The Vendor/Client Relationship

Our commercial clients are awesome. One reason for this (besides their inherent awesomeness) is that since The OpenNMS Group does little to no marketing, our clients are self-filtering. First, they actually have to find out about OpenNMS (and unlike the industry press which often neglects to mention us, it seems that they can type “open source network management” into Google). Next, they will have to understand the value of 100% open source software. Third, they need to determine if OpenNMS is right for them.

Ben sent me a link to a great video that demonstrates a lot of the problems I used to experience when deploying commercial software.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re immune to such “relationship issues”. Since we aim to replace products from HP, IBM, BMC and CA in the enterprise, those buyers are used to dealing with commercial vendors. If the opportunity is large enough, commercial companies think nothing of putting an engineer on a plane and flying them out for a couple of days to install the product in the hopes that the client will purchase it. Since they sell licenses, they can make it up on the “back end” as the initial and yearly maintenance costs are so large that they can gamble on a number of such trips and make money if only one closes.

Since OpenNMS is free of license fees, what we sell is our time. Thus if we did this: flew out, installed OpenNMS, and showed you how to use it, there is no “back end” for us to recoup those costs. We would soon be out of business and OpenNMS would suffer for it.

It’s hard to get that across sometimes. While it rarely comes close to the examples in the video, it is not unusual that we’re asked to negotiate on our prices or to provide days (if not weeks) of free consulting. For the latter we have a number of services products to help either see if OpenNMS is a right fit for the environment (Getting to Know You) or get it installed and running (Greenlight). We price our support as affordable as possible, so telling me “hey, if you do this I’ll by a support contract” doesn’t help, as there is little margin in there to offset the costs.

As for discounts, we don’t believe in treating one customer different from another, and we don’t have the sales staff to go through a long negotiation process. We post our prices online, and while some commercial and fauxpen source companies do the same, in their case it is much more of a high end guideline than an actual price. I know in at least one of our clients a fauxpen source company cut their published prices by a tremendous amount just to get their product in the door.

We charge people for what they use. If you are a big company, we don’t think you should have to pay more just because you can. If you are a small company, we don’t think you should have to pay more because you might not be able to negotiate as well as a larger company. Of course, bigger companies need 24×7 and Ultra support contracts, and smaller ones don’t, so it all works out in the end.

I’m sure we’ve lost business by being somewhat inflexible about support pricing and pre-sales services. But it has kept us profitable. I think it is better to be smaller and profitable than larger and out of business.

The Importance of "Community" FAIL

Rarely do I get embarrassed, but it happened today. The previous time was in a restaurant in Brooklyn where we were ordering wine and I said “I’ll drink anything, but I’m not drinking the f**king Merlot”. It’s a line from the movie Sideways, and while I didn’t realize who he was at the time, I was sitting next to Paul Giamatti, the actor who spoke the line. True story. I turned so red.

Anyway, at the request of Stefano Heisig we are starting up a German language OpenNMS mailing list on Sourceforge called opennms-deutschland. I figured I’d ask Alex Finger to join Stefano as admins and with both of them on board I went, added the list, and then I needed to set a password.

I decided to choose “gemeinschaft” as the password, since the Internet assured me it meant “community” in German. Being culturally sensitive, I tested it forward and backward, and it always came out as “community”.

I sent it to Alex and Stefano and Alex writes back:

omg you’re sooo bad 😉

I’m thinking “what?!? What did I get wrong? Doesn’t ‘gemeinschaft’ mean community?”

He sent me to the Wikipedia article for “volksgemeinschaft” which translates to “people’s community”. Unfortunately, it was a term used heavily as propaganda by the Nazis (I’ll leave any open source/fauxpen source comparisons to the reader). I was mortified, but I am thankful Alex wasn’t offended. I hope Stefano wasn’t either.

I changed the password.

I hope that story doesn’t take away from the fact that we now have an OpenNMS mailing list dedicated to discussing the project in German. I’ll be following along the best I can, and I hope it proves useful.

An Open Letter

Dear Microsoft, HP, IBM and Oracle:

Okay, prospects for enterprise software sales look a little bleak. The world is in a recession and being able to sell millions in licenses is becoming harder and harder. Plus, the new U.S. administration is getting caught up in phenomenon called “open source”.

President Obama has asked for Scott McNealy to provide advice on this “open source” thing, while a number of Silicon Valley software companies have written an open letter to promote it as well. Plus, Senator Rockefeller is now wanting to require open source software as part of health care reform.

I’m writing to tell you to relax. There is a silver lining. As is typical with government, while the hue and cry for open source is starting, no one has taken the time to actually define what open source means. Although a definition has existed for many years, business interests (of which you can be a part) have blurred it so much that anyone, including yourselves, can become open source companies simply by releasing a little software code and by making a few minor changes to your website.

Now, I’m sure the idea of publishing your source code is scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of it as “fauxpen source“. Take some product that is pretty much end of life, sanitize it a bit and release it as open source. Call everything else “enterprise extensions”. Update your website and suddenly you are an open source company. Or, you can just acquire an open source company (I’m looking at you, Oracle) and be assured of a piece of the coming windfall.

It gets even better. Remember how normally you’d charge 100% of the cost of the software up front, plus 20% in maintenance every year after that? Over five years you get 180%.

With open source, charge 40% of the cost as a “yearly subscription”. You can immediately point to a 60% cost savings over “non-open source” solutions. Over five years, however, you’ll net 200%. Plus, since the software license is limited to one year, should a customer decide not to renew they lose the right to use the software altogether (unlike the old model where the license would let them continue even without maintenance).

Open source is the wave of the future. Don’t miss out.



My mail client blocks the automatic download of images (and yours should, too) so I found this amusing from eBay today

Somehow I don’t think a Mitsubishi Galant is the same as a Lotus, much less a 911 killer.

I Can Haz Fiev Niens?

I have a little HTTP collector running to collect Google hits on various open source and open core projects, and I noticed that the hit count for Hyperic had gone through the roof (surpassing Nagios). I don’t understand Google’s algorithm and these kinds of spikes are pretty common, but I was curious to see if there was any particular bit of news that caused the spike so I did a search.

Then I happened to glance over in the corner to see our AdWord show up against the search. At OpenNMS we don’t have any full-time sales and marketing people, but we got a coupon for some free AdWord links and decided to have some fun with it. This was one of mine (although I must admit I stole it from a quote featuring “I Can Haz Fiev Niens?”).

Should I quit my day job?

Rental Car FAIL

While does Thrifty think I need to carry around two huge remote/key things for the car? In case I lose one? It might help if I could actually separate ’em, but as it is if I lose one I lose them both.

Airport Security

When I went through airport security this morning I got the extry special screening. I am carrying some oddly shaped gifts to a friend in Germany so I expected my carry-on bag to get some attention, but they also checked my laptop bag.

Actually, the lady held it up and announced, “Spaghetti Bag!”.

So, okay, I carry lots of wires and connectors and stuff.

I just realized something both funny and scary. When I travel I like to wear a jacket that I also use when I ride my motorcycle. It works in good and bad weather and it has a removable lining that’s really warm. We’ve had nice weather so I’ve been riding a lot lately.

Well, I keep one of those old-school large garage door openers in the pocket of the jacket so I can open the door while on the bike. I meant to take it out before I left, but here I am, traveling to and in a different country, with what looks like a large remote control button (which, in fact, it is).

No one has questioned me yet, so let’s see if it makes it home.