As it is in many market segments, companies in IT management industry are looking for an open source business model that works. The prevailing approach seems to be the hybrid model. In this model, the companies offer both open source and proprietary versions of their products and proprietary versions typically provide additional high end features that is not available in the open source versions of their products.
This business model is only available to the companies that have the IP ownership of the open source code and not an option for more traditional open source projects where IP rights are distributed among many people and there is no single holder.
The model is a win win for both the vendors and the customers provided that the open source versions of the products are viable solutions that stand on their own and not just a ramp that requires every user to upgrade to the paid versions. Customers get access to open source software that solves their problems and vendors get well established benefits of having an open source community.
Not everyone agrees with the above statement. There is a discussion that started with cote naming the open source IT management companies “little 4″ as contrast to the proprietary “big 4″ (IBM,CA,HP,BMC), and heated up again with QClusters exit from the openQRM project, hence little 4 becoming “Little 3″ .
openQRM was not really in the same category with the other 3 in little 4 anyway, and its exit provided an opportunity to reevaluate the open source IT management companies. John Willis took a more minimalist approach, coming up with his own name, calling Hyperic and Zenoss the “mighty two“, others suggested Groundwork and OpenNMS should round up the new Little 4.
John states that Hyperic and Zenoss has a better chance to succeed in the enterprise as they are software companies with significant funding and solid infrastructure. Not surprisingly opposing view comes primarily from the OpenNMS camp (read the comments in John’s post). Tarus is not a fan of the hybrid model. He has criticized the hybrid model (and hence Hyperic and Zenoss), claiming it to be flawed, several times in his posts and comments. He advocates the OpenNMS group’s professional services only model as the superior (and even the only viable) model and states the success of the OpenNMS project as the evidence.
The hybrid model is not an option for OpenNMS group as (unlike hyperic/zenoss) they don’t own the IP rights for the code. OpenNMS apparently has an active developer community that contributes code (surprisingly rare as more and more open source code is developed by few individuals or companies) and OpenNMS group has one or two people who may be dedicated to development rather than services. OpenNMS folks seem to be content with their position, but I wonder why they don’t aspire for more.
Despite being compared to Hyperic and Zenoss, OpenNMS is different product. IMHO, it is the only true (open source) “network monitoring” product available. Hyperic/Zenoss/Nagios are primarily for server monitoring with some capabilities to monitor network devices, yet still not an option for serious network monitoring. The paste of opennms development is slow which is understandable given the fact that there is no dedicated development team. Let’s imagine for a second that OpenNMS group also used the hybrid model and external funding to staff developers to work on opennms. Could they have developed a discovery engine that auto discovers the network layers (layer 2, 3, routing, etc.)? Visual maps to represent these layers? What is OpenNMS offered this additional functionality only in the paid version but all the functionality available now was still available. What if on top of what is currently available, foss version of opennms had gotten a package that can be installed and run on windows easily 3-4 years ago? Would having the option to pay for this additional functionality be a bad thing for the community? Would removing entry barriers such as extensive documentation and easy installation packages not help increase opennms user base?
Open source companies need to continue to innovate in the business model level to find ways to fund the projects that work both for the companies and the communities. Hybrid model is what has emerged so far as one viable option. It is not perfect but it offers an alternative that is in many ways better than pure professional services model. There does not have to be “one true way”. The alternative may be getting squeezed out of the market. Tarus likes to compare OpenNMS with HP and the likes, suggesting that OpenNMS is a viable alternative to them. It is. but it is playing the catch up game instead of leading the field. The tougher competition for opennms (and other open source projects) is not coming from the large proprietary companies like HP and IBM, but from small, agile companies like solarwinds and adventnet with nicely packaged, easy to use products with often lower prices than the open source companies.
If open source companies cannot innovate both business model and technologically, they may get squeezed by these companies in the lower end of the market and the larger proprietary companies with massive sales forces in the higher end of the market.