For enterprise-scope network management, turn to OpenNMS

When I asked readers to suggest projects to spotlight, one of the first names that came up was OpenNMS, the first enterprise-grade network management application platform developed under the open source model. It’s designed to manage hundreds of thousands of devices. OpenNMS competes head to head with products such as Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView suite and IBM’s Tivoli, often favorably.

OpenNMS helps administrators in four main functional areas:

1) Provisioning – handles moves, adds, and changes for large numbers of devices.
2) Event management – handles both internal and external events, including automating event correlation and trouble ticketing integration.
3) Service monitoring – performs operations from simple ping and port checks up through complex web page sequence monitoring and mail monitoring to insure that network-based services are operational and responding quickly.
4) Data collection – using a number of protocols, including SNMP, WMI, and HTTP, OpenNMS can gather time series data; store, graph, and trend it; and alert administrators when thresholds are reached.

While it does a lot out of the box, what makes OpenNMS unique is that it can be customized easily to suit different environments.

Tarus Balog, who became the principal maintainer of the project in May 2002, says OpenNMS was started about 10 years ago by a group of network management professionals who wanted a non-proprietary, open source “Swiss Army knife” toolset for solving enterprise-scope management problems. Need a feature to behave a little differently? Modify the code. Find a bug? Fix it. Instead of trying to map business processes to the tool, the tool can be molded to the business processes.

Balog says the project started to take off in 2004 with the creation of The Order of the Green Polo. While the OpenNMS project is supported by the commercial company called the OpenNMS Group, the project is managed by the OGP, most of whose members do not work directly for the commercial side.

News about OpenNMS is spread almost entirely by word of mouth. “We have no formal marketing team,” Balog says. “Despite that, if you Google ‘open source network management’ we are the first hit, ahead of the Wikipedia article, so it must be working.”

As the project has grown it has adopted a large number of open source tools and libraries. “We switched from CVS to Subversion, and are currently migrating to git. OpenNMS uses Maven as the build engine, and we leverage other projects such as Spring and Hibernate.”

The project is “working feverishly” to get OpenNMS 1.8 released. “We use an even/odd numbering scheme for releases, so the latest production release, 1.6, is paired with the latest development release, 1.7. We hope that 1.7 will become 1.8 by April. We’ve adopted a lot of Agile programming techniques, and we currently have a two-month minor release cycle that we hope to move to one month in 2010.”

Balog says developers who want to work on OpenNMS should “just jump in. Feel free to visit our Bugzilla, grab a bug, and start contributing. We leverage the mailing lists on SourceForge.net quite heavily. Interested developers should join the opennms-devel list, while anyone interested in OpenNMS should sign up for opennms-announce, a low traffic, moderated list for OpenNMS news. We also have an annual developers conference called Dev-Jam, to be held next at the University of Minnesota in July 2010.

“But you don’t have to be a developer to be a part of OpenNMS. We welcome open source enthusiasts of all levels.”

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