Robert Gimbel discovered Linux back in college when he was studying computer science. After riding the dot-com wave, first as a contractor, then as IT director for the now defunct PetStore.com, Gimbel got disillusioned with the state of professional IT services and had an idea about providing quality support using open source tools.
He set to work writing monitoring tools that he could use from his office to keep tabs on clients' systems. "I load it on their computer," Gimbel says. "It's a backend engine that will sit there and watch logs and hard disks -- whatever it is I want to monitor." That way, he can act when the monitoring agent detects an imminent hard drive failure or persistent high CPU usage, for example.
There was a missing piece, however. Gimbel needed the ability to provide quick and efficient support without taking the time to drive to field locations, but he didn't want to code it himself.
Gimbel found two products from Echogent, echoWare and echoServer, that facilitate remote connections to client computers. EchoWare is a freely available open source product that, once installed on a system, provides a way for a user to allow remote connections without having to delve into technical information about firewalls, ports, or IP addresses. It can be configured to work with any packet relay server, but Echogent also sells its own, called echoServer, which is a commercial product.
Gimbel downloaded the software, struggled a bit to get it configured, but got a fast response to his request for help. "I tried it out, and after seeing how it worked, I immediately paid for the server," Gimbel says. Now he could take control of problem systems and fix them without ever leaving his office.
Gimbel says customers like the Echogent system because it requires them to give permission for a remote connection, and that makes them feel safer.
The fact that echoWare is open source is important to Gimbel. "I can get in and integrate custom pieces with the client's solution." Gimbel makes a small modification to echoWare that removes the client's option to "name" their computer; instead, each computer has an ID number issued by Cybarworks.
But beyond efficacy, there's loyalty. Gimbel believes in and uses open source throughout the enterprise, which includes seven servers running SUSE and one with Red Hat, and three desktops on SUSE. Gimbel says he believes open source can provide "significant cost benefits." And it has provided greater efficiency as well. "IT services are pretty much a commodity," Gimbel says. "EchoWare allows me to support people from all over. Eventually it won't matter where somebody's at. I'll be able to support them."