Service Outage Tomorrow, Saturday June 3rd

Wonder of wonders, Time Warner/Charter/Spectrum/whatever has finally delivered connectivity to our new office, albeit a month late.

So, we’ll be moving a number of servers from our old location to the new one, which means certain things, such as demo and Bamboo will be down for a few hours. Almost everything else is hosted elsewhere and redundant, so we shouldn’t have any other issues.

Sorry for the outage and thanks for your patience.

New Meridian® Releases Available

Just a quick note to point out that new Meridian releases are now available: 2015.1.5 and 2016.1.5

For those who aren’t aware, Meridian is a subscription-based version of OpenNMS built to complement Horizon, the cutting edge release. You can think of it as Meridian is our Red Hat Enterprise Linux to Horizon’s Fedora. There is one major Meridian release per year and each major release is supported for three years.

Before the Meridian/Horizon split it was taking us 18 months or so to do a new major release of OpenNMS. Now we do three to four Horizon major releases a year.

About half of our revenue comes from support contracts and so we had to be extra careful when doing a release, and even with that many of our customers were reluctant to upgrade because the process could be involved. This was bad for two main reasons: often they wouldn’t get bug fixes which meant an increase in support tickets, and more importantly they might miss security updates.

Updates to Meridian, within a major release, are dead simple. This is the process I used yesterday to upgrade our production instance of OpenNMS.

First, I made a backup of the /opt/opennms/etc and /opt/opennms/jetty-webapps/opennms directories. The first is out of habit since configuration files shouldn’t change between point releases, but the second is to preserve any customizations made to the webUI. I modify the main OpenNMS page to include a “weather widget” and that customization gets removed on upgrades. Most users won’t have an issue but just in case I like having a backup.

Next, I stop OpenNMS and run yum install opennms which will download and install the new release. The final step is to run /opt/opennms/bin/install -dis to insure the database is up to date.

And that’s it. In my case, I copy the index.jsp from my backup to restore the weather information, but otherwise you just restart OpenNMS. The process takes minutes and is basically as fast as your Internet connection.

If you have a Meridian subscription, be sure to upgrade as soon as you are able, and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? (grin)

Fifteen Years

On Sunday my mother celebrated her 75th birthday.

Although a happy occasion, why is this relevant to an open source blog? Well, it was soon after her 60th birthday in 2002 that I started my first company around OpenNMS.

I did not start OpenNMS, it began in the summer of 1999, with the first code posted on Sourceforge in March of 2000 by a company called Oculan. I started working with Oculan in September of 2001, and in May of 2002 they decided to stop contributing to OpenNMS. I saw the potential, so I asked Steve Giles, the founder and CEO, if I could have the OpenNMS project. He looked at his watch and said if I was off his payroll by Friday, he’d give me the domain names, a couple of servers, and he would sprinkle water on me and I would be the new OpenNMS maintainer.

That was actually the easy part. Explaining to my wife that I had quit my job and started a company “selling free software” was a bit harder.

sortova.com from archive.org circa May 2002

And thus Sortova Consulting Group was born. It was named after my farm. When Andrea and I decided we wanted to have a farm, we first bought raw land. In driving out from Raleigh to work on it we would pass this little farm with a barn, some cows, etc., and on the mailbox was a sign reading “Almosta Farm”. I joked that if that was “almost a farm” then what we had was just “sort of a farm”. Later, when we bought the place where we still live, the name Sortova Farm stuck.

We pronounce it “Sore-toe-va”. Only one customer ever pulled me aside and asked if it really meant “sort of a” consulting group. He laughed when I confirmed that it did.

Considering that I didn’t have any prior business experience, Java experience, or even real Internet access at my home, it is amazing that OpenNMS survived to this day. It is a wonder what you can accomplish with pure stubbornness.

Now my one true superpower is my ability to get the most fantastic people on the planet to work with me. The first group of those came from the OpenNMS community. When I was running Sortova it was the gang that later became the Order of the Green Polo that kept me going, mainly through mailing lists and IRC. In September of 2004 my good friend and business partner David Hustace and I founded the OpenNMS Group, and that corporation is still going strong. In 2009 we mortgaged our houses to buy the copyright to the Oculan OpenNMS code and thus brought all of it back under one organization, and two of the original OpenNMS team at Oculan now work for OpenNMS.

