Open source group to handle network management

An Austin, Tex., network management company has set out to build an open-source community around network inventory management tools.

This week at the Gartner Enterprise Networking Summit, AlterPoint, Inc. unveiled ZipTie, an open-source project that the company said it will seed with some foundational technology from its DeviceAuthority network management product, while continuing to sell its more advanced management tools under commercial licences.

ZipTie will offer the ability to discover, back up and restore network device configurations, compare configurations across devices and over time and distribute changes. It will include tools for performing administration tasks on any device and a common language for controlling the configurations of multiple vendors’ network devices.

“We started to realize that this part of our solution was in some senses almost (a) commodity,” explained Roger Castillo, AlterPoint’s chief technical officer. Faced with the constant task of expanding the fundamental tools to keep up with new vendors and devices entering the market, Castillo said, AlterPiont decided that “a community-based standard and community-based technology would better address a broad range of requirements.”

That’s good thinking, according to George Goodall, an industry analyst at Info-Tech Research in London, Ont. “ZipTie does two things for AlterPoint,” Goodall said. “It drops development costs of the core platform by recruiting community development and it drives market interest. Of particular importance for AlterPoint is the community development of various adapters that integrate with the wide variety of network devices.”

However, said Goodall, “the trick for AlterPoint will be to find a way to monetize some aspect of ZipTie, rather than being commoditized by it.”

Apparently AlterPoint’s strategy is to open-source the basic technology while keeping more advanced pieces of its network management offering within the commercial fold. Castillo said customers want higher-value tools such as change management.

And, he said, other network management vendors have also shown interest in using ZipTie as a foundation for their own products. Networking hardware vendors don’t make money by building management software for their products, he said. “An open-source approach to saving this software development cost is a natural thing to happen.”

To make it easy for AlterPoint and other network management software vendors to build commercial tools on top of the open-source ZipTie components, AlterPoint has chosen the Mozilla Public License for ZipTie. Its provisions allow commercial vendors to build on top of an open-source product, as long as they provide conspicuous acknowledgement of the open-source components – a provision that Castillo said will ensure AlterPoint gets some exposure when others use the tools.

While open-source network management software hasn’t yet affected the market share of establishing commercial products like Hewlett-Packard Development Co.’s OpenView or Cisco Systems Inc.’s CiscoWorks, Goodall said, it is increasingly becoming an option. He said RANCID and Network Discovery Suite (NeDi) are open-source network configuration management tools similar to ZipTie, and there are other open-source network management offerings, such as the OpenNMS network management platform. 

Castillo said support for a few Cisco and Linksys devices is already downloadable from the ZipTie community site, and within 60 to 90 days AlterPoint plans to convert its adapters for about 100 different devices and make them available through ZipTie.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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