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Laying the 'Groundwork': Open source network management

Open source network management solutions offer more than just cost-savings according to vendor Groundwork Open Source.

With Tony Barbagallo, VP of Marketing, Groundwork [], developer of open source IT management solutions.

Question: Your approach to making the business case for open source network management as opposed to proprietary solutions goes beyond stressing the initial cost savings. Can you outline it for us?

Barbagallo: Beyond acquisition cost, feature give-and-take is beginning to play a larger role as organizations weigh their options when evaluating open source IT monitoring and management tools versus their proprietary counterparts. Think of it as a continuum where a business decides whether it's willing to forego some "nice to have" features in exchange for a far less costly tool that does 80% of what the proprietary offering does equally well. This concept of "just enough" really resonates with the mid-market where companies want to simply manage things in a reliable way (with a tool that's easy to set up, configure and maintain), without the exorbitant cost. Most cannot afford the proprietary solutions from the big iron vendors. Most do not have the human resources or skill set to manage these complex offerings.

The best value for the mid-market is when businesses get a lot of that functionality, miss a few of the niche features, but save a ton of money on the acquisition cost and a ton of time with the installation, configuration and maintenance.

Question: What do you think makes customers so loyal to proprietary vendors in the network management space?

Barbagallo: For the Fortune 500, large proprietary IT management solutions (HP OpenView, IBM Tivoli, CA Unicenter, BMC Patrol) are attractive because they are solid feature-rich offerings, and these mega-enterprises have the resources to utilize the product to the fullest. However, their "loyalty" really follows the money trail. Many of these companies have millions of dollars already invested in these proprietary implementations. In these instances, a rip-and-replace scenario will rarely happen. They've spent too much money to change directions.

Vendor lock-in plays a big role. I've had many discussions with companies that use OpenView or Tivoli and are fed up. They're held hostage because they can't make changes to the product, they're at the mercy of the proprietary vendor's time and schedule, and the costs for incremental features are expensive. This frustration is actually an opportunity as these enterprises are now considering open source IT monitoring and management tools for new projects and new departments.

The biggest obstacle to overcome is proving that open source IT management tools meet the demands of the business IT environment. Some companies may have the perception that installation and configuration is a challenge. Documentation is poor. Support is lacking. Solutions aren't comprehensive. They can't scale.

While these concerns may be valid with some open source projects, new hybrid open source companies are answering the call. Such companies, including mine, package together disparate open source projects with company-developed open source projects to deliver comprehensive management solutions. The reality is that quality is just as important a differentiator as value, and open source will never be the best choice solely because it costs less.

Question: What do new customers find most attractive about open source network management?

Barbagallo: Infrastructure plays a big part in the discontinuity between open source and proprietary IT management tools. For example, to monitor a custom application using a large vendor's proprietary solution, you would have to hire someone with access and knowledge of their APIs to develop a monitoring agent (with the assumption that what you monitor is supported in the base product). With open source, APIs are available for all to see, which means that if changes need to be made to the base product, the source code is readily available.

With an open source framework, thousands upon thousands of developers have access to the source code. It's the law of numbers. Open source plug-ins, patches and "bug fixes" are developed faster than traditional software development methods because a much larger group can get involved and make changes.

This Executive Briefing originally appeared in a weekly report from IT Business Edge.

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