A Brief History of an Open Source Company

I’ve been invited to give a keynote at this year’s Ohio Linuxfest being held in Columbus, Ohio, on 29-30 September. I am both excited and humbled as this is one of my favorite conferences of the year and I know a lot of amazing people will be there to share their knowledge of free and open source software.

Ohio Linuxfest Logo

I take my presentations pretty seriously, especially keynotes, so I wanted to come up with something that was both funny and interesting. They asked me to speak on running a business around open source software, and I immediately thought I should come up with some click-bait title like “Ten Things About Open Source Business, Four of Them Will Shock You!” but it just didn’t feel right. Then I thought about Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and that seemed more fitting.

My most popular talk so far has been on starting an open source business, but that focuses mainly on the mechanics of the process. For this talk I want to trace my history with OpenNMS starting with my first day on the job and then describing how it grew to become what it is today. In those 15+ years I’ve had a lot of adventures, some good and some bad, and I’ve met a some wonderful people. It is the work of many of those people that actually make OpenNMS what it is – I act more like a “crap umbrella” with my one job being to block all of the things that might keep the team from being productive – and I want to talk how that came about. This presentation will consist almost entirely of real world examples of the problems we encountered and our decision process for solving them.

I hope it will be entertaining and useful, and look forward to seeing you there.

CubaConf 2017

UPDATE: Today the United States administration announced tougher restrictions on travel to Cuba. While nothing has changed at the moment, there will be some changes in the next 30 days. This should not impact people attempting to go to Cuba for this conference as it should fall under the “professional” or “educational” travel categories. This may change again before November and I’ll be sure to post updates.

While tourist travel remained officially banned, Obama also allowed a broad category of “people to people” visits to Cuba. Trump’s new directive still allows individual travel in all but that category, and reverts to an earlier policy of requiring “people to people” visits only in a Treasury-licensed group.

Free and open source software is as close to a true meritocracy than anything else I’ve found. It doesn’t matter what is the color of your skin, your gender or where you live, your value is judged simply by your contributions to the project. I wrote up my favorite instance of that for opensource.com concerning my friend Alejandro who got involved with OpenNMS when he lived in Venezuela. He and his wife are now permanent residents in the US due to his work on our project.

I actually forget how I came across CubaConf, but I was immediately interested in attending. This is an annual free software conference held in Havana, Cuba.

CubaConf

It has been illegal for US Citizens to travel to Cuba since before I was born. Last year the Obama administration eased some of those restrictions, so it is now possible, under certain conditions, to travel to Cuba as well as to use US Dollars while there.

Cuba has been pretty isolated since the 1960s, and as it races to catch up with the rest of the world it will need access to modern technology, especially software. I see an opportunity for free software to play a huge role in the future of that country, and I am eager to meet the people who will help make that happen.

I want to use this post to encourage all of my free and open source software friends to come to CubaConf. This is a three-day event that follows a format similar to one we used for our OpenNMS user conferences. The first day is a normal conference, with various tracks and presentations set to a schedule. The second day is a “barcamp” style conference where the attendees will set the agenda, and the third day is a hackathon.

Presentations are welcome in both Spanish and English, so I’ve submitted two talks (both in English). One is on starting an open source business. This will be different from my usual talk as I want to focus on how someone in Cuba could both spread the use of free software while getting paid to do it, without as much focus on setting up a corporation or other formal business entity. The second talk is on OpenNMS. While business transactions are still difficult between the US and Cuba, I really want to bring the magic that is OpenNMS to their attention so that when things ease between our countries people will be familiar with it.

I plan to attend all three days, and Alejandro is coming with me to help with any language issues (my Spanish is passable but not nearly as fluent as a native speaker). Note that the Call for Papers is open until the end of August.

Since you might be hesitant to consider going to Cuba from the United States, I wanted to share with you how it works.

First, tourism to Cuba for Americans is still illegal. However, the State Department has come up with a list of 12 categories which qualify for visiting.

12 Visa Categories for Cuba

In the case of CubaConf, you will choose either number four “Professional research and professional meetings” or number five “Educational activities”. I guess number six might work “Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions” since it is kind of a workshop, but I’d stick with the first two. Since I am a free software professional, I plan to use number four, as I consider this a professional meeting.

Note that Cuba could care less about why you are there – this is a requirement of the US government.

Second, once you have a legal travel category, you’ll need a visa. In speaking with my favorite airline, American Airlines (they offer direct flights to Havana from Charlotte, NC, and Miami, FL), once you book your travel they will outsource the visa process to Cuba Travel Services who will handle the whole thing via e-mail. The visa costs $50 and it looks like there may be a $35 fee, but I’m not sure if the fee applies if you are referred via the airline and it may be built into the price of the ticket.

