Project of the Month, June 2010

OpenNMS

OpenNMS is the world’s first enterprise-grade network management application platform developed using the open source model.

To break that down:

OpenNMS was registered on SourceForge in March of 2000 as project 4141, about two months after NetSaint which later became Nagios. So it has been around for while, almost longer than any other open source management tool.

It was designed from “day one” to be enterprise-grade, that is to manage tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of devices from a single instance. Ultimately it will be able to mange unlimited devices with a heavily distributed architecture.

While it works out of the box for many, it wasn’t designed as much an application as an application platform. OpenNMS really shines when it is customized to fit a particular environment and integrated with other tools.

Finally, it is 100% free and open source software. There is no “enterprise” or commercial version – it is all open source. In fact, even commercially sponsored development on the project is freely available on the project’s SourceForge git repository.

Why and how did you get started?

The OpenNMS project was started by Brian Weaver, Steve Giles and Luke Rindfuss in July of 1999. Their organization was purchase by a company called Atipa, which later became Oculan. Oculan focused on building a network management appliance based on OpenNMS.

However, there was still a lot of interest in OpenNMS itself, so in September of 2001 Tarus Balog joined Oculan to focus on building a services business around the project. In May of 2002, Oculan received new investment and decided to focus exclusively on their appliance. Tarus decided to remain focused on OpenNMS and took over administration of the project full time.

In 2004, he, along with David Hustace and Matt Brozowski, formed The OpenNMS Group, a commercial services company to support OpenNMS that current has customers in 24 countries.

Who is the software’s intended audience?

There are two main audiences. First, there are those organizations that currently use expensive management suites such as HP’s OpenView or IBM’s Tivoli. In many cases, OpenNMS is more flexible, powerful and scalable, and there is the rather large savings in licensing costs that OpenNMS provides.

The second audience is those resellers and consultants who form the ecosystem around such products as OpenView and Tivoli. This is the environment that the principals in OpenNMS came from, and it is refreshing to be able have a tool that puts power in the hands of the integrator and user instead of the vendor.

What are a couple of notable examples of how people are using your software?

Where to start? Well, I guess we can focus on scale. At Papa Johns Pizza, they have been using OpenNMS for years to monitor a billion dollar internet product line. Currently, they are extending OpenNMS remote monitors into every one of their 2500 domestic stores.

Swisscom Hospitality Services provides internet access to hotels, conferences and other public places throughout Europe. They are monitoring 52,000 devices with a single instance of OpenNMS.

Rackspace Managed Hosting has over 70,000 customers in data centers from London, throughout the US, to Hong Kong. In each one OpenNMS is used to insure that clients network services are operational and responsive.

At New Edge Networks, they have integrated OpenNMS performance graphs directly into their customer portal. They are collecting 1.2 million data points concerning bandwidth, errors and other information — every five minutes.

And these are just some notable commercial clients. The project has users worldwide from Vietnam to monitoring displays in the Paris subway.

What are the system requirements for your software, and what do people need to know about getting it set up and running?

That’s a big “it depends”. Those installations I mentioned above quite naturally run on powerful hardware, but I run a local instance of OpenNMS monitoring about 100 interfaces on a virtual machine. OpenNMS is written in Java, so it likes memory, and if you have to make the choice between more memory and more CPU choose the former. Some other sizing tips can be found on our wiki.

What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?

Hrm, I’m not sure. We haven’t focused on being recognized as successful as much as delivering a quality product that is completely free and open, and I think that focus has paid off.

One of my earliest memories was an e-mail we received from Ho Trong Dat in 2002. Dat is from Vietnam, and was happy enough with OpenNMS to write and say so. Years later he is still using the product.

Then there were the awards, such as winning against much larger organizations at the LinuxWorld Expo in 2005, and in TechTarget’s surveys.

Lately it seems like every day there is something to get excited about. During the disastrous Haiti earthquake we found out that Inveneo, a relief organization that provides bandwidth to NGOs during such crises, was using OpenNMS. We immediately saw it as a chance to give back and donated a free commercial support agreement.

What has been your biggest surprise?

When OpenNMS was started, we thought our users would be those small to medium size businesses that couldn’t afford OpenView or Tivoli. What we found was that it was large enterprises and carriers that couldn’t afford OpenView and Tivoli. Not necessarily from a licensing standpoint, but from the cost of long, expensive deployments that failed to meet their needs. By designing OpenNMS as a flexible platform, the tool can be made to fit the business’s processes, and not the other way around.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge facing OpenNMS has been convincing people that a free and open source software solution can be as good as a commercial solution costing millions of dollars. There seems to be this myth that hidden, private software development is somewhat superior to that done in a free and open manner.

