GroundWork CEO Unveils Open-Source Vision

If you ask Ranga Rangachari what the future looks like, he’ll tell you it’s wide open — for open source, that is. Rangachari took over as president and CEO of GroundWork Open Source Solutions in July and is prophesying massive change in the enterprise software market. Specifically, he envisions an open-source enterprise.

GroundWork develops, integrates and enhances best-of-breed open-source software to deliver open-source IT monitoring solutions designed to improve IT infrastructure availability and performance at a fraction of the cost of commercial software.

Rangachari isn’t without the commercial industry knowledge to help lead the transition into open source he’s predicting. He brings more than 20 years of sales and management experience from leading enterprise software companies, including Invio Software and Legato Systems, to his office at GroundWork headquarters in Emeryville, Calif.

LinuxInsider caught up with Rangachari to talk about his passion for open source, how his company plans to redefine the economics of IT management solutions deployment, and his vision for the future.

LinuxInsider: How will the direction of the company change with you at the helm? What new vision or strategy are you bringing to the table?

Ranga Rangachari: Our vision is to redefine the economics of IT operations management by continuing to introduce software applications that lower the cost of running large, complex networks.

LinuxInsider: How will you redefine the economics of how companies deploy and manage IT management solutions?

Rangachari: The leading products in IT operations management are overkill for vast numbers of customers. Rather than fighting feature wars, we emphasize breadth of coverage over depth of coverage and focus on the essential features that customers really need.

To deliver ongoing operational value, we package software, expertise and support into a comprehensive product/support subscription offering, beginning with initial installation/configuration assistance; we continue with configuration assistance as customers’ infrastructures grow; and we provide a constantly updated knowledge base of best practice-based how tos, configuration libraries and report formats.

LinuxInsider: Why are you so passionate about open-source?

Rangachari: Massive change is taking place in enterprise software with an increasing number of companies turning to open source as a more flexible and affordable alternative.

LinuxInsider: In your opinion, how is the corporate view of enterprise software changing?

Rangachari: After the spending glut associated with Y2K, enterprises essentially froze their IT spending. During the last 18 months, there has been a thaw in their spending, but there has been a tremendous amount of emphasis on time to value. CIOs are paying very close attention to things like software procurement cost, end user training cost and on-going support.

LinuxInsider: You’ve talked about an open-source approach to IT management solutions. What do you mean by that?

Rangachari: Open-source tools for IT management have matured significantly in the past few years and customers are eager to use them. Tools such as Nagios (an availability monitoring product) or MRTG (Multi-Router Traffic Grapher) have been downloaded and put to use by hundreds of thousands of users worldwide. The challenge is that these tools tend to solve narrow problems, are often difficult to configure, and are not supported.

Initially, our approach was to help customers benefit from open-source by simply installing, configuring and supporting the best of them. Over time, in response to customer needs, we developed our own software that either helped to integrate these tools, helped to configure them, or extended their capabilities for an enterprise user. GroundWork Monitor, for instance, integrates Nagios and a few other open-source tools, but also includes a completely separate GroundWork-developed interface, data model, configuration utility and other enhancements.

LinuxInsider: Is the functionality of these open-source solutions competitive with commercial software?

Rangachari: A number of open-source alternatives have emerged that demonstrate highly competitive functionality. Besides Nagios and MRTG which I already mentioned, there is nmap for network scanning and discovery; ntop for network traffic analysis; SyslogNG for log file analysis; and Cacti for SNMP analysis and performance graphing. These products provide strong core functionality. Nagios, perhaps the most popular, has generated 660,000 downloads since 2001 and its users include companies like AT&T Wireless, Siemens, AOL, TicketMaster and TimeWarner Cable.

LinuxInsider: What do you see as the biggest opportunities in this space in light of the market changes?

Rangachari: The biggest opportunity is to provide enterprise IT operations management solutions for the vast number of particularly middle market customers who need sophisticated products but can’t afford traditional big iron tools. Their networks are increasingly complex and their business units depend increasingly on IT. But spending US$300,000 to $500,000 on a solution that takes a year to install — and a small army with PhDs to manage — just doesn’t fly. So open source enables us to address these customers with a solution that does what they need for a quarter of the price.

LinuxInsider: What do you foresee for open-source solutions in the enterprise market?

Rangachari: As open-source software moves from the domain of operating systems, databases and middleware to applications, we and other open-source developers are pioneering a development approach that focuses on constructing enterprise-ready open-source applications by integrating diverse open-source software into comprehensive enterprise solutions.

This approach reflects a new trend in open-source development — the shift from single products to enhanced, composite applications. New companies are integrating open-source components into various certified and supported application stacks that aim to address enterprise customers’ need for more “finished” open-source products.

LinuxInsider: What do you see as the biggest challenges in the open-source-based IT management solutions space?

Rangachari: The most common misconception in some organizations isthat open-source software means customers are on their own with no support.

LinuxInsider: What about interoperability challenges? How big of a problem is this and what will it take to overcome these concerns from enterprises?

Rangachari: Open-source solutions actually ease the challenge of interoperability. Instead of being confined to a framework that precipitates add-on costs and maintenance fees — and limits options down the road — an open-source platform enables companies to easily link together existing monitoring tools and integrate new ones.

Open-source IT management solutions can be customized to customer requirements given their configurable component architecture as well as their transparent, modifiable source code. They are also well suited to heterogeneous management tool environments, given their open interfaces.

LinuxInsider: What is your vision for the future of open-source IT management solutions?

Rangachari: As customers begin to realize the economic, technical and cultural benefits of deploying open-source based solutions, it is not hard to imagine a truly open data center where all the individual components are based on open-source technologies. We have already seen customers starting to head in this direction and expect this phenomenon to move into the mainstream over the next 18 to 24 months.

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