Challenges remain for open source systems management

The addition of an open systems management application to the current mix of proprietary offerings is a strong start in a new direction for open source software, but some analysts still see a long, challenging road ahead.

When Qlusters Inc. opened the code of its systems management platform to SourceForge.net on Monday, buzz started building around the fact that the move was a new avenue for open source software (OSS).

However, as the excitement subsided, some analysts said that in the bigger picture, this untried design would now have to go head-to-head with the proprietary players that have dominated the space for decades.

"What we are really talking about here is a $10 billion to $13 billion management market," said Stephen Elliot, research manager for Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. "That's a lot of legacy software and a lot of people who have taken the time to learn these tools."

Elliot said the open source community model has the potential to offer a competitive advantage to any company that uses it to develop software, but it is not a guarantee that projects will succeed.

"People make a lot of noise about the open community model and shared code, but that is based on the assumption that developers care about [the project] and that there is something in it for them versus what they are already doing today," said Elliot.

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Uphill battle

Any open source systems management model will be up against entrenched proprietary alternatives like IBM Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator and complex mixed environment data centers, but executives from the five-year-old Qlusters were undeterred.

Qlusters chief technology officer William Hurley and vice president of marketing Fred Gallagher said the automation features of openQRM were exactly what systems administrators needed to save time and money when the number of servers became too high to handle efficiently.

Many of Qlusters existing customers already have systems administrators stretched thin, Gallagher said. The number of servers an administrator can handle is typically 20, and many customers often had 200 servers or more.

"Qlusters' approach differs from vendors that lock customers into proprietary products and expensive, time-consuming deployments," Gallagher said. "Data centers can now stop paying the proprietary tax of closed source systems management."

Plug it in, plug it in

Hurley said the benefits of having a centralized interface within an open source systems management platform are that administrators would have a new level of flexibility and could integrate applications and plug-ins with the data center without displacing anything.

"A good example is Nagios, [which] is one of the first plug-ins for openQRM," Hurley said. "While the [openQRM] product offers its own monitoring, a lot of people already use Nagios and we don't want to interfere with their business.

"If we provide a new server, we can just let Nagios know the details and monitor without interruption," Hurley added.

OpenQRM can be extended via plug-ins to other systems-management software as well, including virtualization software vendor VMware Inc. Gallagher said that one of Qluster's main reasons for taking its entire software platform open source was to encourage third parties to contribute plugs-ins.

Do your homework

Stacey Quandt, research director of security solutions and services for Boston-based Aberdeen Group, advised that organizations considering an open source systems management alternative should first determine if there is a plug-in for the application they plan to support.

"If a plug-in must be built for a custom application, carefully consider the costs in time and resources and allocate budget to development, testing, implementation and ongoing maintenance," she said.

Until this week, openQRM had been released under a "soft release" and no user references were available from Qlusters. Recent SourceForge.net rankings, however, showed that more than 420 downloads of the openQRM software had occurred to date.

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