Speaking of things included in the price, the third thing to consider is that all Americans traveling to Cuba must have non-US health insurance. This is included as a $25 charge when you purchase your ticket.

That covers much of the “getting there” part. The fourth, and in my mind most important thing to know is that Cuba is still very much a cash-only country. American banks are still not doing business there so your credit cards won’t work, nor will the ATM, so you’ll need to bring cash. I verified this with calls to Bank of America, Chase and Citi – currently none of those banks have cards that work in that country.

There are two types of currency in use: The Cuban National Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) or “kook”. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and is the currency used by most visitors. Luckily, Havana is a pretty safe place, although I still won’t want to carry around a lot of money if I can avoid it.

I’m not sure where I will stay. Being a big Marriott fan I do have the option to stay at the Four Points Sheraton, but it seems to be pretty far away from the Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo where the conference will be held. Most people visiting stay in a “casa particular” which is a room in someone’s house, and it appears that Airbnb is also in Cuba.

I plan to use the open source way and just ask my friends organizing the conference where I should stay. It is very easy to do, as they have set up a Telegram channel for the conference. While Spanish is the main language in the channel, English is welcome, and if you are thinking about coming to CubaConf I would consider going there first.

I am very exited about the opportunity to visit Havana in November. Despite the modern history between the US and Cuba, I know I’ll make some new friends.

Software libre crea amistades inmediatas.

OpenNMS Team Wins 5000€ Prize at TM Forum {open}:hack

A group of four students from Southampton Solent University, mentored by Dr. Craig Gallen, used OpenNMS to win the top prize at the TeleManagement Forum {open}:hack competition at the TM Forum Live conference in Nice, France.

{open}:hack Winners

Now, a little background is in order. Dr. Gallen founded Entimoss, our OpenNMS partner in the UK and Ireland. He got involved with OpenNMS over a decade ago when he was working on his doctoral thesis entitled “Improving the Practice of Operations Support Systems in the Telecommunications Industry using Open Source”.

Most of his work was focused on a business solution framework called NGOSS (now Frameworx) developed by the TM Forum for creating next generation OSS/BSS software and systems. Now the TM Forum is the world’s leading trade organization for telecommunications providers and at the time was not very friendly toward open source. He demonstrated how an open source platform like OpenNMS could be used to integrate with and tie together these different interfaces to build a reference implementation for part of the framework. Open source was a new concept for the industry, and we were branded the “open source pirates” at first. But Craig persisted, and in 2011 he was awarded the TM Forum’s Outstanding Contributor Award.

In addition to his persistence and ability to deal with large organizations, Craig is also a great teacher. When the TM Forum introduced its {open}:hack program, he wanted to get involved and he found several interested students at Southampton Solent University.

The goals of {open}:hack are:

  1. Accelerate industry deployment of Forum Open APIs, metamodels and architecture across the industry
  2. Validate existing APIs and provide feedback for future iterations to technical collaboration teams
  3. Create IoT/Smart City & NFV/SDN solutions leveraging the Forum Open APIs
  4. Accelerate the incubation of new digital business opportunities in the areas of 5G Network Services & IoT/Smart City
  5. Create extensions to Forum Open APIs to be shared with industry

Participants were given access to APIs from the TM Forum, Huawei, Salesforce and Vodafone, which included things like data from drones, and tasked with creating something beneficial. Their project was called “Port-o-matic” which created an application for accessing services at shipping ports, as well as measuring environmental factors such as pollution. This was especially relevant to them since Southampton is the UK’s number one cruise port and second largest container port (the Titanic set sail from there).

{open}:hack architecture

Their solution leveraged the power of the OpenNMS platform to tie all of these APIs together and then to provide aggregated data to their web application. It can scale to almost any size using the new OpenNMS “Minion” feature which can distribute data collection and monitoring out to the edges of a network, offloading the need to have all of the functionality in a central location and positioning OpenNMS for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The hardest thing to get across to people new to OpenNMS is that it is a platform and not strictly an application. The learning curve can be steep and it is hard to see its value straight out of the box. I love the fact that solutions like the “Port-o-matic” demonstrate the power of OpenNMS.

It is also interesting to note that the second place prize went to a team from Red Hat. For an organization like the TM Forum that was wary of open source to demonstrate such a change of heart is encouraging, and I credit Dr. Gallen with a lot of that advancement.

{open}:hack Group Photo

So congratulations to Joe Appleton, Jergus Lejko, Michael Sievenpiper and Marcin Wisniewski, the winners of this latest {open}:hack competition, and I look forward to seeing more great things from you in the future.

2017 Red Hat Summit

I had never been to a Red Hat Summit before this year. We are exploring running OpenNMS on OpenShift and so Jesse, David and I decided to head to Boston to see what all the fuss was about.

RHSummit - Airline Sign

I noticed a couple of things are different about visiting Boston in spring versus winter. First of all, the weather was quite nice, and second, Boston can be freakin’ expensive.

