam (above) was kind enough to tolerate my large number of questions and Saheer told me about the business side of the company, especially how much she enjoyed working there, so it is a company to watch.

My work day over (grin) I wandered around to see if there were any cool people to visit, and I found them.

My first stop was the Fedora booth where I saw Tom “Spot” Calloway. He is thinking about moving back to the Raleigh area, which would be cool, and we’ll see him again a the FLOCK conference in a few weeks (OpenNMS is a sponsor). FLOCK is the annual Fedora conference that used to be called FUDCon, and I like the new name a lot better (Spot does as well since he came up with it). If you are in the Charleston, SC area the weekend of 9 August, check it out.

Over at the Citrix booth I found Mark Hinkle (sorry about the crappy picture). Mark is the open source guy there and I can remember when he used to come by the OpenNMS Group office (when the three founders shared what is now just my office) and we’d talk at length about open source. He told me he uses a lot of what he learned there in explaining the open source philosophy in a company known for commercial software. When he was at Zenoss things were a little tense between us but when he left to pursue life in the cloud that tension went away and I genuinely look forward to talking with him these days.

On my way out I ran into another great guy, Joe Brockmeier. Joe has been involved in open source longer than I have, and he currently is part of the Cloudstack project.

I saw a number of other people as well. It was great to chat with Karen Sandler, GNOME Goddess and one time OpenNMS attorney, and I hate that I just got about 30 seconds with Ilan Rabinovitch in passing. Stephan Walli was supposedly around, but he must get invited to better parties than I do, since I missed him entirely.

Well, that’s not true. For some reason I did get invited to a party hosted by the Google Open Source Programs Office run by Chris Dibona. The party was on the deck of the Departure Restaurant at the Nines Hotel, and it might have been Mount Olympus as far as I was concerned since it was full of open source gods and goddesses.

For once I feel the need for restraint and discretion, and I am not going to drop the names of all the people I met there. Trust me, if you are involved in free software at all you’d know this guest list, which considering how little OpenNMS is known outside of our community I am still baffled as to why I was there.

I will publicly thank Chris, Carol, Cat, Stephanie and the rest of the OSPO for putting it together. It made me want to go out and do great things.

OSCON 2013: Day 1

On my second day in Portland, I spent the morning working and then made my way on the MAX to my final hotel downtown.

The weather is so nice here that I decided I would walk to the Convention Center over the Steel Bridge. Actually, I wanted to get in some Ingress time and I figured the best way to do that would be on foot. Unfortunately, while there are lots and lots of portals downtown, the buildings make getting a decent GPS fix difficult, and so it was a little less fun than it could have been.

Anyway, I made it to the conference without incident, and had to laugh when I was greeted with this:

Close up:

Now, public displays disabled due to Windows error messages are so common as to border on cliché, but it seems a little ironic to see one at an open source conference.

I got my “Expo Hall” badge and made my way onto the show floor.

It’s pretty crowded this year, and I would venture a guess that this is an indication that the economy, at least in the tech sector, is turning around. They did have some nice touches, like a set of systems set up to run Starcraft and the perennial big chess set.

The first booth I visited was the one for Microsoft. Speaking of clichés, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who said “Hey, where’s my free Surface RT?”. I went there specifically to talk with my friend Gian. Microsoft has actually been very helpful to the OpenNMS Project by providing us with an MSDN account so that we can test our application against various versions of Windows, and Gian has been my main contact with respect to that.

They also had a pretty cool idea for their booth. They hired photographer Julian Cash to take pictures of the attendees. In the booth is a large white backdrop, a bunch of geeky/techie props, and a lot of lenses for his Nikon. He spent about 15 minutes with me, and I’m eager to see how the pictures turned out. I watched him work with a number of people throughout the day and it was a lot of fun.

