Zenoss, an open source network monitoring product that runs on a number of platforms, is the fruit of former network manager Erik Dahl. In 2002 he realized that the best way to develop a product with the flexibility, affordability and customization options people wanted was to go open source.
He hasn't looked back since, and the structure of Zenoss tells a unique story that large and small enterprises can learn from.In a recent discussion with Linux, Zenoss vice president Mark Hinkle divulges what makes Zenoss tick oh-so-well on the fuel of pure OSS.
Wrapped around the heart of Zenoss is Python, the programming language that serves as the platform for networking engine Twisted. Zope, a Web app server that is also Python-based, adds a layer of security to the Zenoss project, taking care of mundane foundational tasks "so that we can focus on adding our value and expertise," Hinkle explains. Use of Plone in conjunction with Zope creates an intuitive cocktail that "gives us the flexibility to hack them and make them work together."
But this is only the initial support tier that keeps Zenoss wired. The Zimbra collaboration suite, MySQL and RRDTool (a data logger that probably looks nothing like this one) also play a critical role.
Why dabble in a multiplicity of OSS offerings when one enterprise CMS solution could have done the job?
Cost and flexibility are two major reasons why open source draws a progressively larger following. "Compared to commercial packages [open source offerings] seem to be more cost-effective, and we can do more with less," Hinkle says. "Instead of spending a lot of money buying expensive proprietary software, we can pay salaries for developers and get our product to market quicker."
In an ideal world, an enterprise would spend more time and money developing the product as Hinkle says, and less time and money trying to get foundational software to operate properly. Intuitively, one imagines that an OSS solution would take up more of this precious time, not less. Not only is the reverse true for Zenoss; there are also marketing benefits.
"Because we can focus on the actual application we make, we gain leverage from using high-quality, proven open source products. We benefit from not having to do as much marketing [because] word of mouth in the open source community has allowed us to gain recognition very quickly. And it allows us to keep our cost of sales down."
Zenoss Core is entirely GPL-based, meaning the company is on a 100 percent OSS diet -- no additives. This means Zenoss also holds some wherewithal in the elite and close-knit OSS community.
"Our customers typically know a fair amount about the product from their own trials before they call us," Hinkle explains. With that in mind, they can spend less time and money running the sales presentation treadmill.
Zenoss clearly has its act together OSS-wise. However, some enterprise cms vendors may argue there remain major benefits to choosing a commercial service over an open source one. Ready-made offerings require far less dependence on the skills of an in-house IT team, at least at outset, leaving business developers more time to develop products.
Other benefits include access to a dedicated support team, often 24 hours a day, that is educated in the commercial offering of your choice. (Zenoss solves support issues with SugarCRM, a third-party customer relationship management resource.) And the ability to purchase the next-highest tier of a fully-developed solution as the enterprise grows, rather than attentively building one's open source solutions around the business, can be a boon for enterprises whose needs are broad and not too complex.
In an increasingly tech-savvy world, however, these "benefits" are beginning to appear less and less beneficial. After all, a prêt-à-porter enterprise solution hardly has the slick tailored fit of a well-developed OSS that evolves with a company's unique needs and wants. That's why companies keen on the trend, like Nuxeo and Alfresco, are already building momentum behind a hybrid model to suit both worlds: open source enterprise CMS.
Check out the original Hinkle interview with Linux, or learn more about Zenoss and its open source network monitoring solutions.