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Open source software and widespread instrumentation have lowered the costs of producing IT management software. Open source systems management companies are using the free nature of an open source product, coupled with the cheap distribution the Web enables, to boot-strap their businesses.
Once that software is written and distributed, the open source-led communities around these startups help fuel the growing breadth of functionality for each product's ecosystem. Rather than relying on one vendor and, at best, a handful of partners to develop proprietary extensions to these platforms, open source-based communities tend to contribute code for these extensions. Once such company is Zenoss. Based in Annapolis, Md., with offices in Austin, Texas, Zenoss has worked since 2005 to develop an open source IT management stack that excels in monitoring a data center's infrastructure layer.
Zenoss infrastructure monitoring software
The infrastructure layer sits right below the application layer and is composed of IT assets like operating systems, hypervisors, networking equipment, databases and middleware as well as the physical boxes that everything runs on.
Zenoss boasts paying customers like Motorola, Deutsche Bank, Rackspace, VMware, Formica, iStock, CapGemini, Joie de Vivre Hotel Group, Federated Media, UTHSC, Fox Racing and TheLadders. Included in the Zenoss Web user interface are screens for browsing monitored infrastructure, configuring, monitoring events and performing all the tasks an operations worker must do to monitor a data center.
A configuration management database (CMDB) also comes bundled in Zenoss. Compared with the more abstract and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)-driven uses that you'd regularly see associated with a CMDB, Zenoss uses its CMDB more as a centralized data store for all of its data center metrics and models. Priests of ITIL may prefer to call it an asset database and metrics data warehouse. Indeed, Zenoss says that the data store is often used by customers for reporting and other analysis.
Open source community contributions
Over the years, the Zenoss community has added over 55 ZenPacks (packages that add new functionality to Zenoss Core and Enterprise), covering a wide range of functionality, such as Asterisk, PostgreSQL and Squid monitoring.
This involvement is made possible by the ZenPack framework that Zenoss provides, but more importantly by the open source nature of Zenoss. In addition to ZenPacks, the Zenoss community has created software to use Zenoss on iPhone, connect with automation and configuration manager Puppet, and other integrations.
Lately, users of closed-source software tend to contribute less back to the stack and overall ecosystem, relying on and paying for vendors and partners to expand the platform for them. Open source-based product lines, however, tend to encourage users and paying customers to give value back to the community in the form of running code and extensions.
It's not all free
Zenoss' business model follows the hybrid approach to commercializing open source. While the core part of Zenoss is free, Zenoss charges for extensions and ZenPacks that add functionality (such as monitoring VMware) and help scale up the overall platform.
This means that a baseline, but feature-full in its own right, version of the Zenoss stack is available free. For Zenoss, this is a great cost savings in marketing and distribution. For customers, this means there's no barrier to entry other than time and opportunity cost to try out the platform.
The catch, of course, is that as users' needs expand, they'll have to get out their pocket books and become customers. In addition to added functionality, the commercial Zenoss offerings include different bands of support, and distinguish by typical differences like response time and support staff availability. Depending on the level of support and volume discounts, there is a list price of $100 to $180 per resource monitored. A resource is anything with an IP address or a virtualized guest that Zenoss' agentless monitoring would talk to.
Zenoss has built a deployment base of over 18,000 instances, free and paid. While the company doesn't publish the number of paid customers, the number is in the hundreds. It has kept up a rapid clip of software delivery as well, delivering many versions of its product yearly rather than waiting for traditional 18- to 24-month cycles for big-bang releases.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Coté is analyst at RedMonk, covering primarily enterprise software, specializing in open source, IT management, software development, the Web, and social/collaborative software. He is RedMonk's IT Management Lead. His blog is available at PeopleOverProcess.com, and he produces the RedMonk podcast and the video podcast, RedMonkTV.
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