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A group of open source software vendors has teamed up with the hopes of ending the systems management dominance enjoyed by the likes of IBM, HP, BMC and CA. The companies today have formed the Open Management Consortium (OMC), hoping to get out the message that open source management tools have matured to the point where they can compete with proprietary packages.

The names of the OMC founding members could have come straight out of J.R.R. Tolkien's brain. There's Ayamon, Symbiot, Zenoss and then the slightly more traditional Qlusters and Emu Software. Each one of these organizations brings a different piece of the systems management toolset.

Ayamon sponsors the Nagios monitoring system that alerts administrators to network problems. Symbiot backs the openSIMS security management system. Zenoss does network and systems monitoring for medium-sized companies.

Qlusters then backs the openQRM management and automation software, while EMU Software delivers up NetDirector for managing things such as user groups, databases and directory services.

The most solid portion of OMC's pitch comes from the group's variety. Customers can pick up whichever management package works for them for a particular project. That's in stark contrast to the likes of IBM or HP that try to get customers to go whole hog with Tivoli or OpenView, respectively.

"We are bringing these first six projects together so that customers can have a choice," said William Hurley, CTO at Qlusters, in an interview with El Reg. "When customers have choice, they no longer have to do a rip and replace like guys at IBM and CA suggest."

The systems management market has clearly not been a favorite for customers over the years. You have to side with a vendor and then shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for add-on packages to handle various tasks. An open source alternative would clearly give Linux savvy small- to medium-sized businesses a nice option.

The OMC pitch weakens in these early days when you realize that its the systems management crowd's attempt to mimic the LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP/Perl/Python) stack that has become all the rage. Companies ranging in size from IBM and Red Hat down to services start-ups have put in a lot of work certifying the core LAMP software to work well together and then certifying additional packages that can fit into the LAMP combination.

There's no grand certification effort going with the OMC crowd. In fact, the initial run of OMC is really just a declaration that these open source vendors exist. They've set up a web site with limited information about the partnership, and that's about it at this point.

"I think the idea is that a formal structure will come about," said Mark Hinkle, a VP at Emu Software. "The first thing we have to do is come up with the conversation."

The organizations backing OMC do eventually plan to do more than just talk. They'll have joint sales and marketing programs and strive to make sure their applications work well together. In addition, they hope to add more companies to the group and even invite the likes of IBM and CA to see where they might contribute. In addition, OMC hopes to carve out some true "open standards" around systems management rather than relying on standards groups that require $100,000 a year for participation.

At the moment though, such plans are pretty far off. The OMC group seems set on using "conversation" as its key mechanism, which is a very open source thing to do, but we wonder how far that will carry them.

There's no question that open source systems management products deserve more attention. It's only natural that this part of the software market come under siege next with the OS, web server, application server and database conquered to a degree.

We wonder though how much IBM or CA will fear the open source "conversation." A more concerted effort to align the release cycles of all these open source packages and provide unified support around them would be welcomed and provide substantial competition against the giants.

That said, something like OMC had to happen. If done right, it will no doubt capture the attention of the dominant players. ®

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