When I visit Silicon Valley I often get to meet some brilliant people, but the joy of this can be offset by the pervasive attitude of focusing on technology simply to make money. I know of a number of personally successful people who built companies, sold them, and then those products vanished into obscurity. Remember VA Linux? Their stock rose over 700% on the first day of trading, but where are they now? Did they ever deliver on their promises to the stockholders?

I want to build with OpenNMS something that will last well beyond my involvement with the project. I’ve gotten it to the point where I am not longer expressly required to make it thrive, but I am still working on its legacy. We want it to be nothing less than the de facto standard for monitoring everything, which is a high bar.

Note that I still would like to make a lot of money, but that isn’t the core driving force of the business. Our mission statement is “Help Customers – Have Fun – Make Money” in that order. If you have happy customers and happy employees, the money will come.

Fifteen years ago I made a leap of faith, in both myself, my family and my friends. I’m extremely happy I did.

OpenNMS Group Turns Twelve

Heh, it almost slipped my mind completely but The OpenNMS Group turned 12 years old today.

I did have to go give our co-founder, David Hustace, a hug and if we weren’t so slammed it would have been time for a beer. Raincheck.

I did spend a second reflecting on our wonderful customers who make all this possible, as well as all the people who contribute to and use OpenNMS. There are a lot of people who don’t believe a company can survive with a 100% open source model, but the funny thing is that we’ve outlived quite a few proprietary software companies in the last decade or so, thus we must be doing something right.

Our business plan of “Spend Less Money Than You Earn” and our mission statement of “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money” are as true today as they were in 2004. I look forward to getting ever better on delivering on both of them.

Kippis!

New Additions to OpenNMS

I am very happy to announce that Chris Manigan has joined the OpenNMS team.

Chris has been using OpenNMS since 2010 when he worked at Towerstream in Rhode Island. He gave us a very nice testimonial for the website, and has a lot of experience with using OpenNMS as scale.

Chris Manigan

He put that experience to use at Turbine, insuring that their infrastructure could deliver gaming content to users who demand performance. Now he’s going to use that experience to insure that OpenNMS is ready to take on the Internet of Things, for both our internal infrastructure and those of our customers.

I also want to announce that Jesse White, our CTO, and his wife Sara welcomed Charles White into the world early yesterday morning.

Charles White

Weighing 7 pounds and 11 ounces, he is already writing code in Python and we hope to have him making commits in Java in the next week or so.

Nagios XI vs. OpenNMS Meridian – the Return of the FUD

It seems like our friends over at Nagios have been watching a little too much election coverage this year, and they’ve updated their “Nagios vs. OpenNMS” document with even more rhetoric and misinformation.

As my three readers may recall, back in 2011 I tore apart the first version of this document. Now they have decided to update it to target our Meridian™ version.

Let’s see how they did (please look at it and follow along as it is quite amusing).

The first misleading bit is the opening paragraph with the phrase “most widely used open-source monitoring project in the world”. Now, granted, they do indicate that means “Nagios Core” but it seems a little disingenuous since what they are selling is Nagios XI, which is much different.

Nagios XI is not open source. It is published under the “Nagios Open Software License” which is about as proprietary as they get. I’m not even sure why the word “open” was added, except to further mislead people into thinking it is open source. The license contains clauses like “The Software may not be Forked” and “The Software may only be used in conjunction with products, projects, and other software distributed by the Company.” Think about it, you can’t even integrate Nagios XI with, say, a home grown trouble ticketing system without violating the license. Doesn’t sound very “open” at all. OpenNMS Meridian is published under the AGPLv3, or a similar proprietary license should your organization have an issue with the AGPL. You don’t have that choice with Nagios XI.

Next, let’s check out the price. The OpenNMS Group has always published its prices on-line. One instance of Meridian, which includes support in the form of access to our “Connect” community, is $6,000. They have it listed as $25,995, which is the price should you choose the much more intensive “Prime” support option. I’m not sure why they didn’t just choose our most expensive product, Ultra Support with the 24×7 option, to make them seem even better.

Nagios XI Node Limitation

Also, note the fine print “Price based on one instance of XI with 220 nodes/devices”. There is no device limit with OpenNMS Meridian. So let’s be clear, for $6000 you get access to the Meridian software under an open source license versus $5000 to monitor 220 nodes with extreme limitations on your rights.

