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BMC's Developer Network and Open Source Announcement

Today, BMC’s Open Source Dude, William “whurley” Hurley released BMC’s Developers Network site which includes an open source section. Both are interesting in the respect of filling large holes BMC has had ever since I’ve known them: establishing a common community for developers and open sourcing more of it’s own software. As has been noted, and as with HP, sure, BMC uses and participates in open source, but as of yet they haven’t committed much along the lines of assets, time, or money to it.

James has a nice and concise post on the topic for those who don’t like plodding through the below ;>

What it Is: Community and OSS Adaptors

You can see the various developer communities available in this poll: the Remedy AR community, devcon, and a few others. The top sites are not too “thriving,” though I’ve noticed that certain product lines in BMC’s portfolio tend to do all right. In short, BMC’s developer community sites have not been so hot over the past few years. The explanation is that BMC hasn’t had the sort of maniacal focus on developers in recent times that people like me like to see software companies has, at least online., launched when I still worked there, was nice and shocking at the same time because it was such a new web thing for BMC to be doing. And while BMC-ites like Anne Gentle have been thinking about using wikis for sometime, from what I can tell, there’s still no BMC wiki for layering on additional documentation and best practices to BMC products and the community.

The point of laying this out isn’t to say that BMC is fuddy-duddy when it comes to “2.0” concepts and community building (which it was), but more to give enough context to see why having a central developer community site is a big deal and step for BMC.

Open source, of course, is also a big deal coming from any of the Big 4 IT management vendors. As mentioned earlier this week in the context of HP, none of the Big 4 have moved into the “mature” stages of open source. IBM is sort of the lead here with it’s involvement in Eclipse Aperi, but as far as a major event of becoming a patron of an existing, successful IT management open source project or starting their own major project, I don’t believe the Big 4 have crossed that line yet.

Now, BMC’s open source offerings are adaptors to it’s closed source software, which is sort of the path of least resistance. I’m sure getting even those projects out there in a culture that’s still closed source was a momentous task. It’s easy to poke sticks at big companies when it comes to open source, but in reality, open sourcing anything at a closed source company is a big effort.

Open Sourcing More: the BPM SDK Scenario

That said, what I’d like to see are complete products being open sourced: components that can be used on their own or at least used as components in other software. For example, the BMC Performance Manager SDK (which I worked on, to disclaim) is a prime target for open sourcing. The BPM SDK are the libraries, configuration methods, and runtime needed to do all the low-level monitoring and (eventually) management. That is, the BPM SDK is the sort of gate from Everything Else into the rest of the BMC product line (along with other low-level “agents”). “Gateway technologies,” those at the edge of your product line’s reach, are perfect thing for companies to open source:

  • Revenue is usually not directly delivered by low-level, technologies, though revenue is certainly made possible. In the world of IT management, the “low level” is the agent (be it “agentless” or “agentful”). Technologically, that layer is commoditized. While a vendor can provide value in scaling and performance here, there really is very little “secret sauce” at the low level of IT management anymore. As a customer, actually spending money on that level is anachronistic for the most part. The real value is in what you do with all the data and management capabilities: orchestrating, automating, reporting on IT, or otherwise making decisions based on what these lower levels are telling you. Note the cash paid for recent acquisitions like Opsware, RealOps, and ProactiveNet. In each case, these are parts of the IT management stack that do more than monitor and basic reactions: they actually “figure out” what do based on all that data.
  • As with any plugin architecture, the more outside people contribute to that layer, the more sales chances there are for the “parent technology” (here, the BMC product line). This is the share-cropper/co-creation/Metcalf’s Law notion that we all get excited about. Call it what you will, the point is that the more attention and code you have from outside developers, the more value in your over-all product line and brand. And a business can profit from that attention and those extra hands.

In short, you give away the roads and sell the houses.

