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GroundWork to Break New Net Management Ground at Interop

On with the Show

  • August 30, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

When the Interop trade show unfolds in New York next month, its underlying network infrastructure will be managed and monitored by GroundWork Monitor 7, a new edition of a Linux-based software offering that mixes open source tools with unabashedly proprietary middleware.

GroundWork, the company behind Monitor, targets the network monitoring system mainly at companies that are unwilling or unable to pay the hefty pricetags attached to enterprise-oriented network management products like HP OpenView and CA-Unicenter, said Tony Barbagallo, GroundWork's VP of marketing, in an interview with LinuxPlanet.

Cliff Bell, CIO of Phoenix Technologies, is one GroundWork user who fits that profile right down the line. "GroundWork is bringing what the big companies can do [with monitoring and management] all the way to the SMB," Bell maintained, during another interview.

Although GroundWork is probably best known for its use of Nagios, an alarm scheduling and correlation tool, the two-and-a-half-year-old vendor actually takes part in approximately 150 different open source projects, according to Barbagallo.

"Now, we're starting to branch beyond monitoring into real management, too," the VP told LinuxPlanet.

Citing a few examples of existing capabilities, Barbagallo said that GroundWork Monitor already supports the MySQL database, along with SMTP, for polling and trapping of network devices, and Syslog NG, for populating log files for analysis.

The upcoming GroundWork Monitor 7, due out "roughly in October," will go further to add NEDI, for network discovery, and CACTI, for RRDTool-enabled graphical display of network traffic, he said.

Showgoers at Interop will be able to watch the colored network pipes live and in action, according to Barbagallo.

Middleware known as GroundWork Foundation is the proverbial "glue" that holds the open source componentry in Monitor together, preventing customers with limited IT budgets from needing to perform time-consuming and costly systems integration.

The advantages seem to have proven compelling for users ranging from Phoenix Technologies to financial institutions trust Yodlee and online shopping site Shopzilla, to name a few.

"GroundWork is very reasonably priced," according to Bell. "I'd say that it's 'mixed source'--open source with ´┐Żadult supervision.'"

GroundWork Monitor is geared to operating on Linux. "But we'll monitor just about any OS," Barbagallo said.

For the moment, at least, GroundWork certifies the product for Red Hat and Novell SuSE Linux distributions only. But customers are also running the software on platforms that run the gamut from Debian to VMWare and SourceForge.

As Barbagallo sees it, GroundWork doesn't face much direct competition. "There's been a real gap in affordable network management. Many people can't afford either the cost or complexity of an HP Openview or an IBM Tivoli," the VP said.

"There are a lot of different point solutions out there," he acknowledged. "But who wants their system administrator to have to go around to a bunch of different screens to find out what's going on with the network?"

GroundWork was founded in March of 2004 by Robert Fanini and David Lilly, after these two high tech impresarios sold most of the assets of Foglight Software--a company they'd previously founded--to Quest.

GroundWork actually started out as a services provider, albeit with an open source orientation.

"But in doing our open source projects [internally], we developed some software to [integrate] disparate stores. Then we started using [the middleware] with customers and sending it to customer sites. We began to develop a model for a packageable distribution," according to Bell.

Phoenix Technologies was a very early customer. "When I took the reins as CIO there, I found out that we'd been doing a good job at firefighting. But I wanted something that would let us manage the network proactively," Bell explained.

GroundWork Monitor has filled the bill. "We [soon] discovered that our Exchange files were filling up. What if I hadn't found that out until later? I'd have had people out of e-mail for a day or two while I scrambled around and built a server," Bell added.

Monitor is available in three versions: Professional, Small Business, and Open Source. What are the differences between the three? With both the Professional and Small Business packages, but not with the free-of-charge Open Source version, users receive software maintenance and phone support.

On the features side, the two commercial editions also include a set of integrated best practices. "For example, where should you set the thresholds for alarming? And there's another [integrated best practice] that allows you to get detailed monitoring on an Exchange mail server," Barbagallo illustrated.

Beyond that, the distinctions between the Professional and Small Business products are strictly a matter of scale, he said.

Priced at $8,000 for the currently shipping GroundWork Monitor 6.5, the Small Business edition supports up to 50 managed devices.

"But with the Professional Edition, the number of devices is limited only by the performance of the server. You could have up to 2,000 or 3,000 devices (monitored and managed) on a single server," he contended.

Pricing for the two commercial editions will go up some in Monitor 7, Barbagallo acknowledged. But if Bell's response is a good indication, users can hardly wait for the new edition, nonetheless.

"I'll be able to segment the network traffic by application. Then, we'll know how to rewrite our apps to make them less [resource]-intensive," Bell told LinuxPlanet.

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