Our smaller customers tend to have around 2000 devices, which means to manage that with Nagios XI you would need roughly ten instances costing nearly $50,000 (using the math presented in this document). And from the experience we’ve heard with customers coming to us from Nagios, the reason it is limited to so few nodes is that you probably can’t run much more on a single instance of Nagios XI. Compare that to OpenNMS where we have customers with over 100,000 devices in a single instance (and they’ve been running it for years).

We also price OpenNMS as a platform. You get everything: trouble-ticketing integration, graphing, reporting, etc. in one application. It looks like Nagios has decided to nickel and dime you for logs, etc. and a thing called “Nagios Fusion” which you’ll need to manage your growing number of Nagios instances since it won’t natively scale. And remember, due to the license you are forbidden from using the software with your own tools.

I especially had to laugh at the “You Speak, We Listen” part. If you have a feature or change you need, if you ask nicely they might make it for you. With OpenNMS Meridian you are free to make any changes you need since it is 100% open source, and with our open issue tracker we address dozens of user requests each point release.

Finally, there is the feature comparison, which at a minimum is misleading and is often just blatantly false. Almost every feature marked as lacking in Meridian exists, and at a level far beyond what Nagios XI can provide. Seriously, is it really objective to state that OpenNMS doesn’t support Nagvis, a specific tool that even has “Nagios” in the name?

Nagvis

I had to laugh at the hubris. They obviously didn’t Google “opennms nagvis“, because, guess what? There has been an OpenNMS Nagvis integration for some time now, contributed by our community. Just in case you were wondering, we have an integration with Network Weathermap as well.

Nagios is just another proprietary software product that wants to lock you into its ecosystem, and this is just a shameful attempt to monetize an application that is long past its prime. Heck, it was the inability of the Nagios leadership to get along with others that resulted in the very popular Icinga fork, and with it Nagios lost a lot of contribution that helped make up its “Thousands of Free Add-Ons” (and the way Nagios took over the community lead plug-in site was also poorly handled). Plus, many of those add-ons won’t scale in an enterprise environment, which probably lead to the 220 device limit.

Compare that to OpenNMS. We not only want to encourage you integrate with other products, we do a lot of it for you. OpenNMS has great graphing, but we also created the first third party plug-in for Grafana. When it comes to mapping, OpenNMS is on the leading edge, with a focus on various topology views that can ultimately handle millions of devices in a fashion that is actually usable. Need to see a Layer 2 topology? Choose the “enhanced linkd view”. Run VMware and Vcenter? It is simple to import all of your machines and see them in a view that shows hosts, guests and network storage. Plus the unique ability to focus on just those devices of interest allows you to use a map with hundreds of thousands if not millions of nodes.

Nagios Map

Compare that to the Nagios map screenshot where it looks like “localhost” is having some issues. Oh no, not localhost! That’s like, all of my machines.

As for “Business Process Intelligence” I’ve been told that the Nagios XI version is like our Business Service Monitor “Except BSM is more featureful, and has a significantly better UI/UX”. Need real Business Intelligence? OpenNMS has Red Hat Drools support, the open source leader, built right into the product.

We also support integration with popular Trouble Ticketing systems such as Request Tracker, Jira, OTRS and Remedy. And the kicker is that you can also run any Nagios check script natively in OpenNMS using the “System Execute Monitor“, but once you get used to the OpenNMS platform, why would you?

I’m not really sure why Nagios goes out of its way to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about OpenNMS. We rarely compete in the same markets. I’m sure that Sunrise Community Banks get their money’s worth from Nagios, and for companies like NRS Small Business Solutions, Nagios might be a good fit. But if you have enterprise and carrier-level requirements, there is no way Nagios will work for you in the long term.

When a company does something like this to mislead, from wrong information about our product to using terms like “open” when they mean “closed”, it shows you what they think of their competition. What does it say about what they think about their customers?

2016 PB and Jam

OpenNMS is headquartered in the idyllic small town of Pittsboro, NC, sometimes just called “PBO”. Since a number of people who come to Dev-Jam travel a fair distance, we’ve started a tradition of a “mini Dev-Jam” the week after, hosted at OpenNMS HQ.

This is much more focused on the work of The OpenNMS Group, but it is still a lot of fun. Last night as a team building exercise we decided to try an “escape” room.