Other Options

BMC, like most of the elder companies, has a vast product portfolio. There’s plenty of chances for open source dumping as well — taking old products and open sourcing them. “Open source dumping” is a derogatory term, but really, the practice can deliver on one of the goals of FSF-style open source: allowing the end users to control “their” code and, thus, their use of it. Product lines like the PATROL Agent and the Knowledge Modules are probably ripe with sub-systems, if not themselves, that BMC could hand over to the community instead of taking on all the work themselves.

When it comes to the older products, I suspect BMC would be pleasantly surprised to find communities of people who wanted to keep the technologies alive rather than migrate to other technologies. And while it may not be beneficial for BMC to do all the maintenance on it’s own — as closed source — it would probably be beneficial for all involves, vendor and customers, to open source them, BMC providing project management and otherwise “certifying the product” and the community providing most of the development and QA.

And I’ll throw a crazy one out there (crazy based on it’s revenue as I understand it): how about the CMDB? Could one come up with a plan where-in open sourcing it would actually be more profitable than keeping it closed source? It’d certainly be mud in the eye of the rest of the Big 4 and CMDB vendors. In BMC’s case, there’s the AR system, the runtime framework underpinning many of BMC’s highly successful products like Remedy and the CMDB. Less dramatic, I suspect the CMDB Federaton would benefit from an open source project or two. Here’s one idea.

To get into Microsoft-land, how about PowerShell adaptors and scripts, or some SML/SDM-oriented projects.

And whatever happened to Marimba?

Like I said, BMC has a lot of products that look juicy for open sourcing. Which usually leads to…

Open Source Revenue Jitters

Existing open source IT management vendors have benefited from an even more aggressive approach to open source: open sourcing whole products, not just “gateways.” The advantage here is that potential customers and user can “try and buy” rather than go through the enterprise sales-cycle. And while Spiceworks isn’t open source, it’s rapid rise to over 100,000 active users and the resulting monetization of that new channel was a result of similar low barriers to entry.

Part of this ability has to do with ease of install and a quick feedback loop to seeing value in the product. Some of this can be chalked up to be new product lines that have yet to be laden with the difficulties of long-lived, successful code-bases. That’s sort of an unfair gimmie.

The other, more important, part has to do with open source licensing and the low-barrier to entry distribution effects that follows. Of course, I’m ever skeptical of just how much revenue a software company can make from this model.

Could Hyperic, Zenoss, and GroundWork achieve the same quarterly revenue that BMC or other Big 4 do from license and maintenance sales of closed source products? Important to note in that question is that if the answer is “no,” that’d be by no means failure on any of those companies part: instead it means that closed source companies are either over-charging or otherwise figuring out how to get more money that isn’t based on selling the “true value” of the software and it’s use in license and support costs.

Open Source and Enterprise IT Management Revenue

I’m a firm believer that software, like cars, looses it’s value rapidly over time. The way the software is used, the data and process it enables, and the exit costs are the real value and prohibitions from “paying less.” Open source has a weird way making all those values transparent to customers rather than hiding those value evaluations behind licensing and support costs. Of course, the way “real” enterprise software sales occur is anything but “sticker price.”

Big enterprise negations for software pricing — licensing, support, or whatever — are more along the lines of “how much do I have to pay you to ask me ‘how high?’ each time I say ‘jump?'” With that understanding, I’ve been slightly perplexed by the fear of open source that large, closed source enterprise software vendors cultivate: enterprise customers are more savvy than to think that making that initial copy of the software is what they’re paying for, where the value is. They’re paying to get the vendors attention for features, support calls, and otherwise outsourcing the development and running of that software to the vendor when that customer’s in-house staff can’t “take care of it.”

Enterprise software spend is all about spending money to get the vendor to do what you want, when you want it. The same rules can apply if the product is open source or closed source.

Of course, there’s also providing IT management as a SaaS. So far, few Big 4 IT management vendors have moved beyond the notion that SaaS for them is bonkers (Sun is coming around). But, once you screw with the distribution and deployment angle like that, open source is sort a moot point.

BMC & Open Source: Keep Running

So, as you might guess, my advice is for BMC to be even more aggressive with open source. Move before someone else does and steals the first mover advantage. IBM as a company gets open source and could create the will to go nuts with open source in IT management. CA and HP: I’m not too sure about at the moment…but they could Black Swan it up just as easily as anyone else if their will and culture changed.

