My friend Alex in Norway sent me a link to a Slashdot story about the Nagios plugin site being taken over by Ethan Galstad’s company Nagios Enterprises. From what I’ve read about the incident, it definitely sounds like it could have been handled better, and it points out one of the main flaws with the “fauxpensource” business strategy.
I assume that at least two of my three readers are familiar with Nagios, but for the one who isn’t, Nagios is one of the most popular tools for monitoring servers, and it has been around just as long as OpenNMS (the NetSaint project, the original name of Nagios, was registered on Sourceforge in January of 2000 while OpenNMS joined in March of that year). Its popularity is mainly based around how easy it is to extend its functionality through the use of user written scripts, or “plugins”, plus it is written in C which made it much easier for it to be included in Linux distributions. A quick Google search on “nagios” just returned 1.7 million hits to 400K for “opennms”
A few years ago Ethan decided to adopt a business model where he would hold back some of the code from the “core” project and he would charge people a commercial licensing fee to access that code (Nagios XI). If your business plan is based on a commercial software model, then your motivations toward your open source community change. In fact, that community can change, with projects such as Icinga deciding to fork Nagios rather than to continue to work within the Nagios project framework.
Enter the Nagios Plugins site.
To say that Nagios Plugins was instrumental to the success of the Nagios application would be an understatement. Back when I tracked such things, there were way more contributions of both new plugins and updates to existing plugins on that project than were given to the Nagios code itself. The plugins community is why Nagios is so popular in the first place, and it seems like they deserve some recognition for that effort.
Trademark issues within open source projects are always tricky. Over a decade ago a company in California started producing “OpenNMS for Mac”. Even though we had OpenNMS on OS X available through the fink project, it required a version of Java that wasn’t generally available to Mac users (just those in the developer program). However, that version was was required to allow OpenNMS to actually work at scale, but this company decided to remove all of the code that depended on it and to release their own version. Unfortunately, they called it “OpenNMS” which could cause a lot of market confusion. Suppose a reviewer tested that program, found it didn’t scale, and decided to pan the whole application. It would have a negative impact on the OpenNMS brand. After numerous attempts to explain this to the man responsible for the fork, I had to hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist order to get him to stop. It was not a happy experience for me. When you give your software away for free, the brand is your intellectual property and you need to protect it.
So I can understand Ethan’s desire to control the Nagios name (which is actually a little ironic since the switch from NetSaint to Nagios was done for similar reasons). He has a commercial software company to run and this site might lead people to check out the open source alternatives available. Since they are based on his product, the learning curve is not very steep and thus the cost to switch is low, and that could have a dramatic impact on his business plan and revenues.
At OpenNMS we treat our community differently. We license the OpenNMS trademark to the OpenNMS Foundation, an independent organization based in Europe that is both responsible for the annual Users Conference (coming to the UK in April) as well as creating the “Ask OpenNMS” site to provide a forum for the community to provide support to each other. They own their own domains and their own servers, and outside of an small initial contribution from the OpenNMS Group, they are self funded. Last year’s conference was awesome – the weather notwithstanding (it was cold and it snowed).
OpenNMS is different from Nagios in other key ways. At its heart, Nagios is a script management tool. The user plugins are great, but they don’t really scale. Almost all of the OpenNMS “checks” are integrated into the OpenNMS code and controlled via configuration files which gives users the flexibility of a plugin but much greater performance. For those functions that can’t be handled within OpenNMS, we teach in our training classes how to use the Net-SNMP “extend” function to provide secure, remote program execution that can scale. OpenNMS is a management application platform that allows enterprises and carriers to develop their own, highly custom, management solution, but at the cost of a higher learning curve than products such as Nagios.
Now that doesn’t make OpenNMS “better” than Nagios – it just makes it better for certain users and not for others (usually based on size). The best management solution is the one that works for you, and luckily for Nagios users there are a plethora of similar products to choose from which use the same plugins – which I believe is at the heart of this whole kerfuffle.
The part of the story that bothers me the most is the line “large parts of our web site were copied“. If this is true, that is unfortunate, and could result in a copyright claim from the plugins site.
To me, open source is a meritocracy – the person who does the work gets the recognition. It seems like the Nagios Plugins community has done a lot of work and now some of that recognition is being taken from them. That is the main injustice here.
It looks like they have it in hand with the new “Monitoring Plugins” site. Be sure to update your bookmarks and mailing list subscriptions, and lend your support to the projects that support you the most.