Order of the Blue Polo – Southway Housing Trust

I’m back a few posts, but since I always enjoy hearing from our users I thought I’d post this latest Order of the Blue Polo submission from Keith Spragg of the Southway Housing Trust in the UK.

I work for Southway Housing Trust – a Didsbury (Manchester, UK) based, Not-for-profit Housing Association, looking after approximately 5,900 properties throughout the South Manchester region.

Southway Housing Trust operates a small ICT team, split between business applications and just two people on Support and Infrastructure.

When I started at Southway, there were several paper based methods of looking after the assorted systems and the only way we knew something was wrong was when users piped up to report a problem. I went looking for a free solution to my problems, and came across OpenNMS. I was very impressed with what I saw, and because of the size of our network (approximately 120 nodes) was able to take one of our old servers and repurpose it for this application.

Installation was quick and simple – I didn’t have to learn much more than I already knew, and because the system is very extensible, I was able to add bespoke monitors very quickly.

As soon as I had got OpenNMS set up, I was rapidly able to ditch the paper based systems, and trust that not only was OpenNMS going to record the history of this information, but that if there was a problem, my team would know before the users did. I equate it to putting a whole extra member of staff in the ICT team, as it’s always got its eyes on the systems on my behalf.

The only money we’ve spent on this project is my time – but we’ve lost count of the amount of money we’ve saved because our systems are not going wrong as often because we’re pro-actively monitoring them.

I love using OpenNMS, and would recommend it for any sized business – even a small network can benefit from an extra pair of eyes.

Order of the Blue Polo Update

It has been awhile since we had an entry into the Order of the Blue Polo, so I thought it would be cool to blog about it.

While the Order of the Green Polo (OGP) is the governing body of the OpenNMS Project, we wanted to find a way to recognize users who didn’t quite have the time necessary to dedicate to the project for OGP membership. It also solves a problem for us: we have lots of amazing users of OpenNMS, but we can’t always talk about them.

Membership in the Order of the Blue Polo is pretty straightforward. Simply send us an e-mail on why you like OpenNMS, preferably with a quick list of the number of devices/interfaces/services you are monitoring. If we can publish it on the wiki along with your name and your company’s name, we’ll send you a limited edition blue OpenNMS polo. So please, no gmail.com or yahoo.com e-mails – we really need to be able to verify your company.

This helps us because like attracts like, and perhaps someone will read about how you are using OpenNMS and decide that it fits in with their needs.

The latest entry into the Order comes from Paul Cole, a contractor and Environment Canada. He writes:

I am a contractor working currently for Environment Canada (under Shared services Canada).

It was a beautiful thing to be given the OpenNMS project in order to map out and bring together teams to monitor and work on the very large LAN. A multitude of tools and scripts were used custom to each area, and we are now moving towards unification.

The visibility and baseline abilities of OpenNMS are fantastic, and the new topo-mapping/geo-mapping features are looking fantastic come version 1.14!

Our network size is larger than the current scope of nodes we are testing with, but OpenNMS is managing it pretty smoothly and seamlessly.

I have released some of the scripts I wrote to contribute back to the community that are based on version 1.10-1.12 and hope they help more people realise the power and scalability of the product.

Currently our OpenNMS build is monitoring over 15k nodes and 20k interfaces and 25k or more services (exact numbers can be extracted but it grows every quarter), on an 8 core server with 16GB of RAM using the discovery method.

It is keyed to discover every IP and node it can, and monitor switches/UPSs and routers and select key devices for management, to send email alerts to the appropriate regional teams when a device is down or a specific threshold or alert is received.

I can’t of course send out network diagrams , but I can send a screenshot of the geo-map to give an idea of how it goes.

Order of the Blue Polo: British Telecom

It’s nice to be able to post a new Order of the Blue Polo entry. We haven’t had one in while, so it’s good to have an excuse to remind everyone about the program.

