Some of the fattest margins in the proprietary software world exist in systems management.
IBM Tivoli, H-P, CA and BMC have no full open source competitors. Yes, there are many projects out there which can do part of what these suites can do, but if a medium-sized company needs a full solution it can be hard to put together.
Bill Karpovich says his Annapolis-based company, Zenoss, comes pretty close for small and medium-sized businesses. Zenoss focuses on monitoring, features like inventory and configuration, monitoring availability and performance, and event management. But there are many other open source projects in the space that are complementary -- OpenSIMS, NetDirector, and Qlusters among them.
Despite all this, the need for less-expensive solutions is giving him some good case studies. He says Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore had a low bid of $580,000 for systems management which terrified the CIO. "We ended up delivering a solution that gave them 80% of what the big guys gave for 20% of what they’d pay."
There are lots of other Mercy Hospitals out there. Karpovich estimates he is looking at a $9 billion market. And he has some innovative ideas for pushing his GPL software forward -- a site called Zenoss.Org to build the community, and Zenoss.Net to build things like a Wikipedia for systems management problems, and a MySpace for systems management professionals. (Right now Zenoss.Net resolves to Zenoss.Org.)
There is still a lot to do in order to give open source systems management buyers any of the assurances that the big boys offer as a matter of course, with bills to match. Karpovich is working with the Open Management Consortium on a chart or matrix that will tell buyers what's out there, but the group itself is just two months old.
It will take time to pull all these things together, to build experience with larger-and-larger enterprises until big companies can trust an open source solution, he admits.
It's a journey of 1,000 miles, but the first steps have been taken.