Financial firm trades in OpenView for open source

HP's OpenView suite didn't cure the IT monitoring headaches at one California risk management company. But open source GroundWork did.

Five years ago Yodlee Inc. purchased a proprietary application to monitor its core application and network infrastructure. Then the troubles began.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of risk management applications implemented Hewlett-Packard's OpenView product to monitor its own IT infrastructure, but instead of a smooth, carefree process, the company quickly realized several unforeseen challenges on the radar screen.

Eventually, Yodlee would discover Groundwork Monitor, an open source monitoring application from Emeryville, Calif.-based GroundWork Open Source Solutions Inc., as a way to save time and money. But first, the company did it's best to make due with OpenView.

Right away, Tim O'Brien, Yodlee senior vice president of operations and information security, discovered that due to the "complexities and dependencies" of OpenView, a suite of 30 business computer management or "e-services" programs, implementation was proving to be more challenging than helpful.

Implementation, he said, also proved challenging because of the application's inflexibility and lack of adequate support. Cost quickly became an issue, too, he said, because valuable time and dedicated resources were being eaten up by complicated efforts to customize monitoring functionality and manage the system.

Old problems, new packaging

The snail's pace continued for four months before O'Brien and his IT department of nearly two dozen staffers shelved the project. Two years later, they tried again with an attempt to implement a monitoring application based on OpenView that now included a reporting and management portal for the company's Linux application servers, databases and network devices.

For a time, the custom monitoring application worked well enough not to cause any more problems, but that changed when the company migrated its database management system from Oracle 8i to 9i.

With 9i, the Yodlee IT staff needed to develop a new set of custom scripts and integrate them with OpenView so that monitoring operations could continue properly within the company's core application. The scripts needed to be customized because at the time a 9i agent was not available for OpenView.

In O'Brien's eyes, having to write those new scripts meant less time, money and manpower spent on the needs of Yodlee's customers, including American Express, Bank of America and Fidelity Investments.

O'Brien and his staff of two dozen IT professionals already had their hands full running more than 800 servers, 30 network devices, eight databases and an in-house financial aggregation application. With all that work, it was becoming clear that a new monitoring tool would be needed.

Growing dissatisfaction leads to new avenue

By 2004, the Yodlee team was growing increasingly dissatisfied, O'Brien said.

"OpenView required one person to manage the system full time and we didn't have that kind of bandwidth," O'Brien said. "Moreover, the custom scripts in place to monitor Yodlee's core financial application were resulting in a huge number of daily alerts."

O'Brien and his team eventually decided to explore a new open source-based monitoring option from Emeryville, Calif.-based GroundWork Open Source Solutions Inc., called GroundWork Monitor, which they had discovered while looking for service-level agreement (SLA) reporting alternatives that were absent from OpenView.

"We [needed] a single system that would monitor and provide visibility into our entire production IT infrastructure," O'Brien said. "It had to be transparent so it could be configured and tuned easily, and it needed to accommodate custom script development as we evolved our core application."

Specifically, O'Brien and his team were looking for better data from the company's Java Message Service and increasing uptime while reducing resource requirements -- all packaged in a product that was affordable and flexible enough to accommodate future growth.

Open source stigma no longer a factor

When Yodlee first looked into GroundWork, the company executives were cautious about switching their commercial applications to an open source environment.

Initially, because of the financial nature of Yodlee's clients, the IT department had concerns about security protocols, enterprise-level support, as well as questions about support for customizations and changes that would undoubtedly occur later on.

Following a careful review, O'Brien concluded that GroundWork Monitor had the right set of functionality.

"The key for us was that GroundWork provided what we wanted -- not more and not less," O'Brien explained.

Results across the board

With GroundWork, O'Brien said he's seen improvements in key areas such as availability, error identification and resolution, resource utilization and monitoring capabilities. O'Brien said his firm was able to implement a customized IT monitoring system, a new SLA reporting system and on-site support systems for about $200,000. Yodlee estimates that the company would have spent more than twice as much on comparable systems from the OpenView line, not including the cost of custom development and support.

"Before, if two of our application servers were down for a significant amount of time, service to customers started to degrade," O'Brien said. "Now, before customers even notice, we know the servers are down, we take action and we are back in business."

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