And Red Hat spared no expense on this conference. This is the premiere event for companies in the Red Hat ecosystem and they obviously wanted to make an impression. I’m an “old guy” and I can remember going to huge shows put on by HP and IBM and this was on par. It took place at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) which takes up about a half a million square feet. Red Hat used all of it.

RHSummit - Convention Center Sign

Nothing quite demonstrated the size of this conference than the main auditorium. The centerpiece was a huge screen for the presentation flanked by two smaller screens to show the speaker. That was needed since the place was so big you could barely see the person talking.

RHSummit - Main Auditorium Screen

In addition to the general sessions, there were a large number of talks on pretty much anything related to Red Hat products, philosophy and partners. As a major player in “the cloud” there was a lot of emphasis on OpenShift and OpenStack, but the whole range of offerings was covered from Fedora and CentOS to JBoss and Gluster.

As with most tech conferences, there was an expo floor. This one was dominated by the color red.

RHSummit - Expo Floor

I spent a lot of time wandering around talking with people. Over the years a large number of my friends have been hired by Red Hat, and as I’ve curtailed my participation in a lot of the big Linux conferences, it was nice to see them again. I ran into Brian Proffitt and Ruth Suehle near the center of the expo:

RHSummit - Brian Proffitt and Ruth Suehle

It was also nice to run into the Latvian army. The Zabbix crew had a booth and it was cool to see Alexei and Alex again, although it was ironic that I missed them on my trip to Riga (they were actually driving north to Tallinn when I was heading south).

RHSummit - Zabbix Booth

Zabbix, like OpenNMS, is 100% open source and thus not only do we get along, I quite like them and look forward to chatting about the joys and challenges about running an open source business when we meet.

Speaking of meeting, I also got to meet Brian Stinson of the CentOS project.

RHSummit - Brian Stinson from CentOS

We swapped some stories and recounted the strange and funny time when Jerry Taylor, the City Manager of Tuttle, Oklahoma, claimed the CentOS project had hacked his city’s website. Has it been eleven years? Wow.

As part of the conference, Red Hat provided lunch. It was always a pretty hectic time since the show was packed and nothing demonstrated this more than trying to serve lunch to all those people.

RHSummit - Lunch Crowd

As far as conference lunches go, it was above average, but I did find it funny that they only served water to drink (usually there are cans of soda, etc.) I overhead one Red Hat employee say to another, you know, we can afford that gigantic screen but all we get is water?

On Wednesday night, Red Hat purchased a ton of tickets to the Red Sox game at Fenway Park. While I can’t find a reference to actual conference attendance figures, I heard the number 5000 being batted around which was a significant portion of the ballpark (it holds a little over 37,000). They gave us all red baseball caps and you could definitely see them in the crowd.

RHSummit - Fenway Park

For our annual developers conference, Dev-Jam, we have about one-one hundredth the amount of people to see the Twins play, but we also get better seats. (grin)

It was my first time at the historic Fenway Park, and the fans were almost more fun to watch than the game. I also enjoy trying to explain the game of baseball to people from outside the country, and this was made more interesting by some bad blood between the Sox and the Orioles that resulted in the ejection of the Orioles’ pitcher for hitting a batter.

Fenway is relatively close to Cambridge, so I took the opportunity to visit a friend of mine who is a professor. I decided to walk to Harvard Square along the river, where the rowing teams were practicing.

RHSummit - Rowing

Now whenever I see a movie featuring Ivy League students on the water, I’ll know where that was shot.

It was also nice to be able to spend some time with David and Jesse. While I work with David almost daily, we’re so busy that it is hard to find time to talk strategy and plan for the future of OpenNMS. Jesse, our CTO, moved back to Canada after the birth of his son to be closer to family, and it was also nice to have time to spend with him. Walking to dinner one night David took this picture

RHSummit - River and Bridge

which turned out so much better on his iPhone 6S than my Nexus 6P.

I often say that Red Hat, as a company, doesn’t get the credit it deserves since it is headquartered in North Carolina and not Silicon Valley. Our companies share a similar philosophy of taking care of customers, creating great open source software and producing steady growth, versus, say, chasing unicorns. It was wonderful to see that work demonstrated in such a large and professional conference, and I hope next year I’ll get to speak (although I doubt it will be on the big stage).

2017 Europe: Brussels and FOSDEM

This post is about a week overdue, but for the first time in my life I came down with a vicious case of “con crud”. This is a illness that you can get after attending a conference or convention (no reference since the top hits on Google all reference “furries“). This really knocked me out – mainly sinus congestion so severe that my head hurt so bad I couldn’t really sleep. It just laughed at my attempt to treat it with pseudophedrine, and nothing but time seemed to help. Luckily I feel better now and I’m eager to talk about my great time in Brussels at my first FOSDEM.