One of the best ways to promote OpenNMS is through customer stories. If a company like your company is using OpenNMS, then it makes it easier to convince the decision makers in your company to consider it. However, it can be a real pain to get approval to share a story. A lot of companies are hesitant to talk about the software they use for a variety of reasons, ranging from a perceived liability that they are “endorsing” a product up through security issues. In fact, the short testimonial in Rob’s entry had to be approved by BT lawyers, and you can see what little remained.

Thus, in exchange for taking the the trouble to get such an approval to use a story on the website (complete with company name), Order of the Blue Polo members get a nice little certificate, the coveted blue OpenNMS polo, as well as being immortalized on the wiki page. (grin)

A few weeks ago I got to go to historic Adastral Park near Ipswich, Suffolk, UK to spend a week with BT working on their OpenNMS deployment. I was a little nervous (this is British freakin’ Telecom after all) but Rob and John made me feel at home. They really understood what we are trying to do with OpenNMS, and John would even go home and play with the application after a long day of working on it with me, They were tasked with coming up with a management solution for a large number of remote sites, and their current standard of using $COMMERCIAL_PLATFORM coupled on $COMMERCIAL_OS was not only cost prohibitive it would have been hard to maintain, not to mention that it wouldn’t meet their needs. OpenNMS running on Linux, coupled with a high level of customization, fit the bill just fine.

I did miss seeing the sun, however (usually I bring great weather with me to England but my luck didn’t hold out this trip) but they made it up to me by finding a pub with a bar billiard table for Friday’s lunch.

I love playing this game, but I’ve only had the opportunity to do so twice. Both times I shot out to an early lead only to lose it after the bar fell.

I guess I need more practice, more ale, or both.

Order of the Blue Polo: Bill Daniels

I just added a new person to The Order of the Blue Polo: Bill Daniels.

Bill works for Vision Net in Montana and is responsible for managing their Enhanced 911 infrastructure. For those of you outside the US, 911 is the emergency telephone number for police, fire and amublance, similar to 112, 999 and 000 in other countries.

It was cool to get his e-mail for a couple of reasons. First, we haven’t had an Order of the Blue Polo submission for awhile now. In exchange for his story, he got a really nice, limited edition, royal blue OpenNMS polo shirt, and this is open to anyone who is willing to tell us about why they like OpenNMS. The only caveat is that for these stories to be perceived as genuine as possible, we ask that we be able to publish your company name. With all the astroturfing going around these days, being able to actually name a company goes a long way.

Second, one of my jobs at Northern Telecom was working on E911 software, so when he wrote to me about his PSAP project, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Finally, even though at 627 nodes his installation isn’t large by OpenNMS standards, those devices would add up if choosing a commercial solution. One vendor charges US$150/managed device which would be over US$94,000 per year whereas Bill is able to get all of that functionality for free.

I’m happy Bill took the time to share and I hope he enjoys his shirt. I’d love to be able to send out more, so please send in those stories.

Sourceforge CCA Voting Ends Monday

Just in case you haven’t voted yet, this is one last reminder that the Sourceforge Community Choice Awards voting ends on Monday.

If you like OpenNMS, please be sure to give us some love with a vote (the link should pre-select OpenNMS for “Best Project for the Enterprise and if you don’t have a Sourceforge account you can just enter in an e-mail address).

Remember to vote early and often, and we really appreciate your support.

Plus, if you haven’t had a chance to check out our video, I think it’s worth a look.

OpenNMS 1.7.4 Released

Just a quick note that OpenNMS version 1.7.4 has been released. This is the next developer/unstable version that will eventually become OpenNMS 1.8.

This is mainly a bug fix release (as 1.7 is getting close to being a release candidate for the next stable). Maps are now mature enough that they are enabled by default. Also, the installer has moved to using LiquiBase to handle database upgrades. While this will make it more robust, be extra careful when upgrading for the first time, and as always backup your DB before starting.

We hope you find it useful, and if so please tell us about it.

Order of the Blue Polo Profile: Alex Hoogerhuis

I first came into contact with Alex in 2003 when he started buying things off of our Wishlist (which is looking a little bare at the moment). It was nice to know that someone appreciated our work enough to actually spend money, and Alex was one of the first people to regularly appear on our IRC channel (#opennms on irc.freenode.net).

