IoT Monitoring and Open Source Software With OpenNMS Founder Tarus Balog
Tarus Balog, Founder of OpenNMS, talks about how open source development can improve IoT technology, and the lessons learned from starting his own open source business.
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You have two talks coming up at the conference, the first being on monitoring IoT. Why do you feel like the open source community can help achieve these goals?
There are three main areas where open source can greatly contribute to the Internet of Things: Security, Scalability, and Analytics.
As the latest huge DDOS attacks have shown, weaknesses in the code that runs a lot of IoT devices can have devastating effects. Vendors of such devices have little incentive to fix them, and users have little incentive to care. Only by creating a market demand for open source or at least open access to such devices can be both be sure that the software on them is secure and will remain so.
The advent of IoT is adding several orders of magnitude to monitoring requirements. Whereas before a very large environment would be in the hundred of thousand of devices, this could easily grow into the tens of millions.
For example, a lot of focus has been on consumer use of IoT, but think of the commercial applications. We have a number of customers in the hospitality industry. When you count things like lights, door locks, HVAC, hot water, and the set top box they may end up with, say, 10 devices per room. Take 100 rooms per hotel times 2500 hotels and you are now looking at 2.5 million devices.
We can leverage open source technology such as Kubernetes and "NoSQL" solutions such as Newts on Cassandra to address the scalability issues monitoring the IoT creates.
Finally, with millions of devices you end up with billions of metrics. Analytics will become a huge part of any solution. Tools such as Elasticsearch and Apache Spark are already available to provide trending and exception detection in large amounts of data.
What else do you feel is needed to push IoT from the hype stage to a place where it’s impacting everyone’s lives?
Well, we still need that killer app. Being able to turn your lights on and off is cool, but it's not something that people feel they have to have.
My guess is the first real impact the IoT will have on lives is with energy management. Right now the power network has to be built to handle peak usage, and that keeps growing. With IoT devices we can begin to smooth out that peak by moving some high energy tasks (such as drying clothes) to off hours. This may help us leverage more green energy sources and help offset the impact we humans have on the environment. Plus, there is a direct economic benefit as well.
Your second talk is on starting an open source-based business. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your own company, OpenNMS?
First, forget all the hype about billion dollar businesses being created overnight. While it happens, the main thing to understand about open source businesses is that they are *businesses*. You still need to create products that people want to buy in such a way that your expenses are less than your revenue. It's that simple.
Second, since the software in an open source business is free, selling software licenses can't be the revenue model. There are a number of ways, however, to make money with open source. One is monetize stability. This is kind of what Red Hat does. They support both the leading edge technology through Fedora and monetize stability through Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Both our open source, but people are willing to pay for stability.
Another thing people are willing to pay for is ease of use. Take Wordpress. It's one of the easiest things to get up and running but for a small fee you can use a hosted version where someone else deals with security updates, backups, etc. A lot of people choose that option, especially with the knowledge that they can export their configuration and run it on their own at any time.
What do you hope people take away from your talks?
Heh, first I hope they don't feel I've wasted their time. In true open source fashion I don't claim to have all the answers so I tend to focus on asking the right questions. If I can create the spark that gets people thinking about solutions, then my job is done. That is why I tend to focus on examples from my own experience. Like the fact that I incorporated our company on my own, but I highly recommend people seek out the advice of a business lawyer to determine the right legal structure for their business.
What do you feel is the most exciting thing happening in open source technology right now?
Wow, that's a tough one. There is so much going on that it is hard to pick out one or two things that are the most exciting. The thing that excites me the most about open source is that it is no longer radical or on the periphery. It's about as mainstream as you can get so I don't have to spend time convincing people that something can be free and still be the best solution for many problems. We've moved from having to defend "why open source?" to "why not open source?" and that means we can focus on realizing its full potential.
What’s something you feel should be standard practice in the community but hasn’t caught on yet?
I'm always surprised at the amount of non-open source technology used by open source advocates, specifically Apple products. The problem is Apple does such a good job with their "walled garden" that people are more than happy to accept the restrictions, but worse is that other vendors often try, and fail, to recreate the same experience.
As someone who runs open source software on nearly 98% of my devices (the exception being a Synology NAS that is mostly open source) I can attest that while the learning curve is much steeper than Apple, once you climb it, it is hard to go back.
Technology has created a truly exciting time to be alive. Much of humanity's knowledge is just a click away, but the downside is we have also created the most powerful surveillance apparatus to have ever existed. I firmly believe that the best way to maintain democracy is not only to foster open source but to make it accessible to the masses, and the best way to do *that* would be if open source advocates make the commitment to use as much of it in their daily lives as possible.
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