As I said about HP and open source earlier this week, the fastest path is “acquiring” an open source project, which is more about hiring the projects key developers. There’s also open sourcing existing projects, which is a longer, tougher haul, but has a better potential pay-off. Doing both is good stuff as well.

BMC’s announcement is a great step: excreting the will as a company to pull of such a thing can be flood gates towards more complete open sourcing. As I said when BMC hired whurley:

I know whurley is up to the task: like the open source world itself, the man has no end of energy and drive. whurley also brings a rich set of connections into the open source world that — in my experience at least — has been lacking in a formal way at BMC. My hope is that BMC will give him the room and permission to “make it happen,” and hiring him is certainly a signal in the right direction.

Indeed, those words still apply now that the first step is handled.

(Oh, and allow me to say congrats on choosing the BSD license. As I’ve said before, personally, I’m a BSD man, so it makes me happy to see people choose it ;>)

Disclaimer: BMC is a client and I used to work there. IBM and CA are clients, as are SpiceWorks, GroundWork, Zenoss, Sun, Eclipse, and Microsoft. Check out the list for ones I missed.

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Categories: Community, Marketing, Open Source, Systems Management.

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8 Responses

  1. Phew! That's a lot to digest. I'll have to go over it one more time.
    Open sourcing of IT management products is an interesting topic. Many questions bounce around in my mind. Here is the my train of thought as I read this post:
    Why do customers want open source? To be able to change/improve the code themselves? This seems unlikely to me. On the contrary, the attitude I see is somewhat opposite. Customer do not want to take responsibility of the code hence ideally they don't want to touch it. I think there is a significant difference between the software products that are mainly used by developers and non developers. Non developers by their nature do not contribute code. Sure they can file bugs, may be write documentation (not very likely)etc. but they do not typically get into coding themselves. So I think open source software does not necessarily have an appeal to customers due to availability of the source code. I'd be curious to find out, how much of the code is contributed by the customers to open source IT management companies such as the ones you're advising.

    But open source software does have an appeal. As in the case of Spiceworks low barriers to entry is very important. Customers do want to "try and buy". Open source software provide this by its nature so customers happily download the software, try it, see what the benefit is etc. and buy if they decide to use it. Along with the low barriers to entry, customers expect to get transparency, opportunity to participate in shaping the product.
    Before the Big 4 open source their products, they have many, many! steps they can take. There are no trial versions for most of their products. They still often demand NDAs to evaluate products, customers often feel ignored and have little to no information or influence on where the product is heading. and pricing is not transparent. Surely, open sourcing would by its nature do all this, and may be it is the magic bullet because of that. Not because we can see and change the code but all that comes with open sourcing a product.

    Back to reading the post one more time…

  2. I'll be honest here. I know nothing about BMC.

  3. Christopher: they make software that manages IT (sys admins) and helps IT departments provide that all that IT to the rest of the business. That's the idea of "IT management" and what "the Big 4" do 😉

  4. Good analysis. This is our first baby step (like JG points out) and you'll see a lot more coming in the future – along the lines that you mention above. -Fred

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] Cote offers a deeper analytical perspective here. I tend to be quite positive on news like this. Mostly because I see BMC’s moves here as a […]

  2. […] Our buddy whurley at BMC announced his open source licensing strategy stating that BMC will start to offer a number of projects under the OSI-approved BSD license. Good Job, William, nice start. I am patiently waiting to see if Remedy or Patrol are going to make the list. [Cote has some great analysis] […]

  3. […] 07/25/2007 – BMC open source the BPM SDK, AR, CMDB, provide reference implementation(s) for the CMDB Federation, PowerShell adaptors and scripts, do SDM/SML work, and/or Marimba. And then providing IT management as a SaaS, again. […]

  4. […] week I talked with whurley about the recent open source and developer network announcements from BMC. More than just covering the announcements, we talked about why BMC is starting with open source […]