A former network engineer turned author and open source software developer, Taylor Dondich says applications such as Nagios provide a viable low-cost, high-performance alternative to commercial IT management and monitoring tools. Now a senior developer at GroundWork Open Source, Dondich recently published a book called Network Monitoring with Nagios (available as a PDF download here ), in which he provides tips and tricks to get the popular open source monitoring application up and running quickly in IT shops. Dondich recently discussed with Denise Dubie the evolution of open source management applications, the emergence of commercial vendor support packages and why the time is right for IT managers to consider open source for their IT monitoring needs.
How did you get your start working with open source management applications?
Before I joined GroundWork Open Source, I was a network engineer in Las Vegas. I was a main network engineer for one of the downtown properties, and unlike the strip casinos, we had a very limited budget and we had to really cut costs in a lot of areas regarding IT management. Monitoring was one of those cases, and I realized open source was definitely a viable solution for us. I looked at some of the open source choices out there and Nagios struck me as being the most customizable and the most powerful for our needs.
How did you transition into working for GroundWork?
During the implementation of Nagios at our property, I wrote some open source software on top of Nagios, one being Fruity , which is a Nagios configuration tool, and that gained the attention of GroundWork Open Source. Now I am with them and writing IT management software that Nagios powers in part.
Why the move from network engineer to commercial vendor software developer?
I initially met them with some hesitation. It was kind of interesting to meet a company that was commercial by nature, in that it is clearly trying to make money -- but yet it is trying to do it in the open source way. I was writing Fruity and GroundWork was writing a network configuration tool as well called Monarch . But they were still very much interested in having me improve Fruity, even though they had Monarch. They didn't want Fruity to die as a project. They were very strong in their open source opinion, they wanted to promote open source, and if they find good solutions out there they are going to help promote them. That was really something that appealed to me and was a major factor in joining them.
Why is it important to you to stay connected to the open source management community?
The unique thing about the open source community at large is that people and community members power it mostly. For example, Nagios has one of the most powerful open source communities out there, people are helping other people with their problems. If you have a problem, hop onto the Nagios mailing list and usually a very informative person is going to help you out. It's the same with GroundWork, even though we are a commercial company with support services for customers, you can also hop onto our open source forums, ask a question and we'll help you out. That is one of the great things about open source. It is really a community effort. Because of that community members are not just helping other users, they are also enhancing the open source product. Some community members help write code, some help test the code and in a sense that helps provide a more stable robust and application solution that is tailored to the users of the product.
What inspired you to write the book about Nagios?
Nagios, even though it's a very powerful tool, is extremely difficult to configure right off the bat. It's difficult as a newcomer to sit in front of Nagios and figure it out without guidance. There wasn't really a good how-to guide to get network engineers up and running quickly. There are a few books out there that have been written; they are really reference manuals and they go into all the intricacies of monitoring in great detail. But none of them, in my opinion, gave good detail about the initial steps, the pitfalls and how to get up and running. That was my goal.