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GroundWork adds network monitoring tools to systems management suite

Pam Derringer, News Writer
GroundWork Open Source Inc., the San Francisco-based IT systems management software company, has consolidated four popular open source network tools into its GroundWork

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Despite the version number, GroundWork's Network Management Suite 2.1, is GroundWork's first attempt to offer a "deeper dive" into network monitoring, with identification and analysis of switches, routers and any other IP-equipped devices, according to Bob McKee, GroundWork's vice president of product management. The product was introduced on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

These tools offer a more granular view of network data than is available from GroundWork Monitor Enterprise -- which has an IT systems-centric view -- and at a fraction of the cost of proprietary alternatives. They are now available as an add-on to the enterprise application and integrate data directly into Enterprise's databases and displays, he said.

Previously, GroundWork offered network monitoring tools only through its consulting services, not as a software product. The tools now have been fully tested and integrated and can be downloaded and purchased from GroundWork's support portal, McKee said. Over the past three years, GroundWork has developed these tools in concert with open source community teams.

GroundWork's four new network monitoring tools are the following:

  1. The Network Discovery Module. The first tool is a network detective that automates the otherwise manual search for network devices, identifies how the devices are configured and then reports the information back to GroundWork Monitor Enterprise. Monitor, in turn, sets thresholds for the devices and sends alerts when needed. A network inventory is important because the addition of devices can have significant ramifications for routing, security, performance and bandwidth allocation, explained David Dennis, GroundWork's senior director of product marketing.
  2. The Traffic Graphing Module. The second tool is based on the Cacti open source project, which collects SNMP (Simple Network Monitoring Protocol) data and graphs it on your choice of Cacti templates. This module saves a lot of manual graph preparation, and integrates the data into Monitor's displays. Similar to the Nagios tool, the Traffic Graphing Module is more efficient, especially with large systems, McKee said;
  3. The Protocol Analysis Module. The third tool is based on ntop, which tracks network traffic by individual users, nodes and operating systems based on data collected from routers or switches, pinpoints congested areas and performs protocol analysis to resolve the problem; and, finally,
  4. The Network Map Module. Finally, this tool inputs data from the traffic module and graphs it in colors to show where thresholds are exceeded and, consequently, where the network requires attention.
Cheaper than proprietary monitoring tools
The application suite's competitive advantage is its integration into GroundWork Enterprise, which especially helps larger customers, McKee said. Collectively, the tools offer one-stop shopping at less cost than do proprietary vendors because these tools originate from open source products, he said.

The $38,000 annual subscription for GroundWork Enterprise and Network Management Suite ($14,000 for the network module alone), is a third the annual license of the major proprietary vendors and avoids a steep first-year purchase price that can run 12 times as much as GroundWork, McKee said. With an additional server, the price is $48,000.

As for the company itself, Dennis said the first half of 2008 was the best to date in GroundWork's 4-year history.

Dennis declined to say whether the venture-backed firm is yet profitable. But GroundWork has a large and growing list of customers, the largest of which have more than 10,000 servers, he said.

Although a handful of vendors dominate the estimated $4.3 billion systems monitoring market, customers have now turned to GroundWork to cut costs, he said.

"With GroundWork, customers don't have to cancel a project or eliminate servers," Dennis said. "They're just swapping out functionality and spending a ton less money."

Good-enough monitoring
Jay Lyman, an open source analyst with the New York City-based 451 Group, said GroundWork's move to launch a product based on services popular with its large customers is fairly typical for an open source company. Network monitoring was a logical expansion from Groundwork's existing server and device monitoring products, he added.

Although GroundWork's monitoring systems don't have as many features as those of the major players like Hewlet-Packard Co. and IBM Tivoli, its systems are good enough for many, especially those in small and medium-sized companies, Lyman said. Typically, a company like GroundWork will win a trial deployment in a large enterprise department and then progress to another department or development group and then, finally to production, he said.

The impact of the current slowdown on GroundWork remains to be seen.

"The economy could help GroundWork," Lyman said. "It's already positioned as an open source alternative [to proprietary vendors]. There's plenty of room for them in the market and they have a dramatic price advantage," but they also face competition from free, nonsupported open source projects such as Ganglia, Cacti or Nagios as well as free community monitoring versions from commercial vendors like Hyperic or Zenoss, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Pam Derringer, News Writer . And check out Enterprise Linux Log.


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