Near the Microsoft booth was Canonical. In case you have been under a rock this week, Canonical announced a rather ambitious plan to raise US$32MM to produce the Ubuntu Edge. It’s a smartphone but with a different agenda than most. The idea is to create an integrated environment so that your PC/Laptop is actually the phone itself. At your desk you would just have a keyboard and monitor, and your desktop software would run directly off the phone – no need to sync, etc. What really intrigues me about this idea is that they are trying to raise the funds directly from the consumer through Indiegogo. There are two basic perks. One is you can contribute a small amount to show support. The other gets you a phone when it comes out. The prices are tiered, so the first perk had the phone at US$675. All 1250 of those are sold out, so the next cheapest option is US$50 more. Once those 1250 are sold, it goes up another $50, etc., to the maximum of US$830.

I got to see Alan Pope again, which was nice, and he demonstrated the basics of the device (it current does make calls and send texts, although MMS is a couple of weeks away yet). They have ports for various other smartphones (well, Android-based phone, of course). Currently it boots into Android and then runs the Ubuntu kernel, but I was told that starting next week that process will be reversed, with Ubuntu booting first.

If you are interested in these sorts of things, I would suggest getting your order in early to save a few shekels. If the goal isn’t met, you get your money back. And of course, I had to use OpenNMS to track the status of the project. As I write this they are just shy of US$6MM.

While hanging out near the booth I did run into Jono Bacon. As one of the official mouthpieces for Canonical, you can imagine how busy his schedule is with this announcement, so I was grateful for what little time I got with him. Actually, I was just using him to find out if Erica Brescia (his much better half) was around, and I found her at the Bitnami booth (they met at a LUGRadio Live event back in 2008 and I happened to take one of the first pictures of the two of them together. Man I’ve been doing this blog thing too long). It was really nice to chat with her, as she always has some great insights and advice about the business aspects of open source software.

I made my way around to the back of the show floor (I always refer to those little out of the way booths as the “geek ghetto”) where I was happy to get a few minutes with Simon Phipps. His out fighting the good fight with the Open Source Initiative, the group that gave us the open source definition among other things. They are making a number of very positive changes, including moving from an appointed to an elected Board of Directors, and if you appreciate open source software I strongly recommend you become a member. Plus, I might one day make a run for the Board myself, and I’ll need all three of my reader’s votes.

The rest of the afternoon was spent socializing. I got to see my friend Greg (he used to work for ADP Dealer Services, one of our clients, before he moved over to a non-profit) and we decided to get dinner together. I recommended this place called Clyde Common that was excellent. You sit “German Style” with tables for eight, and it was coincidental that the four people who sat down next to us were from O’Reilly in Boston.

Toward the end of the meal, Greg’s friend Garrett, who still works at ADP, arrived with his new bride Megan. Megan is a flight attendant, so I got to get my airtravel geek on. While one of my favorite places to drink in town is Vault Martini (we will be there on Friday, starting around 6pm, if you want to join us for drinks and OpenNMS) we were directed to place called Teardrop. As someone who is into artisanal cocktails I found the place to be top notch, but I think I like the atmosphere at the Vault a little better.

So Day 1 was a lot of fun – looking forward to Day 2.

OSCON 2013: Day 0

So, what do you do when you find yourself in Portland, Oregon, a day earlier than you expected? Why you spend a couple of hours jamming to a twelve piece Romani brass band, ‘natch.

But maybe I need to back up a bit.

I travel a lot, and for the most part I really enjoy it, especially when I get to visit other countries.

It was in Portland several years ago that I realized that the United States is so large that it is actually possible to get that “foreign country feeling” without leaving. I was with a friend having drinks in this outdoor café, enjoying one of those rare beautiful Portland summer evenings and watching the people, when it dawned on me that the people in Portland are very much different than the people in, say, San Antonio, Texas; New York City; Chicago or Pittsboro, North Carolina. Even though we share the same language and currency, the differences are strong enough to qualify, culturally, as much as traveling to another nation.

Thus I always look forward to a trip to Portlandia.

For many years I always got a paper accepted at the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON). Last year, however, my topics were not accepted, so this year I cranked them up a notch. Still no love. I think I may have pissed someone off on the paper committee. I remember meeting this young woman at the Open Source Think Tank last year who helped decide on speakers and she was one of those “Go Big or Go Home” types. It is that attitude which is now so pervasive in Silicon Valley that has, to some degree, soured me on the whole area. The focus seems to be to make as much money as you can, which I think is an attitude doomed to fail.

