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The open-source CEO: An interview with Dave Lilly of GroundWork

An interview with Dave Lilly, CEO of GroundWork.

Dave Lilly, CEO of GroundWork GroundWork

I caught up with Dave Lilly, founder and CEO of GroundWork, earlier this week to see how things are going. Lilly recently replaced GroundWorks' former CEO, Ranga Rangachari, and I was interested to hear about the changes at GroundWork.

GroundWork is an open-source network management company that ostensibly competes with Hyperic, Zenoss, and other open-source IT management companies, but it seems that GroundWork (as well as these others) tends to be a replacement or complement to the big proprietary offerings from HP, BMC, and others.

What has Dave been working on in his first few months as CEO?

In April, we launched our latest version of GroundWork Monitor Open Source 5.2 for Community, Professional, and now GroundWork Monitor Enterprise to meet the needs of our customer base. In 2007, GroundWork saw customers with distributed, enterprise-class deployments increase to nearly 60 percent of our customer base. Nearly a third of GroundWork's subscriber base upgraded to enterprise-class subscriptions. Additionally, in Q1 of 2008, we signed on some new key customers, such as Cap Gemini, Pioneer Hi-Bred, University of Akron and National Bank of Belgium.

Interesting. How has this move into the enterprise affected your work with other open-source projects, specifically Nagio? I've seen some announcements from you and Nagios over the past few months; can you clarify your relationship with Nagios and some of the other open-source projects out there?

GroundWork is committed to the success and independence of Nagios. We have been working closer than ever with the Nagios team. We also support other "best of breed" open source projects like RRD Tool, Ganglia and Cacti. Our strong relationships with the open source community ensure that our customers are always able to obtain the best available proven solutions.

After all, GroundWork's amalgamation strategy combines more than 80 successful OSS projects with our own open source and proprietary software. The whole GroundWork Monitor product family is considerably more capable and more cost effective (on a TCO basis) than the sum of its parts.

I like big words. You mentioned bringing together open-source solutions into GroundWork's technology using the words "amalgamation strategy." What do you mean?

In the same way that Red Hat integrates the Linux kernel and more than 500 open-source components to deliver Red Hat Enterprise Linux, GroundWork packages, integrates, and documents more than 80 best-of-breed open-source network and systems management projects. This gives our customers the most tested, reliable and best performing IT operations management solution. The benefits of this approach to our customers is accelerated by enabling both community and commercial technology partners to build products and services as part of the amalgamation.

Don't the other open-source IT management companies do the same? How is this separating you from the competition?

Our customers receive the benefits of a solution that is more scalable and secure than the open-source projects by themselves which covers a broad range of highly heterogeneous infrastructure and application environments and is more economical and easier to work with than our competitors. Thus GroundWork provides the benefits of proprietary software like HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli at a fraction of both initial and total costs.

You're acting as this grand unifier, but couldn't people then do that on top of you?

Yes, we are flexible in that way. We have partners who have built everything from custom network map extensions to Yahoo widgets that expand what our solution can provide to users.

I recently wrote a post about "a phased approach to open source business," [I'm sure Dave had this tatooed on his abdomen] where I made the point that a phased approach laid out by MySQL may just be the right approach to an open-source business model. Do you think MySQL has the right idea?

The phased or incremental business-model development seems to describe GroundWork's evolving strategy to a "T," through three phases:

First the open-source project teams developed their products and obtained wide adoption for these products. We sold services to help our customers make use of the open-source products, gaining the insight needed to determine which projects would be the most useful in our Community Edition. We also assisted the open-source project teams by making software contributions and providing logistical support.

Second, we created and launched our free open-source Community Edition and its commercial extensions. We were careful to do this so as to enhance the visibility and reputation of the included open-source projects.

Now we enter our third phase, offering an Enterprise Edition, designed explicitly to serve as a common open standards-based platform supporting the contributions of our partners and customers and integrating to well established commercial offerings as well.

It's an approach that certainly seems to be working. GroundWork was able to attract the talented Tara Spalding as its vice president of Marketing earlier this year, and has been making steady progress in enterprise deployments. It's good to see Hyperic, Zenoss, and GroundWork each doing well in their own areas of expertise. It makes for a much more interesting IT management market and ecosystem.

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