Earlier this year Qlusters crossed the chasm from proprietary to open source software. The small company, backed by blue-chip VCs, took nearly three years of proprietary code development for its sophisticated systems management software and open sourced it under a modified (attribution only) Mozilla Public License. Now, armed with a subscription model (like Ingres going after Oracle) and a growing community, the company is ready to take on proprietary establishment, such as BMC, CA, IBM and HP.
I asked Ofer Shoshan, founder and CEO of the company, It's a good time to go into attack mode versus the incumbents. what led to the new strategy. “We saw a very clear demand from customers to have an open source alternative for systems management,” he explained. More likely, he wasn't making headway against the entrenched market leaders in delivering software for managing data centers full of x86 Linux machines. Change the rules of the game and ride the open source wave, rather than fight a losing battle with the heavyweights. Currently, Qlusters has only about ten customers for its formerly proprietary solution.
Now come the big ambitions. “OpenQRM [Qlusters Resource Manager] will be an Apache of system management in terms of how it structured and how it’s adopted by the community,” Qlusters CTO William Hurley told me. Shoshan said he is aiming to become open source system management solution equivalent of MySQL in the database market (Qlusters and MySQL share common venture investors and board members). Whatever the comparison, Qlusters has seen the open source light. And, like SugarCRM, Ingres and others, Qlusters is really hybrid open source, with some proprietary components to increase margins and differentiation.
Shoshan and company hope to boost the odds for success by forming a open source systems management coalition, combining several open source system management projects together to deliver what he described as a “true alternative to proprietary products in the market.” Hurley described the coalition as a potential "800-pound gorilla alternative to IBM Tivoli" and other proprietary heavyweights, who he dissed as “old and stodgy” compared to the more fleet "user-driven innovations" that come from an open source ecosystem.
“We would like to get more open source communities involved,” Hurley said about the coalition, “and then move the framework into distributions out of the box. We are looking at having as many plug-ins as possible and starting the coalition to have a common way of sharing information."
Qlusters executives didn't have a lot to say at this point about who would be part of the coalition to attack the heavyweights.
The systems management market will be harder to crack than the Web server market, which Apache helped launch. In addition to the big players, proprietary companies like Opsware and upstarts like Cassatt are going after the market, also claiming to deliver massive annual savings in automating x86-based data centers. In any case, OpenQRM will push the "stodgy established players hobbled by slower development cycles toward lower cost, more flexible subscription offerings over time. At the same time, more CIOs are considering open source alternatives beyond Linux, so it's a good time to go into attack mode versus the incumbents.
The OpenQRM (Qluster Resource Manager) includes policy management, dynamic provisioning, centralized image management and connectors to other services, such as VMware, LDAP, Nagios, DHCP servers and iSCSI devices. According to Hurley, OpenQRM ranks among the top 25 open source projects on SourceForge, with 7,000 to date and hundreds of installs. Qlusters has also gained about a dozen contributors to its project, in addition to its ten internal programmers. For example, a lead developer from the FreeBSD is porting the operating system to OpenQRM. Currently, OpenQRM has limited support for Windows and Solaris.
Qlusters subscription fees (for binaries, patches, alerts, 24x7 tech support) are $750 per managed server per year (closer to $500 for volume sites). In the second half of this year, Qlusters will release Enterprise QRM, which will include some proprietary components, such as a trans-application migration tool that allows migration of a live application online from one server to another without dropping transactions. It will be priced at $1000 per server per year, according to Fred Gallagher, vice president of marketing and business development.