The Little "3" of Open Source Systems Management?
By Mark Hinkle
This week Qlusters/openQRM announced they would no longer be developing their open source project openQRM and leaving it to the community at large. I guess that leaves the remainder of the band of four to be labeled the "Little 3″. This isn't all that surprising. The Qlusters team that originally launched openQRM is gone. Ofer Shoshan is no longer CEO, Qlusters CTO whurley went to BMC, Fred Gallagher went to open source database maker Ingres, and former Red Hat sales exec Don Langley has moved on. So I suspect that the mindset and commitment to further the project has departed with them.
The shame is that the openQRM software is good and hopefully openQRM project lead Matt Rechenburg will continue on with the project. openQRM is an excellent tool for someone who wants to provision testing laboratories and with more maturity be able to provide data center automation to the more demanding data centers (a classic rise by disruptive technology as described here). Perchance Qlusters set their sights too high trying to draft the success of a BladeLogic IPO (BladeLogic was since gobbled up by BMC) and they didn't service a market that VMware has started to abandon as they focus on server consolidation.
With Qlusters turning their attention away perhaps there's an opportunity for someone to lend their support to Rechenburg's efforts. Personally, I have been impressed by Enomaly, a Toronto-based virtualization services vendor, that makes Enomalism a management platform for elastic computing. Maybe there is some synergy between the two projects. At one time the openQRM project was very active fronted by my friend and sometime coconspirator whurley who now jets around as BMC's open source architect (BMC is one of the Big Four). I gave him a call and see if he had any thoughts. Given BMC's anemic open source offerings I thought maybe he would be stepping up to sponsor the project. Of course now being a corporate guy he just chuckled and gave me the official: "No Comment." I guess he's happy to make proprietary software while carrying around an open source title.
A Little History
Shortly after the launch of OpenQRM Qlusters along with prominent open source management projects Nagios, Webmin and software vendors Symbiot, Zenoss and Emu Software started a grass roots effort to to raise awareness of open source systems management as an alternative to expensive proprietary software suits via the Open Management Consortium. The band resulting organization drew together over 40 companies and projects to discuss systems management along with thousands of end-users.
The result was heightened awareness of open source systems management solutions and conversations among the projects and companies that produce them. No working groups, no marketing efforts, just a banner and a place to converse, a very humble set of goals.
You see systems management is a broad category with sweeping subcategories like provisioning, monitoring, configuration, capacity management, storage management, inventory, network management, virtualization management, and the so-on. The goal was to encourage collaboration which I believe is happening organically, though more on that later.
The Sad State of Proprietary Software
This week at the Gartner Emerging Technologies Conference analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald discussed what was broken with the Windows operating system.
This is the same issues exist with proprietary systems management. There's a trainwreck coming in a rapidly growing management software market:
Systems management users have to three choices. Adopt solutions that are monolithic, expensive, and hard to integrate, use low-end solutions that are lack needed features and breadth, or choose open systems that are flexible, easy to unify and can be used and consumed on the terms of the consumer not the vendor.
Open Source Systems Management Thriving
In a report by the 451 Group last summer released a report on the commercial adoption of open source, Managing in the Open: The Next Wave sums up the current state of systems management.
Three of the little four, Groundwork, Hyperic, and Zenoss all have steadily added customers and received venture capital to accelerate the growth of their businesses. Beyond that there a plenty of other thriving open source projects in systems management. While the big boys are hardly shaking in their boots it's evident that they are going to see pressure from those vendors executing an open model for systems management.
A look at popular open source software site SourceForge shows that systems management boasts plenty of active projects.
Beyond the downloads these open source programs are distributed by many other methods including Linux distributions and other software repositories. Beyond that they are used to solve problems by millions of users.
Integration and Re-Usable Code, User Driven Standards
Systems management is such a complex problem especially for large enterprises that large product suites from a single vendor will struggle to keep up with the demand for a constantly evolving systems management landscape. I was struck by this realization as I was attending Usenix Large Installation Systems Administration (LISA) Conference last fall. During a session on configuration management led by open source project lead Luke Kanies of Puppet the attendees indicated that they used a wide breadth of solutions. Many of the users indicated that they used homegrown solutions built on top of bits of open source code. Others indicated their use of open source projects, CFengine and BCfg2.
There was no clear commercial winner or open source one for that matter, and their probably never will be. The availability of tools and bits of code to build highly complex and customized software configuration and deployment platforms was a key part of most everyone's strategy. Having the freedom to integrate and use existing products and solutions that adhere to open source methodologies and open standards should be a requirement of systems management users–along with ease-of-use and overall value provided.
In the open source world it is common for projects to support and leverage the work of others. Nagios who has been around longer than any of the monitoring solutions mentioned here they have a large base of plugins and tests used to checks status. Hyperic, Groundwork, OpenNMS, and Zenoss all support Nagios plugins as it is the most utilitarian approach to expanding their products rather than create new standards that might prevent users from using previous customizations and gives flexibility to try new solutions. This adherence to standards enforced (or at least motivated) by users rather than vendors is a bit of a novelty.
There's plenty of other integration going on as well. Early on Hyperic integrated with JBoss to provide management tools. And since leading Linux vendor Red Hat has acquired JBoss they have launched the RHQ project in conjunction with Hyperic to help provide a common infrastructure management platform for Red Hat Linux.
Many monitoring providers including OpenNMS, Groundwork, and Zenoss include RRDTool in their solutions. Vendors like Groundwork provide the glue for a lot of open source projects though they lack the sizeable communities that power many other OSS vendors.
As much as I like to rib the big guys about their solutions it's going to be necessary to work together to best serve the requirements of end-users. I know Zenoss users are already integrating with their legacy HP Openview installation. At BarCampESM (as in Enterprise Systems Management) representatives from Alterpoint, BMC, IBM (including Tivoli Monitoring product manager Heath Newburn), Netcool, OpenNMS, and Zenoss collaborated with end-users on how they used our products. They made it clear that integration and cooperation was definitely in their best interests.
What's Next for Open Source Systems Management?
Open source systems management is a nascent approach to an old industry. The Little 3: Groundwork, Hyperic, and Zenoss aren't so little anymore with fast growing customer bases and many thousand users in their communities. As companies are tasked with measuring even more infrastructure and new technologies large vendors will be hard-pressed to deliver complete enterprise solutions. New technologies, such as cloud computing, are severely in need of tools to manage the new utility-based technologies. The growing success of open source management technologies is the wave of the future both augmenting and replacing expensive, antiquated proprietary solutions as well as quickly adapting to a growing IT landscape.
Other coverage of OpenQRM/Qlusters
[Disclosures: I am the VP of Community at Zenoss and the President of the Open Management Consortium]
For more Mark Hinkle, visit his Socialized Software blog.