The Free Open Source Developers European Meeting is probably the largest free software event in the world. This year an expected 8000 people descended on the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and I believe every one of them walked by our stand. It was insane.

I arrived from Riga Friday night and made it to my hotel. My so-called friends had already abandoned me and headed toward the Grand Place and Cafe Delirium, the de facto pre-conference bar.

Cafe Delirium Crowd

Against all odds I managed to catch up with them in the alley outside the bar. Ronny and Markus had come over from Germany, as did Simon and Anya. Jonathan and Craig had come from the UK, and I finally got to meet the amazing Cyrille, a long time OpenNMS contributor who lives in Brussels. There was beer.

Our Gang at Cafe Delirium

We headed over to the university early on Saturday to set up our booth. While this was my first FOSDEM, I was told by a couple of long time attendees that the conference outgrew the venue years ago, with various suggestions for why: from “tradition” to “it’s free”. In any case, it does create an atmosphere that can only be described as special.

FOSDEM Stand

We had a stand in Building K on the second level. This was in a wide hallway surrounding a large auditorium where a number of sessions were held. From the start we got a lot of traffic to the stand, and unlike many conferences the people that stopped seemed genuinely interested in learning about OpenNMS and weren’t just there to check out the swag.

And we had really good swag. In addition to a number of stickers (including the awesome “Ulf Mate” sticker as a play on the “Club Mate” logo and slogan), we had, new for this show, OpenNMS keychain/bottle openers which were a big hit.

OpenNMS Keychains

I also got interviewed for Hacker Public Radio. I don’t remember much of what I said, but people seemed to be into it (grin).

It is seriously difficult for me to describe the crowds. When I needed the restroom, I had to make my way downstairs and then fight my way through a crowd so packed I think it rivaled that year I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

FOSDEM Crowd

But it just lent to the energy and atmosphere of the place. I know from social media that a number of people I know were there that I just missed (looking at you Brian Proffitt) but I did get to see some old friends and I make a few new ones. One person I was happy to meet for the first time was Carol Chen. She is the community manager for ManageIQ, and I first learned about her when Jeff was invited to do an OpenNMS talk at the ManageIQ Design Summit.

Carol Chen and Ulf

She showed up at the stand on Sunday in search of one of our keychains, but we had run out. I had put one away for me but was happy to give it to her. After all, I can always get more.

One thing that sets FOSDEM apart from other open source conferences is the emphasis on “free” software, and some of the social justice causes that naturally follow. Heck, the University has “free” (as in freedom) in its name. Considering that the US President had signed a “Muslim Ban” the week before the conference, it was cool to see this sign on campus.

Refugees Sign

But not all of the fun happened at ULB. Brussels has some beautiful architecture, and just wandering around you might come across a stunning building like this church.

Brussels Church

Nothing is probably as striking as the Grand Place, or central square of Brussels. It is surrounded by tall buildings, some of which represent Guildhalls of various crafts. My friend Daniel pointed out to me that a lot of the money for those buildings probably came from Antwerp during the height of the Hanseatic League. Since the cities of Tallinn and Riga were key players in the Hansa, it kind of brought this European trip full circle.

That’s not to say there aren’t modern things in Brussels. I’ll post this picture without comment.

Mr. Ego Sign

We ended the conference on Sunday with a small group of us meeting for beers and then dinner. Dinner was held at Restaurant Vincent and it was quite good.

Dinner at Vincent's

At the table is Karen Sandler from the Software Freedom Conservancy, me, Lukas and Daniel Ranc from Paris (Daniel teaches at Télécom SudParis and his son is working on his Ph.D.), Cyrille Bollu, Ronny Trommer and Markus von Rüden from OpenNMS, and Spot Calloway from Red Hat.

My only wish is that we could have sat at a round table, since the long table caused conversation to be split into two. I really wanted Daniel and Spot to chat, as Daniel is working on some cool software for education for doing quizzes and surveys in class, and Spot is focused on higher education at Red Hat. But in any case I really enjoyed the conversation, especially one story that Spot told of his college days that I pretty much can’t top (and I pride myself on being able to hold my own when it comes to storytelling).

It was a nice end to an exciting week.

2017 Europe: Riga

Latvia is the 39th country I’ve been able to visit, and based on Riga it is easily in my top ten. I really enjoyed my short time here.

Getting off the bus from Tallinn, the first thing I noticed was that it was a little colder here. Both Helsinki and Tallinn are right on the water, but Riga is slightly inland. Still, it wasn’t a hard walk from the bus station to the hotel, and I got to see some of the Old Town.

Frozen Stream in Riga

I had the rest of the day to myself, so I decided to explore the City. One thing I noticed about Riga is that it is very clean. Granted, when you have piles of snow that don’t melt this doesn’t mean everything looks brand new, but I didn’t see the usual trash and paper on the ground like I might find in London or Paris. While the buildings may be old, they are well maintained, and some are quite beautiful, which is not how I imagined a former Soviet bloc country to look.

