February 22, 2006

Company to fund project, release source code for systems management software

Author: Stephen Feller

Qlusters last month announced that it would release its Qlusters Resource Manager (QRM) software as open source and start a SourceForge project called openQRM to develop the application.

The open and proprietary versions of QRM are systems management platforms that facilitate and automate the functions of network data centers. The platform can manage thousands of servers following policies set by IT systems managers. The company will continue to offer a proprietary QRM product as well, which will offer access to certified binaries, maintenance releases, and support packages.

OpenQRM separates applications from physical servers; supports multiple configurations for booting and partitioning, with full support for Linux and partial support for Windows; can send and receive information with other data center monitoring software, and react automatically to information from those applications; and is extensible by way of an "advanced plugin system" and modification of its source code.

The company also plans to roll out an Enterprise QRM package later this year, says Fred Gallagher, vice president of marketing and business development at Qlusters. The Enterprise package is expected to include the same support and subscription services, but also will offer proprietary plugins and tools exclusive to the enterprise product. Free plugins for the software also are available to all users, though Qlusters Chief Technology Officer William Hurley says he is not sure when or if proprietary ones would eventually be added to the openQRM code base.

One such proprietary plugin, called transparent application migration (TAM), is due out in the fourth quarter of 2006. TAM allows an IT manager to transfer a user and their applications and files from server to server while they work, and without gaps in service. The idea of the plugin, according to Hurley, is that servers can be taken down for maintenance, and users shifted around, without interrupting work that is in progress.

Qlusters is making openQRM available under a modified version of the Mozilla Public License (MPL) that it is calling the Qlusters Public License (QPL). The only difference between the MPL and modified QPL is an attribution requirement, which requires the openQRM logo be visible on each user interface screen if the software is altered or redistributed. The change is similar to the logo requirement SugarCRM added to the MPL when that software was released under its SugarCRM. Hurley says his company worked with the Open Source Development Lab on its changes to the MPL.

Hurley says the company opted to create the QPL because it felt other licenses, including the GNU General Public License (GPL), were too restrictive. The GPL was rejected, he says, because of its limits on commercial uses of software, as well as the current debate on the new version of the license.

Hurley says a license that allows users to modify the software and port existing data systems to it is as important a factor as cost to customers considering whether to use either the free and open or proprietary version of QRM.

Qlusters cites another point in its favor. In small data centers, Hurley says, you see "homegrown" scripts to manage data on a few servers. As those small centers grow, and the number of servers they manage increases, those small companies move to proprietary products better fit to handle the additional data flow. Hurley says, however, that most proprietary software will not allow the homegrown software to be ported to it.

Hurley says that while some data centers may be looking for additional functionality, and will fully switch from their self-created scripts to QRM or another product, others want to run their own scripts on hundreds of servers or more without installing to each individual machine. The shared store openQRM makes available for networks allows one instance of a script to be run on multiple machines, with Qlusters' product monitoring them all, so the old software doesn't need to be completely jettisoned.

Hurley says many proprietary products also do not allow for the integration of open source software. OpenQRM allows the integration of software by way of plugins, such as one for Nagios, a host, service, and network monitoring program. After installing the plugin, the two applications become aware of one another, and can react to the information they gather based on provisions set by the network administrator.

Depending on the user, openQRM and other software can be operated separately or their menus can be added to the openQRM interface -- also depending on installation options determined by the user, Hurley says. By not requiring users to "get rid of any investment you already made," he says that openQRM becomes the management console for the data center, acting as the central interface to monitor everything at once.

Reality check

Stephen Elliot, a research manager at International Data Corporation (IDC), disagreed with Hurley's assertion about the importance of the license in customers' eyes. He says many companies are not concerned with licensing and access to source code. He says that when looking to purchase software, most companies consider cost, functionality, and how the software fits in with their data centers.

While open source software often has a better price and continuous development, the self-help model typical of much open source software can scare companies, he says. He added that some companies prefer to work with a dedicated company at an almost "business partnership" level to their systems running right.

"It's really all about perception and cost," Elliot says. "There's something to be said for a product with a traditional licensing scheme. And then you've got this whole other group of products that are open source, with a different cost, sometimes free.... It really depends on the person who's buying."

Elliot says there is no way to know how openQRM will work for companies until it is on the market for a while. While most IT centers are "relatively commodity implemented," he says open source software is a growing market they need to consider.

Elliot says many such solutions are "niche products," but their usefulness ultimately comes down to the company looking for software. He says that sometimes a large proprietary product is the right way to go.

"There's certainly lots of tactical tasks with IT and data centers that have to be done that sometimes don't require a robust, expensive tool," Elliot says. "And then there are those that do."

Click Here!