You may or may not be surprised to hear that right now, the systems management sector--which encompasses monitoring, systems, and network management tools--generates about $4 billion in sales. It is projected that this will expand to around $12-$14 billion in annual sales soon, with just four companies taking up to half of those sales numbers.
The four, euphemistically known as the Big Four, are IBM, BMC, HP, and CA. The rest of the industry is comprised of many smaller players, with quite a few vendors promoting open-source solutions, including Alterpoint, GroundWork Open Source, Hyperic, The OpenNMS Group, and Zenoss. Even half of a $4-billion pie is a pretty big deal, and the open source systems management vendors are leveraging everything they can to flourish in this market.
One of the tools these vendors can use is a new site launched last September that will provide open-source project hosting and community collaboration for systems management software: MonitoringForge.
MonitoringForge stands in a unique place within the systems management community. It hosts projects, though typically those focused on monitoring, not broader systems management tools. Its origins are a bit of a contradiction: it's a community site, through and through, but it's currently sponsored by one vendor: the site was launched by GroundWork Open Source (GWOS).
This relationship has raised some eyebrows among other vendors in the space. Tarus Balog, the CEO of OpenNMS, in particular, has been very vocal about his reservations regarding MonitoringForge.
It's a conversation I am sure Balog has had with Tara Spalding, Chief Marketing Officer of GWOS and Chair of the MonitoringForge advisory board. Though she didn't mention specific conversations with any one person, Spalding indicated that indeed MonitoringForge had "taken some flak, that this is just a [GWOS] marketing scheme."
Spalding is very quick to defend GWOS' sponsoring role with MonitoringForge.
"This is community money spent. Not marketing money," she stated in a recent interview.
If this is a marketing plan, then it's a pretty diffuse one. In the six months since its launch, MonitoringForge has blown past the 2,000-member mark, and is currently hosting over 650 open source projects from a variety of vendors (including Zenoss) and community members. Visitors to the site can find solutions for a lot of monitoring needs, through downloads, discussions, or documentation.
A key driver for MonitoringForge is that it is user-driven, Spalding explained. Customers, typically sysadmins, are looking for solutions, not topics of discussion.
"We are letting customers define what those solutions are," she added.
With that philosophy firmly entrenched, GWOS is shifting from the role of founder to participant. Repeatedly during our conversation were indications that GWOS wants MonitoringForge to spin off into whatever direction the community sees fit. The idea here is not to dictate the direction of the MonitoringForge community, nor the broader vendor community.
"We're trying to rise the tide for all of the boats," Spalding said.
A centralized community site/resource is something that the community is clearly craving, though with limited success. In 2006, six vendors (Ayamon, Emu Software, Qlusters, Symbiot, Webmin, and Zenoss) launched the Open Management Consortium, "an effort to promote the adoption, development, and integration of systems and network management software based on open source and open standards technologies." That effort, sadly, has fallen by the wayside, as have some of the participating vendors.
But the need for collaboration and sharing continues, and GWOS is trying to build something to fit that role.
"If we didn't have this," Spalding stated, "it would be hard [for open source vendors] to stay afloat."
Spalding likens the role of MonitoringForge to that of a broader advocacy group such as the Idaho Potato Commission, where one of her friends works. By letting farmers of all sizes participate in one central marketing and advocacy organization, smaller farms get the same benefits as the large ones.
As MonitoringForge moves forward, the value of such a role should become pretty clear for the systems management arena.