Over the past few years, open source systems management tools have nagged mainstream IT systems management vendors. And some tools like those from Nagios have been widely adopted.
With open source adoption growing and budgets for IT management tools being slashed in this down economy, open source systems management software seemed poised for an explosion.
But for many large enterprises, potential intellectual property (IP) lawsuits and lack of support staff still keep open source tools out of data centers.
Some software firms like Zenoss Inc., Hyperic Inc. and GroundWork Open Source offer open source and proprietary systems managemet products with additional features. While the open source versions are extensible and free, many companies are more comfortable paying for the proprietary versions.
Paul Hubbard, the director of infrastructure services at Minneapolis-based hotel and travel company Carlson, uses the proprietary version of Zenoss to monitor server metrics for processor utilization and server I/O on 850 machines. Hubbard said the open source version was not an option given the risk of IP lawsuits.
"We're not in a position to use the open source as a standard," Hubbard said. "In the business world, the regulatory agencies frown on pure open source management tools."
Hyperic customer Ed Bailey, a Unix team lead at a major credit reporting agency, uses a proprietary version, Hyperic HQ Enterprise, to manage Web applications that drive his company's revenue. Bailey said he doesn't have the time to cobble together -- let alone develop and maintain -- the automation, security and reporting features that ship with the enterprise version.
"You can make a reporting system for the open source version of Hyperic HQ. If you have the time, you can make anything. But our company is more focused on things that generate revenue rather than me spending time working on this," Bailey said. "I used to work at a university and we had time to build something like that, whereas now we have millions of transactions that are making money."
Daniel Granja, an IT manager at Monterey, Calif.-based online retailer Shop.com, also replaced homegrown code, cobbled-together tools and open source products with proprietary software. Shop.com switched from Cacti and other tools to Nimsoft Inc.'s Nimbus.
Shop.com uses Nimbus to monitor hundreds of servers, including internal corporate services and external e-commerce.
"Cacti is free, open source. But you spend your time on it," Granja said. "That had been the solution we were really running on prior to Nimbus. With Nimsoft's support we cut our efforts in half. We'd never been able to monitor the entire environment before, but with Nimbus we are able to."
According to systems management expert and author John Willis, enterprise IT managers aren't keen on open source management tools. "If there's a team that wants to run Nagios, then they usually can get a checkmark on it if they don't have anything already in place. But if you want to rip and replace Tivoli with an open source version of Zenoss, management will say, 'Eh … I'm not sure about that.'"
Kia Behnia, the CTO of BMC Software Inc. said open source products work fine in departments. "A company could use Nagios for a small portion of the network and send those reports to our impact management solution, or open those incidents with Remedy, but we don't see them as directly competitive.
"The intuitive thing is that in a down economy, customers are looking for free solutions. But in a down economy, customers are risk averse," Behnia said. "They want a vendor with more skin in the game. Is this vendor going to be around in a year to support me?"
Pure-play open source management
Some open source systems management contenders have a different strategy, producing pure open source tools only and charging for support services. These companies take issue with the assertion that implementation and support hassles are a barrier.
"Does commercial software configure itself for free now? In general, with commercial software, you get to pay for the software, and then get the privilege of paying someone to configure it or doing it yourself," said Andrew Schafer, who works full time on the open source configuration management tool Puppet from Reductive Labs. "I find it hard to believe that [proprietary IT management software] SolarWinds is much easier to configure than Hyperic or Zenoss."
A clear exception to this trend is Nagios. This systems monitoring tool has been in development for 10-plus years, claims more than 250,000 users worldwide and purports to scale to monitor more than 100,000 nodes. As a purely open source tool, Nagios seems to be doing fine in most enterprises, and the commercial arm Nagios Enterprises offers support and consulting services.
According to Michael Coté, an analyst at RedMonk, IT management tools and platforms above the Linux and infrastructure layers have already spread in the data center. "These tools make promises of at least the same functionality of traditional closed source, higher-priced offerings, but at lower prices. Of course, they also promise new and better ways of managing IT; but here cost can be the ice pick for breaking up a frozen short list of the usual incumbents."
Even if IT managers don't want to switch to these platforms, they'd do well to educate themselves on these open source, cheaper tools if only to use them as leverage to drive better deals, Coté said. "If times get tough, you have to consider changing to options you'd previously written off or haven't spent the time to consider."
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