But anyone looking at the OpenNMS code can tell that isn’t the case. Under the leadership of Matt Brozowski, the code has become very well written. We realized early on that we didn’t have the staff to fully test OpenNMS, and while we could rely on the large user community around the project it was best if we instrumented the code using junit tests as part of an agile development process.

I was talking to a CEO of another Java-based project, but one that was commercial, and he said they tried junit testing but it was just “too hard”.

Why do you think your project has been so well received?

I think the main part lies in that the OpenNMS community is empowered outside of the commercial services OpenNMS Group. While those of us who are lucky enough to work on the project full time are able to contribute quite a bit to the project, the actual project is managed by a group called The Order of the Green Polo.

The OpenNMS project has avoided the “open core” trap where a commercial company controls the project and there are both a “community” or open source licensed version and an “enterprise” or commercial version. In true open source communities this creates friction as various features are withheld from the “free” version.

To build a successful community takes a lot of trust. Our slogan for the ten year anniversary was “Still open … Still free” and I think over the years the project has earned it.

What advice would you give to a project that’s just starting out?

Run out and buy a copy of “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier. They are the founders of 37signals, and while not an open source company they have loads of great advice for software companies that want to start out without taking a more traditional venture-backed investment route.

One key point they make is to not let anything get in the way of writing code. Don’t worry about business plans, names, marketing, etc. at the beginning – write code and don’t let anyone else tell you that you have to do all of those other things beforehand.

Where do you see your project going?

The goal of OpenNMS is nothing less than to become the de facto management platform of choice. Every discussion of a management solution should start out with “Have you tried OpenNMS?” We’re not there yet, but we plan to be.

What’s on your project wish list?

What isn’t? (grin)

In the near term our focus is on what we are calling OpenNMS 2.0. One would think that in ten years we would have a 2.0 release, but almost since its inception we’ve had this idea for a fully distributed and scalable platform and that has represented 2.0 in our minds. We’ve adopted the OSGi framework moving forward, and we hope to have our initial release incorporating it out by the end of 2010.

What are you most proud of?

OpenNMS has always leveraged the idea that open source is a very powerful method for developing software, and that it is possible to build a successful services business around such a project without resorting to selling separate software under a commercial license.

For ten years we’ve been told that this isn’t possible, and for ten years we have watched our community grow while other “open core” and commercial companies have either floundered or closed.

The fact that those of us who get paid to work on OpenNMS have been able to make a comfortable living without betraying the trust of our community is something of which we are very proud.

If you could change something about the project, what would it be?

I wish it were easier for people to become involved with OpenNMS. It is a huge project, and it takes a lot of time to understand the code, well written as it is.

One thing that is different with OpenNMS versus other popular open source projects is that the end users are not coders. Unlike, say, JBoss and Spring, our end users tend to be system and network admins, not Java programmers, so it has been a lot a work to both attract programmers to the project and educate those within it who wish to become coders on how to work with OpenNMS.

How do you coordinate the project?

Most of the project discussion occurs on our mailing lists that are hosted at SourceForge. The opennms-discuss list is the main community communication tool while opennms-devel is used for development discussion.

We also have a private mailing list for Order of the Green Polo members but that is usually used to discuss administrative issues.

There is a bugzilla instance that is used to track issues.

Once a year we rent out a college dormitory and hold Dev-Jam, a weeklong coding fest.

Everyone is welcome to attend (there is a cost associated with it to cover room and board) and most of the Order of the Green Polo members are able to come. The last one featured people from five different countries, one as far away as New Zealand.

How many hours a month do you and/or your team devote to the project?

Heh, those of us that work for The OpenNMS Group put in 50-60 hours a week. A typical contributor from the community can range from 2-3 hours up to 20+ for some of the Order of the Green Polo members.

The OpenNMS Group tends to hire straight out of the community, so not only do we get great people, we get people who do this because they love it, not just because it is a job.

What is your development environment like?

OpenNMS is written mainly in Java, and the development environment is optimized for using the Eclipse project’s IDE. It runs on practically any operating system (yes, including Windows) and thus most developers use their own machines for coding.

OpenNMS uses test driven development, so unit tests play a large part in developing new features. Members of the Order of the Green Polo are often available to “pair program” with people new to the project.