Alex travels a lot, and when I started doing a large amount of international travel he would often promise to meet me. After a number of “missed connections” we started to think that he was simply an IRC robot. However, at one of the LinuxWorld UK shows in London he did manage to show up, but that didn’t prevent us from naming the robot in our channel “_sndbot” after Alex’s “_snd” nick.

He lives in Norway, and he was kind enough to host me at his house last year. It was a fun, if hurried, trip, and I hope to return sometime soon.

Alex has posted a nice testimonial for the Order of the Blue Polo. We target OpenNMS for people just like Alex who make their living as open source experts, and I for one am happy that he is able to make his clients happy with our project. He is also the first and only person to have a running installation of OpenNMS in Africa (at least that I know about).

Please check out his note to see how well OpenNMS fits as a tool for solutions providers such as Alex. He also lists a number of his clients (with their permission, of course) who are able to benefit from the combination of our software and Alex’s talent.

Finally, I got the last shipment of Blue Polos out today. Those of you in the US should see yours by the end of the week. For those of you overseas, please give it a week or two to get there by mail. Let me know if you don’t get your shirt after that time.

If you haven’t already posted on the OBP, it is still open. We’d love to hear from you.

Order of the Blue Polo Profile: Michael Shuler

It is almost seven years ago to the day that I became an administrator of the OpenNMS project and started out on my own to build a company to provide services around the application.

At the time I had three customers: a hospital in Minnesota, a government agency in Florida, and a growing hosting provider based in San Antonio, Texas, called Rackspace.

The hospital is still a client (having renewed yearly support seven times they are an example that we must be doing something right) but the other two are not (although they both still use the product). I lost the government agency in 2003 when there was an accident that caused all spending to freeze, but we had Rackspace as a client up until last year.

The reasons that Rackspace no longer pays for support are myriad, but I’m happy as long as they still find the product valuable. I wasn’t quite sure this was the case until we got an OBP entry from Michael Shuler this week.

I knew Rackspace when it was much, much smaller, and I’ve watched it grow into the large, publicly traded company it has become. I’m still a big fan, and their concept of “Fanatical Support” has been heavily borrowed by our company. But a company with thousands of employees and public shareholders to please is a different animal than one staffed by a small group of highly intelligent mavericks, and I can’t say that I don’t miss the old days at Rackspace.

I used to go down to San Antonio where we worked on the darkened second floor of the Broadway Bank building. The days were spent solving both complex and interesting problems, but about 6pm the gang would take a break and play Return to Castle Wolfenstein. This included everyone – from the newest hire to the VP. It was a true “work hard/play hard” environment and it was a lot of fun.

Many of those people are gone now. The VP is off at Google, and others have decided to go someplace smaller. However, there is still some of that entrepreneurial feeling at a division of Rackspace called Racklabs.

Rackspace long ago figured out hosting, but they are smart enough to realize that they can’t sit on their laurels forever. Racklabs is where the new technologies are built, such as their cloud computing offerings, and it still retains the old spirit I’m familiar with.

I’ve never met Michael but we’ve corresponded a bit through e-mail. To be honest, his letter got me all verklempt. I was trying to find a bit to excerpt but it’s all so good that I can’t. Go read it.

As Rackspace grew and had to expand, the new people they hired were more comfortable with tools other than OpenNMS. In some areas it became easier to buy a commercial product than to spend the time to get OpenNMS to do what they needed, although I like to think that as OpenNMS improves that one day they’ll start using us as well. I wish them well, but it hasn’t always worked in the past. If you want to get a laugh out of a Rackspace old-timer, just mentioned the work “onyx” (like the stone). They’ll know what I mean.

Regardless of whether I get paid by them or not, I owe Rackspace a debt of gratitude. Perhaps that’s why I get so caught up on community. I have never measured success in terms of raw revenue. I prefer to measure it in terms of usefulness. Create something useful, treat people fairly, and the revenue will come.

Our mission statement has always been “Help Customers, Have Fun, Make Money”. It may not make Sand Hill Road happy, but it makes us happy, and I guess in the long run that’s all that matters.