Open source management arrives

Vendors address user pain points, integration, usability and support for open applications.

Six open source companies and project sponsors last week founded an industry organization to elevate the status of open source management tools in enterprise IT shops.

The Open Management Consortium (OMC) says it will develop standards to simplify the job of integrating disparate open source management applications in an effort to make managing large enterprise networks with open source tools easier for users. Most companies use several management tools, but the majority of proprietary products available today require extensive integration for them to share data - even when they're from the same vendor. The OMC proposes its members develop common methods of collecting, sharing and reporting on management data collected across enterprise networks.

The group doesn't consider itself in competition with commercial vendors, and would like to see market leaders BMC Software, CA, HP and IBM contribute to the effort so buyers can integrate source applications more easily with commercial products.

Open source confidence indexVendors joining in

Such vendors as Centeris, GroundWork Open Source, Hyperic and Splunk have started to open parts of their proprietary software code and make it available through open source licenses. They separately emerged in the past year and straddled the open source and proprietary worlds, offering management applications rooted in open source and in some cases, providing free versions for download.

Management heavyweights such as IBM and CA have separately shown their support for open source. About a year ago IBM acquired open source developer Gluecode, and last fall CA spun out its Ingres database technology into an independent open source database company.

"The tide is starting to turn. There are more open source management products, and commercial vendors are getting more interested in exploring and integrating with open source, which can only benefit the end-user community," says Ethan Galstad, founder and president of Ayamon, an OMC member.

Galstad also created and remains the lead developer of Nagios, a 7-year-old open source network monitoring tool. Galstad says the willingness of management vendors, albeit smaller start-ups, to open their source code shows the market is ready to adopt open source management.

"Open source tools have always been strong in IT departments and used by technical engineers, but it has not been until the past year that I have seen commercial vendors taking their proprietary tools and making them open source or providing parts of them under an open source license," Galstad says.

Such vendor interest in open source could spur adoption among hesitant IT managers concerned about the community behind the source code, industry watchers say.

"The OMC is a sort of reassurance to IT managers that there is a committed community behind open source systems management," says Raven Zachary, a senior analyst and head of the open source practice at The 451 Group. "The group has indicated it will work toward developing common APIs and a common integration layer, so IT managers won't have to worry about weaving disparate systems together on their own."

The premise of the OMC appeals to buyers, because standards for collecting and sharing management data could address a critical pain point: Freeware applications and proprietary products remain difficult and time-consuming to install, integrate and customize.

Rick Beebe, manager of system and network engineering for ITS-Med at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., says he already uses open source products to augment commercial tools, but an organization dedicated to hashing out integration issues would benefit his open source deployments. "Much of the programming I end up doing is glue to tie different applications together. If they all spoke a common language, and I could plug them together however I'd like, it would save a great deal of time and energy."

Beebe says he likes open source tools "because of the customization and ability to try them on my own terms." And the cost is right: "The number and complexity of systems we have just keeps growing, but we're rarely allowed to add more people to manage them."

Jim Stalder, CIO at Mercy Health Services in Baltimore, admits he was hesitant about opting for the open source enterprise monitoring application from Zenoss over BMC Performance Manager (previously Patrol). But considering the possible $500,000 price tag he would have spent on most commercial management software products, he says he thought he'd give the free product (under the GNU General Public License) a try before committing budget dollars.

"We don't have a huge development staff, so I didn't want to get an open source product in here if we had to worry about developing it, maintaining it, supporting it and growing it to fit our needs," Stalder says. "But on the contrary, we are only using what we need, and we can grow Zenoss at our own pace rather than pay for a lot of great features from a commercial vendor that we never put to use in our environment."

About the members

OMC founding members - Emu Software, Nagios (sponsored by Ayamon), openSIMS (sponsored by Symbiot), Qlusters, the Webmin project and the Zenoss project - say being able to work together toward a common goal will help their individual open source projects mature.

The commercial software vendors in the group that have opted to make some of their code available as open source have already reaped some benefits. For instance, since making its server resource-management software available as the open source openQRM ($750 per managed server) in February, Qlusters says the software has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.

Zenoss has been downloaded 2,000 times since it went open source under a modified version of the Mozilla open source license in February. And Emu Software's NetDirector configuration-management tool has been downloaded 1,200 times since the company made it available in April under a similar modified Mozilla license model.

For Webmin, a Web-based interface for Unix system administration, the benefit of joining OMC is group development. Up to this point the tool has been developed primarily by a single person, industry veteran Jamie Cameron.

Member Symbiot took its proprietary security-management product and opened the source code to offer openSIMS (open Security Infrastructure Management Systems), which is available under an Apache license. The software runs on a dedicated server at the network perimeter, creates a map of IT components and measures risk based on data collected across the infrastructure.

In conjunction with the OMC launch, the company revamped the open source product and now offers it prebuilt to customers so they don't have to dedicate time and resources to getting it integrated and up and running.

"Open source management historically has been a bunch of fiefdoms that haven't come together in a comprehensive way for end users," says Mike Erwin, founder, president and chairman of Symbiot. "The industry really needed something that could combine the efforts and help mature the separate projects on a similar path."

Learn more about this topic

Open source management companies establish industry organization

05/09/06

Open source routing reality check

03/06/06

Opening up to open source

07/04/05

Network management goes open source

05/16/05

Freeware and shareware help monitor nets

05/03/04

Getting there: Migrating to open source

07/04/05

Network management for next to nothing

07/02/01

The price is right: 10 free management tools

02/26/01

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