Milestones:

OpenNMS uses the old kernel numbering scheme for releases. Any release where the number after the first decimal is “even” is considered a stable or production release. If the number is “odd” it is the unstable or development release. And, of course, nightly snapshots of trunk are available.

Currently, the development release is 1.9 and the latest stable release is 1.8. Point releases are done on roughly a monthly schedule, but the following was the official release date of the major stable releases:

Version / Date Milestone
October, 2008 OpenNMS 1.6
May, 2005 OpenNMS 1.2
May, 2002 OpenNMS 1.0

How can others contribute?

We don’t have any formality for people willing to join. Just find a place where the code can be improved, and send a comment/patch. If your interests are generic, it would be nice to contact the mailing list instead of a single developer.

The easiest thing to do is to download OpenNMS and install it (see http://www.opennms.org for instructions). Subscribe to the mailing lists on SourceForge, and if so inclined, visit our bugzilla instance and look for bugs to fix.

The user community is very friendly and welcoming to new people, but I will make a plea not to abuse it. Remember that everyone involved in the project does so as a volunteer.


Ten-year badge

This month and for the rest of 2010, we’re highlighting some of our most venerable projects. This month’s Project of the Month is one of about 1,000 that began hosting on SourceForge.net in the site’s first year of existence, beginning in November 1999.


More projects of the month

Project name: OpenNMS

Date founded: May, 2002

Project page: http://www.opennms.org/

Project Leaders


Tarus Balog

Tarus Balog

Occupation:The “Mouth of OpenNMS”, OGP and CEO of The OpenNMS Group

Location: Pittsboro, NC, USA


David Hustace

David Hustace

Occupation:Product Manager, OGP and President of The OpenNMS Group

Location: Pittsboro, NC, USA


Alexander Finger

Alexander Finger

Occupation: Order of the Green Polo

Location: Montennex-en-Bourne, France


Craig Gallen

Craig Gallen

Occupation: Order of the Green Polo

Location: Southampton, United Kingdom

Key Developers


Matt Brozowski

Matt Brozowski

Occupation:OGP, and CTO of the OpenNMS Group
Location: Durham, NC, USA


Antonio Russo

Antonio Russo

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Naples, Italy


Alejandro Galue

Alejandro Galue

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Caracas, Venezuela


Ben Reed

Ben Reed

Occupation:OGP, and Developer, The OpenNMS Group
Location: Willow Spring, NC, USA


Bill Ayres

Bill Ayres

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Corvallis, Oregon


Craig Miskell

Craig Miskell

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Dunedin, New Zealand


DJ Gregor

DJ Gregor

Occupation: Order of the Green Polo
Location: Columbus, OH, USA



Jason Aras

Occupation:OGP, and Developer, The OpenNMS Group
Location: Montgomery, MA, USA


Jeff Gelhbach

Jeff Gelhbach

Occupation:OGP, and Developer, The OpenNMS Group
Location: Marietta, GA, USA


Johan Edstrom

Johan Edstrom

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Denver, CO, USA


Jonathan Sartin

Jonathan Sartin

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Tring, Hertfordshire, UK



Matt Raykowski

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Minneapolis, MN, USA


Mike Huot

Mike Huot

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Minneapolis, MN, USA



Donald Desloge

Occupation:Developer, The OpenNMS Group
Location: Durham, NC, USA


Seth Leger

Seth Leger

Occupation:Developer, The OpenNMS Group
Location: Cary, NC, USA


Ronny Trommer

Ronny Trommer

Occupation:Order of the Green Polo
Location: Fulda, Germany




Why did you place the project on SourceForge.net?

Back in 2000, SourceForge was *the* place for open source projects to gain exposure. While other options are now available, we haven’t seen the need to leave. Since it is easy for users to create accounts, it makes access to the code repositories easy to handle, and the SourceForge mailing lists are a lot easier to use when dealing with such things as spam than the ones we used to host ourselves.

How has SourceForge.net helped your project succeed?

To this day, when people think open source software they think SourceForge. Even though when you type in “open source network management” into Google and OpenNMS is the number one hit, a the majority of the interest generated in the project comes from SourceForge.

What is the number one benefit of using SourceForge.net?

SourceForge provides services that our project needs, such as mailing lists and a software repository, that get in the way of writing code. I am very thankful that SourceForge allows us to focus on getting stuff done instead of admin tasks.