Not that I’m against making a lot of money. I really would like to have a lot of money, but the way to do it is to focus on your customers. Make something they want, treat them well, have fun (extremely important) and the money will come. But if your only focus is money you’ll forget the customers (who are responsible for giving it to you in the first place) and the money will either never show up or it will go away.

I think I might have said something to that effect and thus got on the “no speaker” list. (sigh)

Anyway, I am digressing more than usual. It turns out this year’s conference coincided with another trip, so I got an “Expo” pass to OSCON and planned to come up for a day to hang out with some friends there as well as to visit some customers (the City of Portland is an OpenNMS client).

The other trip involved meetings in Silicon Valley, and I flew out on Monday expecting to spend Tuesday and Wednesday there and then up to Portland Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the business partner who was to join me came down with a nasty stomach issue, so the meetings got postponed. I called the airline and got my flight moved up a day, and I was excited to get an extra day at the conference.

While I was waiting at the San Jose airport, I caught up on some e-mail. One note was to some friends of mine who live in Eugene, Oregon. Every year they hold a big party on the Fourth of July and for the last two years we have made plans to attend but had to cancel. There was no way for me to visit them this trip but it made me at least want to say “hi”.

Soon after sending the e-mail, my phone rings. It turns out that they were on the way to Portland to see a band, and would I be interested in joining them?

If I could give any one piece of advice to people, it would be to take advantage of things like this. Even if you are dead tired – when you get an opportunity to experience something new, take it. I developed this philosophy back in 2003. I was in Japan for an OpenNMS training gig, and on my last day an ex-pat from the States calls me and invites me out. I was incredibly tired, but I figured what the heck, when would I be back in Tokyo again? Turns out I haven’t gone back yet and that night in Shibuya is still one of my fondest memories.

Anyway, back to Portlandia. I landed, ran through the airport to the hotel shuttle, had them call me a cab as we drove, checked in, dropped my bags and headed to the Alberta Rose Theatre.

The Alberta Rose is an old school movie theatre that opened in 1927. It closed in 1978 but now has been reopened as “Portland’s premier setting to experience acoustic music, art house films and live performances”. We met there about 7pm and hit the Thai place next door before the show started at 8pm.

The opening act was a band called Chervona, made up of mainly of ex-pat Russians. They consisted of seven pieces: drums, bass guitar, accordion, clarinet, two trombones and guitar. The lead singer/guitarist reminded me of a cross between Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick and the lead singer of Midnight Oil. One standout musician was the clarinet player – he was simply amazing, and on a couple of songs he played with the headlining band (that’s him on the far left of the next picture).

They played for about an hour, and after a short break the main attraction took the stage: Fanfare Ciocărlia. This is a raucous twelve-piece Romani brass band (Romani from the Roma people and not Romania) and they play music at a speed that makes “Flight of the Bumblebee” sound like a funeral dirge.

It was pretty amazing. I also liked the fact that there were several generations on stage. Most of the performers looked to be in their late 30s to early 40s, but a few looked younger and a few were older. It was non-stop energy, and the crowd seemed to love it. At one point there were more dancers on stage than band members, and considering how many band members there were, that was quite a feat.

It was also the third anniversary of the reopened Alberta Rose, so they were handing out chocolate birthday cake. It wouldn’t be Portlandia without microbrews, and the evening’s libation was a double red ale called “Believer” (I thought the lady tending bar said “Belieber” as in Justin, but was promptly corrected). While I tend to find Oregon beers slightly bitter for my taste, it was pretty darn good.

At the end of the show they did an encore (one song was their take on the James Bond theme) and then they just started playing in the aisles. I think the plan was to march around the theatre, but the crowd was so tight that they stopped after about 30 feet, played, and then slowly made their way back.

So even though I didn’t get to bed until well after midnight, it was so worth it, if just to see my friends. If you count experiences as wealth, my account balance is now much better off.