Riflemen Monument

Granted, there were a few reminders, such as the impressive “Riflemen Monument“. This was originally meant to honor those in the Latvian military who supported the Bolsheviks (the “red” riflemen) but I was told that now it also honors the opposition “white” riflemen.

The reason I came to Riga was to participate in a conference held by LATA (Latvijas atvērto tehnoloģiju asociācija or the Lativian Open Technology Association). LATA is a volunteer organization with only one employee, Ieva Vitolina, who was kind enough to invite me to speak.

Not only were the people in general in Riga very kind to me, the LATA people treated me like a diplomat.

Main Entry Hall for the LATA Conference

Before the conference I was introduced to Jānis Treijs, of the LATA Board. A very nice man, Jānis is very tall, and I had to joke that when I studied physics we used to say all people were two meters tall to make the math easier, but it is rare I actually get to meet someone that tall.

LATA conference room

The conference was held at the Latvijas Universitātes Dabaszinātņu akadēmiskais centrs (Latvian University of Natural Sciences Academic Center) which was a very modern facility, much nicer than many of the schools I attended in my youth. The morning program was held in this main room, and after lunch we would break out into another room as well (which was where my talk was to be made). About half of the program was in Latvian, with the other half in English.

IBM was a sponsor, and Andrzej Osmak from Poland gave a talk on IBM’s approach to open.

Andrzej Osmak

To be quite frank, OpenNMS would not exist without IBM. They are a main supporter of the Apache Foundation and most of the developers use Eclipse as their IDE. The only small criticism I would have about that talk was an emphasis on permissive licensing. I think permissive licenses are great in the proper context, but they aren’t the best choice for everyone.

This was followed by another talk in English by Dr. John O’Flaherty from Ireland.

John O’Flaherty

His focus was on “open data” and the different levels with which data can be made available. I am always amazed at what wonderful things people can create when companies and governments make data available in a usable fashion, and John gave several examples of those.

The remaining morning talks were in Latvian, so I just tried to understand them through the slides. The Clusterpoint presentation was interesting in that the slides were in English but the presentation itself was given in Latvian.

The morning ended with an awards presentation which had three categories: the most open institution, the most substantial contribution to technology promotion, and the best start-up.

Then it was the lunch break, which I spent talking about business and free software with Valdis, Ieva’s husband. It was then time to get ready for my own presentation.

There were two presentations in English about open source business. Including mine, Aleksejs Vladiševs the founder of Zabbix shared his experiences. It was kind of ironic that both of us work at pure open source companies and both of us work in the network monitoring space. Despite that, we tend not to compete, and it was interesting to see how similar our paths were.

My talk seemed well received, although I had a little less than 30 minutes so I didn’t have any time for questions. I was humbled that the winner of the LATA start-up award, Mihails Scepanskis, wanted to ask me some questions about open source business afterward, and along with his wife Anna and Vladis, we spent pretty much the rest of the conference talking. As usual, my favorite conference track turned into the “Hallway Track” once again.

National Library

That evening, the organizers of the conference took a group of us on a tour of the National Library of Latvia. This is a major landmark in Riga and it is easy to spot from many places in the city. It was planned for many years, but finally opened in 2014.

National Library Sign

The interior hosts a 400+ seat state of the art theatre, but the first thing I noticed was the central atrium.

National Library Atrium

Inside it there is a wall of books. These were books donated by the Latvian people to the library, and it stretches for several stories. We were also told an interesting story, when the library opened several thousand books were moved from the old location to the new building via a “human chain“. People formed a line over a mile long and passed the books hand to hand.

National Library Book Wall

The tour took us up through the building, and we got to see a number of the large (and not so large) reading rooms. One that caught my eye was dedicated to American culture.

National Library American Culture Room

I found it interesting that the books on display included ones by Noam Chomsky, James Carville and articles from the New Yorker.

Each floor was color-coded, and we were told that the colors corresponded to the “pre-Euro” Latvian currency, the Lat. The higher floors had colors that corresponded to higher denominations.

National Library

At the top was an interesting display. It was a Cabinet of Folksongs. This wooden cabinet holds over a quarter of a million Latvian folksongs written on small slips of paper.

Cabinet of Folksongs

The tour was followed by a wonderful meal in a restaurant in the Library itself. I got to spend more time talking with Aleksejs, Jānis, his wife and John, as well as drinking some nice beer over wonderful food.

