The Order of the Blue Polo - Member 000021

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The Order of the Blue Polo

Rackspace has been a long-time user of OpenNMS - it is the guts of our customer server monitoring service called Rackwatch, monitoring 10's of thousands of nodes and services, but this note is about my own experience setting up OpenNMS for a project in Racklabs.

Racklabs is an R&D group at Rackspace and I was brought into the group in January 2008 to help build the prototype network and server infrastructure for the Cloud Files system. I spent a good bit of time trying out many various monitoring tools, evaluating installation, configuration, automation, customization, and UI intuitiveness.

OpenNMS was one of the first I set up for testing, since I was familiar with it - I had no experience with the software, but was merely aware of its use in Rackspace. The install process was quick and painless using the OpenNMS apt repository, and with very little configuration, OpenNMS was discovering anything in our cluster IP ranges, automagically evaluating SNMP data, parenting multi-interface nodes, picking up most of the services we were running, nicely placing all the info under each host's SNMP hostname for ease of identification, and sending along notices of problems it found. 90%+ of everything I wanted to gather and alert on was done for me.

I moved on to testing out other proprietary, open source, and dual-licensed "open source" monitoring packages, and I quickly found installation issues with some and many difficulties in most of them with regards to meeting my expectations of basic initial configuration and automation. All claim that much automation can be done, but lots of hours of tinkering and I found that quite a few are either, a) undocumented, b) require lots of configuration hacks, c) something I have to code myself, or d) something I have to pay extra for..

Time and time again, I found my evaluations going back to a comparison of software XYZ to my existing test installation of OpenNMS - "this was so easy to do in OpenNMS", or "why do I have to jump through so many hoops to do [something OpenNMS does by default]", or "it's how much?!"

Customization is nearly endless with OpenNMS and I have not even scratched the surface. I set up a few extra services to monitor, imported our custom trap MIBs, and created a couple custom resource graphs. We continue to come up with ideas of additional data we want to gather, and I am always secure in the knowledge that it *can* be done with OpenNMS, given some development time.

While digging through various web UI designs, I am simply able to find things in OpenNMS. I can give someone a login to OpenNMS with very little direction, and they have no problems finding what they need. I cannot say the same of most other UIs. If I can't find where to do/view something and I have to read user manuals to begin to figure out even where to start looking, then I cannot expect someone else to be able to find what they might want to look at.

Finally, I'd like to comment on the philosophy of OpenNMS as a software package and a business. I am an advocate of open source software, and OpenNMS' licensing allows me to do whatever I want with it, in return for my commitment to give back to OpenNMS by way of bug reporting, patches, etc. I like this, and I live this philosophy in the open source community, so OpenNMS is a good fit for me. I have not had a need to open any OpenNMS bugs, due only to the fact that the few I have discovered were already reported and/or fixed in a subsequent release - in public. I am also very happy that OpenNMS has created and maintained a business model that supports truly free software. I'm a systems guy, and one of the great arguments that I can make to the dollars guys is that OpenNMS can be hired at very reasonable rates to help us customize in any way we wish, if the time burden becomes too heavy for us internal systems guys. You can scratch out that argument for proprietary software vendor support - there *is* vendor support available for OpenNMS - and awesome public community support as a bonus.

Thank you OpenNMS for your dedicated time, great software, and a fine example of how to make open source business work.

Cloud Files systems being monitored by OpenNMS:
211 nodes
426 interfaces
1065 services

-Michael Shuler, Racklabs, USA