OpenNMS Gets An Emmy Nomination

Okay, so I’m stretching things a bit. Well, a whole lot. In fact, OpenNMS had nothing to do with the Emmy nod, and it is just a shameless attempt to get your attention.

I believe I have very little natural talent. The one exception is that I seem to be able to surround myself with some of the most amazing people on the planet. They do great things and I just bask in the reflected glory.

I’m not knocking it.

One of those people is our chief architect and CTO, Matt Brozowski. In his copious spare time he manages to do a lot of things, including coaching a program at the University of North Carolina called “Powering a Nation“. Each year students create a documentary involving some aspect of energy use in the United States, and the 2012 team created “100 Gallons: How Water Powers Life“.

It got nominated for a Emmy award.

How cool is that. It would be awesome if they won.

Matt is also coaching the 2013 team, so let’s see if they can go two for two.

Eric Evans at Cassandra Summit

Eric has had a very busy conference season this summer. Here is his talk on virtual nodes at the Cassandra C* Summit held in June in San Francisco.

I’ve been told it was the highest rated talk for the whole conference, but I can’t seem to find a reference. My only issue with the talk is in the intro graphics: it’s “openNms” and not “openMns”. (grin)

OpenNMS in Network World Roundup

Susan Perschke has written up a fairly long review of four open source management tools, including OpenNMS. I thought it was pretty thorough for a Network World article, especially since they tend to follow the industry in general and not network management in particular. She reviewed OpenNMS as well as Zenoss Core, NetXMS and Nagios Core.

Note: You have to “register” to see the whole article, but all that seems necessary is to input an e-mail address. There is no confirmation e-mail, as far as I can tell, so you could enter in anything that looks like an e-mail address and access it.

I was a little nervous when I read that they tested OpenNMS on Windows. To be perfectly honest, our Windows implementation was done in part to settle a bet (Java should be write once, run anywhere, right?). It *does* work and work fine, but it is much harder to install and manage on the Windows platform, something that we are working to correct. So Susan gets some props for managing to get it running and not complaining at all about the install process on Windows. That fact alone made me look at her article more seriously.

Everyone is interested in the “winner” and the tagline of the article is “Zenoss Core edges Nagios Core, NetXMS and OpenNMS in four-product roundup”. She writes:

Zenoss is our top pick due primarily to its intuitive and professional-grade admin interface.

I really can’t fault that. GUIs are important, which is why we are working with the Vaadin team on our next generation user interface. But the underlying engine is important as well, since it is easier to add a pretty interface than it is to architect your application for performance. Apparently Zenoss is a resource hog:

We found out the hard way that Zenoss is not designed for lightweight infrastructure – in fact we were not able to get a clean-running machine going until we threw 6GB of memory at it.

My main complaint about the article is that she didn’t stress enough that Zenoss and Nagios both follow the fauxpen source model: the “Core” products are free but the whole is not. If you want certain features, be prepared to get out your checkbook and give up your open source freedoms. She does mention that with respect to Nagios:

You would need to purchase the ‘Professional’ or ‘Business’ version if you want to use features such as SNMP traps or the mobile application, plus the backend database option is only available in the ‘Business’ version.

Why is this distinction important? Well, as Brian Prentice at Gartner explains, when considering a solution like this with an commercial enterprise component, you have to treat the whole purchase decision in the same way you would any commercial software acquisition. You lose the open source value.

And we be all about adding value. In fact, we are actively targeting the features that people like the most about products like Zenoss and Solarwinds, first and foremost the GUI. Next, we’ll go after the second most popular feature. Little by little we hope to erode people’s dependency on commercial software by offering a truly amazing, totally free alternative.

I didn’t talk to much about NetXMS because, quite frankly, I had never heard of it. It seems like they have been around for awhile and it also seems like they are truly open source. I found it amusing that the two FOSS options in the article were both tested on Windows.

Anyway, the article is worth checking out if you are in to that sort of thing. I’ll be interested to see how OpenNMS ranks in a year when the GUI is finished.