The next morning Jānis’s wife had arranged for me to meet with the ITC department of the City Council of Riga. Riga firmly believes in Internet access for its population. The City has more free WiFi coverage than any other European City, and the Council is responsible for providing as many services as possible to its citizens to make sure the government is responsive to their needs. It was a refreshing conversation. They use a number of tools, including Zabbix, so I wasn’t expecting them to switch to OpenNMS, but I had a nice meeting learning about their environment and sharing a little bit about OpenNMS.

Corner House

We had a little time before lunch, so we made a quick visit to the “Corner House“. This was a beautiful apartment building that was taken over by the Cheka, a division of the KGB, and was the source of terror for many citizens of Latvia as late as 1991. It reminded me of the House of Terror in Budapest. Jānis’s wife told a story of her mother having to go to this building for an interview as the Cheka was interested in one of her relatives.

Corner House

It is a shame that a thing of such beauty could be used for such evil.

After that we met up with Jānis for a wonderful meal, and then I made my way to the airport for my trip to Brussels for FOSDEM.

As the airBaltic Q400 took off and got above the clouds, the cabin was suddenly filled with light. I realized that I had not seen the sun properly in a week. If Riga and its people can be this beautiful in the dark of winter, it must be a truly magical place in the summer. I hope one day soon to return.

“OpenNMS WHO” at OSMC 2016

There is a really cool monitoring conference held each year in Germany. Called the “Open Source Monitoring Conference” (OSMC) it is put on by Netways, one of the maintainers of the Icinga project, but they welcome other projects such as OpenNMS and Zabbix.

It is a lot of fun, and usually Jeff and I fight over who gets to go. This year David won (he was in Germany for other reasons) and they now have his talk available for viewing:

It’s an overview of what we have been up to and where we are going with the Project. Check it out.

Speaking of conferences and travel, next week I plan to be in Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga and Brussels. I’ll be in Riga for the Open Tech conference and hope to spent some time with my Zabbix friends, and I’ll be in Brussels for FOSDEM where OpenNMS will have a booth. It’s my first time at either conference, and if you happen to be in the area drop me a note and perhaps we can meet up.

2016 All Things Open

I made the decision to stop going to conferences for 2016, but I made an exception for All Things Open (ATO). Not only is it an amazing show, it’s also in my back yard, and the combination is not something I can pass up.

I love conferences. My favorite track is always the “hallway” track and I really enjoy spending time with people that I tend only to see these events. The problem is that I started to do the math.

In 2015, due to work travel, I was gone part or all of 26 weekends (I travel about 50% of the time, and often that means I head out on Sunday and back on Saturday). That leaves 26 weekends free. Of those, at least 10 are taken up with vacations, holidays, birthdays and other social engagements, leaving me just 16 or so weekends to myself. If I do 5 to 10 conferences, most of which are held over a weekend, I’m left with less than a weekend a month.

Plus, OpenNMS is going like gang-busters, so I really need to focus on that business. While I love open source conferences, we don’t get many customers out of them (one exception is the Ohio Linuxfest which seems to attract a large number of OpenNMS users) so it can be hard to justify the time (although they are a whole lot of fun).

Anyway, since ATO was the main show I was going to be involved with this year, we decided to host a party that first night. I also submitted some papers, and to my surprise two of them were accepted.

I headed out on Tuesday afternoon, as the wonderful team at opensource.com was hosting a gathering for contributors that night. That was a lot of fun and a number of us ended up at Foundation afterward. As a cocktail enthusiast I had always wanted to visit, but it is about an hour from my house I don’t want to drink and drive. Since I was staying downtown for the event, that issue went away and I had a great time.

The conference was held in the Raleigh Convention Center, and you could see the registration desk from my hotel room.

ATO - View from Marriott

Wednesday was start of the conference. ATO is organized by Todd Lewis, the nicest guy in open source, and he kicked off the keynotes.

ATO - Todd Lewis

Todd’s superpower is organization, and not only did the conference run smoothly, he got some great speakers. Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, did a talk on the social benefits of open source.

ATO - Jim Whitehurst

We also got a talk from Mark Hinkle, the VP of Marketing of the Linux Foundation. He was recruited at the last minute due to a cancellation, and I thought he did a good job especially considering his time to prepare (unlike normal, I actually had my presentations done at least a week before the conference).

ATO - Mark Hinkle

He started off with some “separated at birth” pictures between punk rockers and open source personalities, which reminded me of something that hit me when it was announced that the DB Cooper investigation was being closed.

ATO - DB Cooper and Jim Whitehurst

I think Jim was about four years old when DB Cooper hijacked that plane, but the similarity is striking.

Another keynote speaker was Jono Bacon.

ATO - Jono Bacon

Always (well, usually) interesting, I love how he has been working the relatively new field of behavioral economics into his talks of late. It is the study of how human psychology can impact economic decision-making and I think it has a lot of relevance in a field where businesses often tout the word “free”. By understanding how we behave we can better align our communities to meet the needs and desires of their participants.

