Free software flows at network conference

Interop attendees took home free network management software

Savvy Interop attendees last week walked away from the show in Las Vegas with more than a pocket full of USB flash drives and retractable Ethernet cables — they also took home free software.

From network monitoring tools to internet filters to Office-like applications, vendors took the price tags off their tools for Interop shoppers. Companies such as GroundWork Open Source, Blue Coat Systems, Splunk and ThinkFree took enterprise features and scaled them down for smaller deployments to get network managers started with their tools.

“It is still a fairly significant effort for an IT person to get a network monitoring tool working in their environment. We did the integration work with other freeware tools to help them get started easier,” says Harper Mann, a member of GroundWork Open Source’s senior technical staff. GroundWork last year launched a commercial monitoring package based on Nagios open source code, but it remains close to its open source roots. “Organisations are continually trying to move dollars from areas that are not their core competency.”

To ease the deployment of its open source application, the company worked to make GroundWork Monitor Open Source compatible with other popular freeware tools such as MySQL, PHP and Nagios 2.0. GroundWork also added a graphical user interface and clustering capabilities to enable customers to mirror network monitoring.

The software runs on a Linux server with memory in disk, and GroundWork included in this free version real-time status views, historic trend reporting and an alerting system. This version supports a number of servers, operating systems, routers and other network devices, and GroundWork Monitor Open Source users have access to GroundWork-sponsored support forums.

Splunk, another relative newcomer to the management market, used Interop to let attendees know about the freeware version of its enterprise data indexing and troubleshooting software. Splunk’s software runs on Linux, Unix, including Solaris, and Mac OS X, and the freeware version offers users up to 500MB of data indexing per day. The software searches for management data across logs, message queues, configuration files, SNMP traps and database transactions to more quickly correlate events that could be related to a failure — and that network managers would typically have to search manually.

Users can also join online community, Splunk Base, to search and share IT troubleshooting experiences. And along with its freeware, Splunk offers its Splunk Professional software as a free, 30-day trial.

“Our whole business model is based on a grassroots strategy going directly to the systems administrators,” says Splunk CEO Michael Baum. “It’s a fundamental tenet of the company to continue to offer free services and products.”

Some companies offered more than free management; they put their protection tools to work for free. Blue Coat Systems used Interop to showcase its K9 Web Protection software that home users can download to their desktops.

The internet filter is a scaled down version of the proxy vendor’s content filtering tools that company representatives say will enable customers to better monitor their home computer use. It runs on a desktop, passively monitors internet traffic and is programmed to block more than 55 different categories of content, including pornography, hate speech and sites that promote violence or permit gambling, the company says.

For those tired of paying high prices for Microsoft Office, ThinkFree offers word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications free online through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. All the applications are compatible with their Microsoft counterparts, meaning one can read and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files through any browser that supports Java. Users even get a gigabyte of storage for free.

ThinkFree also offers simple document sharing with check-in, check-out and revision tracking.

The company originally launched its online application suite at DEMO 2000, but was a bit ahead of its time, says CEO TJ Kang.

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