This is a a relatively new thing where a group of people get put in a room and they have a certain amount of time to figure out puzzles and escape. Jessica set us up with Cipher Escape in their “Geek Room” which was the only one that could accommodate 11 of us.

It’s a lot of fun. For our experience we were lead into about a 15×15 room and given the following backstory: you are watching your neighbors cat while they are on vacation and after you feed her you realize you are locked in their house. You have 60 minutes to escape.

One thing I thought was funny was that the room was dotted with little pink stickers and we were told that these indicate things that don’t need to be manipulated (e.g. there was a picture frame that when you turned it over you would see the stickers, which meant you weren’t supposed to take it apart). I can only imagine the beta testing that went into determining where to put the stickers (our hostess specifically mentioned that you didn’t need to take the legs off the furniture).

To tell anything more would spoil it, but I was extremely proud that the team escaped with over 10 minutes to spare (we missed the best time by ten minutes, so it wasn’t close, but we did beat a team from Cisco that didn’t escape at all).

Escape Room Success

It was a ton of fun, and I’d put this team up against any challenge.

Afterward, most of us went out for sushi at Waraji. I’ve known the owner Masatoshi Tsujimura for almost 30 years, and even though they were packed they were able to set us up with a tatami room.

Waraji Dinner

It’s a bit out of the way for me to visit often, so I was happy to have an excuse for a victory celebration.

Emley Moor, Kirklees, West Yorkshire

I spent last week back in the United Kingdom. I always find it odd to travel to the UK. When I’m in, say, Germany or Spain, I know I’m in a different country. With the UK I sometimes forget and hijinks ensue. As Shaw may have once said, we are two countries separated by a common language.

Usually I spend time in the South, mainly Hampshire, but this trip was in Yorkshire, specifically West Yorkshire. I was looking forward to this for a number of reasons. For example, I love Yorkshire Pudding, and the Four Yorkshiremen is my favorite Monty Python routine.

Also, it meant that I could fly into Manchester Airport and miss Heathrow. Well, I didn’t exactly miss it.

I was visiting a big client that most people have never heard of, even though they are probably an integral part of your life if you live in the UK. Arqiva provides the broadcast infrastructure for much of the television and mobile phone industry in the country, as well as being involved in deploying networks for projects such as smart metering and the Internet of Things.

We were working at the Emley Moor location, which is home to the Emley Moor Mast. This is the largest freestanding structure in Britain (and third in the European Union). With a total height of 1084 feet, it is higher than the Eiffel Tower and almost twice as high as the Washington Monument.

Emily Moor Mast View

The mast was built in 1971 to replace a metal lattice tower that fell, due to a combination of ice and wind, in 1969. I love the excerpt from the log book mentioned in the Wikipedia article:

  • Day: Lee, Caffell, Vander Byl
  • Ice hazard – Packed ice beginning to fall from mast & stays. Roads close to station temporarily closed by Councils. Please notify councils when roads are safe (!)
  • Pye monitor – no frame lock – V10 replaced (low ins). Monitor overheating due to fan choked up with dust- cleaned out, motor lubricated and fan blades reset.
  • Evening :- Glendenning, Bottom, Redgrove
  • 1,265 ft (386 m) Mast :- Fell down across Jagger Lane (corner of Common Lane) at 17:01:45. Police, I.T.A. HQ, R.O., etc., all notified.
  • Mast Power Isolator :- Fuses removed & isolator locked in the “OFF” position. All isolators in basement feeding mast stump also switched off. Dehydrators & TXs switched off.

They still have that log book, open to that page.

Emily Moor Log Book

If you have 20 minutes, there is a great old documentary on the fall of the old tower and the construction of the new mast.

On my last day there we got to go up into the structure. It’s pretty impressive:

Emily Moor Mast Up Close

and the inside looks like something from a 1970s sci-fi movie:

Emily Moor Mast Inside

The article stated that it takes seven minutes to ride the lift to the top. I timed it at six minutes, fifty-seven seconds, so that’s about right (it’s fifteen seconds quicker going down). I was working with Dr. Craig Gallen who remembers going up in the open lift carriage, but we were in an enclosed car. It’s very small and with five of us in it I will admit to a small amount of claustrophobia on the way up.