After the keynotes were the individual sessions. I had two back-to back.

ATO - Tarus Balog

Thanks to Ben for the picture, which captures me in my full “Fred Flintstone” glory. Click on the pic below if you want to see the slides, and I did a interview for DZone on my talks. I did embed some video which won’t show up on the PDF, though.

My first talk was on the challenges facing us with the Internet of Things, especially when it comes to monitoring.

ATO - Silos Presentation

It was lightly attended but everyone who came seemed to get a lot out of it.

Right after that I did a new, updated version of my open source business talk.

ATO - Business Presentation

That one was standing room only, and I was really pleased with the feedback. One guy was telling me that he has seen a number of presentations about running an open source business but mine was the only one with concrete examples. I’m glad folks liked it.

Once my talks were done it was time for lunch and I was pretty much done with my obligations. The main one left was to help prepare for the OpenNMS Group sponsored concert at King’s Raleigh. We had hired MC Frontalot and his band to play a show in Portland, Oregon for OSCON, and the Doubleclicks opened. It was so much fun we decided it would be cool to bring it closer to home.

ATO - Doubleclicks

If you haven’t heard of the Doubleclicks you should check out their music. Even if you have, you might want to familiarize yourself with their catalog, especially if, like I did, you think it would be funny to shout out “Freebird!” in the middle of their show (ouch).

ATO - Mc Frontalot

The MC Frontalot set was really tight as well. I love working for professionals. We when got there and there was no keyboard and half the drum kit was missing, I was a mess. They calmly got it all sorted and then really kicked it during the show. They premiered “Freedom Feud” – a song we commissioned about free software. Front is still working on the final master and we have a video in production, so look for it to be posted soon, and thanks to Ben for the concert pics.

Even though I didn’t get to bed until about 04:30 (we eventually ended up in the hotel listening to some tracks Front is writing for the next album that’s all about the Internets) I was back up at 08:00 for Day Two of ATO. With my responsibilities out of the way it was nice to listen to the talks and visit with all the cool people in attendance.

Many thanks to everyone who came to my talks, to Todd and Company for a great show, and to OpenNMS for hosting a party for all my friends. See you next year.

MC Frontalot and The Doubleclicks at All Things Open

I am happy to finally be able to confirm that MC Frontalot and his band, along with The Doubleclicks, will be playing an exclusive show during the All Things Open conference in October. The OpenNMS Group, at great expense (seriously, this is like our entire marketing budget for the year), has secured these two great acts to help celebrate all things open, and All Things Open.

MC Frontalot

I first met Damian (aka Frontalot) back in 2012 when I hired him to play at the Ohio Linuxfest. I subscribe to the Chris Dibona theory that open source business should give back to the community (he once described his job as “giving money to his friends”) and thus I thought it would be cool to introduce the übernerd Frontalot to the open source world.

We hit it off and now we’ve hired him a number of times. The last time was for OSCON in 2015, where we decided to bring in the entire band. What an eye-opening experience that was. A lot of tech firms talk about “synergy” – the situation when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – but Front with his band takes the Frontalot experience to a whole new level.

Also at the OSCON show we were able to get The Doubleclicks to open. This duo of sisters, Angela and Aubrey Webber, bring a quirky sensibility to geek culture and were the perfect opening act.

Now, I love open source conferences, but I overdid it last year. So this year I’m on a hiatus and have been to *zero* shows, but I made an exception for All Things Open. First, it’s in my home city of Raleigh, North Carolina, which is also home to Red Hat. We like to think of the area as the hot bed of open source if not its heart. Second, the conference is organized by Todd Lewis, the Nicest Man in Open Source™. He spends his life making the world a better place and it is reflected in his show. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate that then to bring in some top entertainment for the attendees.

That’s right: there are only two ways to get in to this show. The easiest is to register for the conference, as the conference badge is what you’ll need to get in to the venue. The second way is to ask us nicely, but we’ll probably ask you to prove your dedication to free and open source software by performing a task along the lines of a Labor of Hercules, except ours will most likely be obscenely biological.

Seriously, if you care about FOSS you don’t want to miss All Things Open, so register.

If you are unfamiliar with the work of MC Frontalot, may I suggest you check out “Stoop Sale” and “Critical Hit“, or if you’re Old Skool like me, watch “It Is Pitch Dark“. His most recent album was about fairy tales (think of it as antique superhero origin stories). Check out “Start Over” or better yet the version of “Shudders” featuring the OpenNMS mascot, Ulf.

As for The Doubleclicks, you can browse most of their catalog on their website. One song that really resonates with me, especially at conferences, is “Nothing to Prove” which I hope they’ll do at the show.

Oh, and I saved the best for last, Front has been working on a free software song. Yup, he is bringing his mastery of rhymes to bear on the conflict between “free as in beer” and “free as in liberty” and its world premiere will be, you guessed it, at All Things Open.

