April 19, 2007

ScienceLogic appliance leverages open source for network management

Author: Tina Gasperson

ScienceLogic launched three years ago with a mission to bring to market an IT appliance that could monitor every aspect of a company's network infrastructure. CEO David Link calls it "dial tone service quality," a term that has come to mean high reliability and easy accessibility. To accomplish that mission, Link knew that open source software was the key, both internally and in ScienceLogic's flagship product, the EM7.

The EM7 bundles a collection of network monitoring tools. It provides reports on suspicious activity, bandwidth usage, device status, CPU usage, and network event trends. It plugs into the network as an automated appliance, and users can configure it through a browser-based interface. The EM7 is built on a custom Fedora Core kernel, fine-tuned to work with each of the tools needed to monitor a company IT infrastructure. Link says ScienceLogic's version of Linux has passed government accreditation for stability and reliable performance. The United States Navy uses EM7 to monitor its online training program Web sites, and US Department of State vendor CTC uses the appliance to detect Web site failures "before our customer has identified the problem," says CTC's data center manager John Edgar.

Link says the challenge associated with basing a network appliance on Linux is that "there are certain people who aren't familiar with Unix and Linux, and really know the Microsoft operating system well. They're reluctant to buy products that they don't know. The way we overcome that is by building a self-contained graphical interface on top of the applications, so that the user is navigating through the tool without having to spend a lot of time on the command prompt. The challenge was to leverage the tools in a way that is convenient for the customer. We've been able to overcome that by building a great GUI."

To help build the product, Link says ScienceLogic uses almost 100 servers in its testing and development lab, and 95% of them are Linux. Because the product is "manufacturer agnostic," Link says the company also maintains servers with other operating systems so it can model the conditions seen in the field.

Link has used open source software for more than a decade, while working for IBM, Compuserve, and Web hosting company Interliant, which used Linux in its shared hosting services. Because of what he learned about open source's security, value, and flexibility, it seemed a natural choice for him when he decided to launch his own company. "We wanted to build this product to help IT professionals manage and monitor information," he says. "The security was top priority. When you provide a nerve center product you've got to have stunning reliability, because it is telling you how all your other systems are behaving." Open source also made sense because of the rapid code advancement capabilities. "We're developing our software at an open source pace. Open source is good because of the nimbleness it affords you within a global community." It is this nimbleness that allows ScienceLogic to constantly upgrade its product with the latest fixes and advances, much faster than it would be able to if it had to rely on commercial software vendors, Link says. "There's always a new device type that's coming on the network, and you have to adjust very quickly."

One open source project that ScienceLogic has made good use of is Net-SNMP, a protocol for monitoring network routers, computers, and other devices. "It's a tool set of libraries used on Unix and Linux servers," Link says. "It really enables a product like ours to granularly manage applications and servers." Since ScienceLogic relies heavily on Python code, "We released back some source code to make an enhancement to Net-SNMP to include the Python language." That project is similar to PySNMP, which is used by Zenoss and TwistedSNMP. "Giving back is really important to us," Link says. "It's really what the open source community is all about."

One of the biggest benefits of using open source software is its value, Link says. "We did not pursue venture capital. We're self-funded. Open source is very attractive to people who have a great idea and see a void and want to fill it with an interesting solution. They want to do it quickly and not think about raising money. They have that burning desire as an entrepreneur."

Vision is the most important aspect of starting a business based on open source software, Link says. "It's a significant strategic advantage to take the vision you have and execute it very rapidly. That's what open source can do for you."

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