But getting to the top is worth it. The view is amazing:

View from Emily Moor Mast

It was a calm day but you could still feel the tower sway a bit. They have a plumb bob set up to measure the drift, and it was barely moving while we were up there. Toby, our host, told of a time he had to spend seven hours installing equipment when the bob was moving four to five inches side to side. They had to move around on their hands and knees to avoid falling over.

Plumb Bob

I’m glad I wasn’t there on that day, but our day was fantastic. Here is a shot of the parking lot where the first picture (above) was taken.

View of Emily Moor Parking Lot

I had a really great time on this trip. The client was amazing, and I really like the area. It reminds me a bit of the North Carolina mountains. I did get my Yorkshire Pudding in Yorkshire (bucket list item):

Yorkshire Pudding in Yorkshire

and one evening Craig and I got to meet up with Keith Spragg.

Keith Spragg and Craig Gallen

Keith is a regular on the OpenNMS IRC channel (#opennms on freenode.net), and he works for Southway Housing Trust. They are a non-profit that manages several thousand homes, and part of that involves providing certain IT services to their tenants. They are mainly a Windows/Citrix shop but OpenNMS is running on one of the two Linux machines in their environment. He tried out a number of solutions before finding that OpenNMS met his needs, and he pays it forward by helping people via IRC. It always warms my heart to see OpenNMS being used in such places.

I hope to return to the area, although I was glad I was there in May. It’s around 53 degrees north latitude, which puts it level with the southern Alaskan islands. It would get light around 4am, and in the winter ice has been known to fall in sheets from the Mast (the walkways are covered to help protect the people who work there).

I bet Yorkshire Pudding really hits the spot on a cold winter’s day.

Welcome Ecuador (Country 29)

It is with mixed emotions that I get to announce that we now have a customer in Ecuador, our 29th country.

My emotions are mixed as my excitement at having a new customer in a new country is offset by the tragedy that country suffered recently. Everyone at OpenNMS is sending out our best thoughts and we hope things settle down (quite literally) soon.

They join the following countries:

Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malta, Mexico, The Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad, the UAE, the UK and the US.

OpenNMS is Sweet Sixteen

It was sixteen years ago today that the first code for OpenNMS was published on Sourceforge. While the project was started in the summer of 1999, no one seems to remember the exact date, so we use March 30th to mark the birthday of the OpenNMS project.

OpenNMS Project Details

While I’ve been closely associated with OpenNMS for a very long time, I didn’t start it. It was started by Steve Giles, Luke Rindfuss and Brian Weaver. They were soon joined by Shane O’Donnell, and while none of them are associated with the project today, they are the reason it exists.

Their company was called Oculan, and I joined them in 2001. They built management appliances marketed as “purple boxes” based on OpenNMS and I was brought on to build a business around just the OpenNMS piece of the solution.

As far as I know, this is the only surviving picture of most of the original team, taken at the OpenNMS 1.0 Release party:

OpenNMS 1.0 Release Team

In 2002 Oculan decided to close source all future work on their product, thus ending their involvement with OpenNMS. I saw the potential, so I talked with Steve Giles and soon left the company to become the OpenNMS project maintainer. When it comes to writing code I am very poorly suited to the job, but my one true talent is getting great people to work with me, and judging by the quality of people involved in OpenNMS, it is almost a superpower.

I worked out of my house and helped maintain the community mainly through the #opennms IRC channel on freenode, and surprisingly the project managed not only to survive, but to grow. When I found out that Steve Giles was leaving Oculan, I applied to be their new CEO, which I’ve been told was the source of a lot of humor among the executives. The man they hired had a track record of snuffing out all potential from a number of startups, but he had the proper credentials that VCs seem to like so he got the job. I have to admit to a bit of schadenfreude when Oculan closed its doors in 2004.

But on a good note, if you look at the two guys in the above picture right next to the cake, Seth Leger and Ben Reed, they still work for OpenNMS today. We’re still here. In fact we have the greatest team I’ve every worked with in my life, and the OpenNMS project has grown tremendously in the last 18 months. This July we’ll have our eleventh (!) annual developers conference, Dev-Jam, which will bring together people dedicated to OpenNMS, both old and new, for a week of hacking and camaraderie.

Our goal is nothing short of making OpenNMS the de facto management platform of choice for everyone, and while we still have a long way to go, we keep getting closer. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who made OpenNMS possible, and I look forward to writing many more of these notes in the future.