The show will be held at King’s Barcade, just a couple of blocks from the conference, on Wednesday night the 26th of October. You don’t want to miss it.

2015 Open Source Monitoring Conference

Once again I got to visit the wonderful town of Nürnberg, Germany, for the Open Source Monitoring Conference.

OSMC - Badge

Hosted by Netways, the conference started out ten years ago as a Nagios conference. The name was changed due to an issue with the Nagios trademark, but it still focused heavily on Nagios. However, the organizers are pretty open to all things monitoring, so they started inviting projects like Zabbix and OpenNMS to come. When the Nagios fork Icinga was created, the amount of Nagios content dropped considerably, and out of 24 talks over 2 days there were only two that had Nagios in the title. Part of this has to do with Icinga 2 being a total rewrite and thus has started to move past its Nagios roots.

This year it was a cornucopia of monitoring choices. In addition to Icinga, Zabbix and OpenNMS, there was Alyvix, Assimilation, Heroic, and Prometheus. Grafana was popular and most tools are adding support for that data visualization tool, and it was nice to see talks on NSClient++ and MQTT. A little less than half the talks were in German, so there is a large German focus to the conference, but there was always an English-language talk available as well.

Nürnberg is a cool town. There is a big castle and lots of walls are left over from the original fortifications for the city. It is also home to SuSE Linux, and I made sure to swing by if just to get a picture for Bryan Lunduke:

OSMC - SuSE Office

Ronny and I got there on Monday. While the main conference is held over two days, this year there were workshops on Monday and a “hack-a-thon” on Thursday. The conference pretty much takes over the Holiday Inn, City Center, hotel. While the facilities are nice, it is right next to the city’s “eros center” which seems to creep closer and closer to the hotel each year I attend. It doesn’t impact the conference in any way, and those who might be sensitive to such things can easily avoid it.

There is always lavish catering and this year we had a nice, small crowd of OpenNMS enthusiasts in attendance, and we met up for the hosted dinner on Monday night. I had not seen some of the people since the OUCE, so it was nice to catch up.

My talk was on Tuesday, the first day of the main conference. The event was sold out, with about 250 people, and at times the rooms could get quite full.

OSMC - Crowd

The talks were all rather good. Torkel Ödegaard talked about Grafana:

OSMC - Grafana

which was a big hit with crowd, and as I mentioned before a lot of projects are leveraging his work to provide better data visualization, including OpenNMS. My talk went well (I think) as I went over all of the amazing things we’ve done since last year at the OSMC, which included four major releases of our application. I was stumped with the question “How do I get started with OpenNMS?” when I realized that I didn’t have an easy answer. I can tell you how to install it, but that doesn’t get you started. I need to work on that.

That evening we returned to Terminal 90, which is an odd place to hold a dinner but it seems to work. Terminal 90 is a restaurant located at the Nürmberg airport, and it does a good job of holding everyone. We have to take the U-bahn to get there, and at least this year there were no incidents (last year someone tried to hold open the doors, which caused the autonomous train to shut down and wait for human intervention).

OSMC - Terminal 90

The food and drinks were good, and toward the end of the evening they had woman impersonating German pop star Helene Fischer, which was lost on me but the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

I called it a night fairly early, but this is a group that tends to hang out until the wee hours of the morning. Although my room was on the first floor, I didn’t hear much noise from “Checkpoint Jenny” across the street, so maybe everyone is getting more mellow in their old age. (grin)

The second day featured a number of talks from different projects. Usually the Zabbix talk is done by Rihards Olups, but he was unable to make it this year so Wolfgang Alper did the honors.

OSMC - Zabbix

After that was a really good talk by Martin Parm on how Spotify monitors its music service.

OSMC - Spotify

It started out with all of the tools they tried that failed, and I kept thinking to myself “don’t let it be OpenNMS, don’t let it be OpenNMS” (it wasn’t) and ended with a tool they wrote in-house called Heroic. It is a time-series data store built on top of Cassandra, and it looks a lot like the Newts tool we built. Both are open source and Apache-licensed so I’m hoping to find some synergy between the two projects. There is another large music streaming service that uses OpenNMS, but maybe we can get all of them (grin).

OSMC - Prometheus

Then there was a talk by Fabian Reinhartz on a monitoring system called Prometheus. I had to joke that the name refers to the daily experience of most network managers of having their liver eaten out, but it seems like an interesting tool. Written in Go, it may find resistance from users due to the configuration being more like writing code, but that also makes it powerful. Sounds familiar to me.

I had to leave right after lunch in order to be ready to catch my flight home, but I really enjoyed my time there, even more than usual. Many thanks to Bernd Erk and the Netways gang for holding it, and they should be posting the videos soon. If you are interested in next year be sure to register early as it is likely to sell out again.