Hero Applications

by Caitlyn Martin

Last week I had an interview for a new consulting gig with three technical management type people. It turned into a 90 minute technical discussion on a variety of Linux and UNIX issues. That's fine. I usually do well in that kind of interview. At one point the discussion turned to Open Source applications in the enterprise. One of the comments by one of my interviewers was that Open Source apps are usually "hero applications", meaning that one system administrator knows about them and when that admin leaves nobody knows anything about them and support just isn't there.

Is he right? Only to a point. Yes, I've seen many places where a given systems administrator is the sole source of knowledge on a given subject. That situation isn't limited to Open Source software. Often the systems administrator is, at least in part, at fault. Either they aren't good at sharing information and cross training or else they simply have no desire to do so. Some consciously try to build their own little fiefdom and make themselves indispensable to the organization.

It's almost always management's fault, again at least in part. Some technical managers do little to encourage or insist on cross training, particularly if it makes a valuable systems administrator unhappy. In other cases upper management has cut IT in general and systems administration in particular to the bone or even deep into the bone, to the point where the remaining staff simply hasn't the time to properly maintain and patch the servers they have, let alone roll out new systems, write documentation, and to get training for themselves and train others.

Having said all that there is also a problem of the perception many managers who are accustomed to dealing with strictly commercial, proprietary software have when it comes to Open Source. The "hero applications" comment is a perfect example of how such managers misunderstand the community support model. Most even modestly popular Open Source projects have excellent support. It just may not be in the form of a corporate help desk owned by the company who produces the software.

2 Comments

Super Mike
2006-12-10 14:00:17
Nagios is now playing second fiddle to Zenoss on download stats and popularity. Zenoss's own site talks about how they're number one. It's an interesting project. Trouble is - even though the project looks exciting, I can't get it to compile on Ubuntu!


Meanwhile, what the open source industry needs for more IT manager mindshare is a set of companies making a name for themselves as attempting to support anything and everything on Linux, even if they have to sub it out. And these few companies need to gain marketshare and market awareness. Companies like this also need superfast labs with Xen running all over the place so that tests can be built fast to recreate a customer's problem and get the customer operational again. And now that Asterisk is here, building a global tech support center with buddies is easier than it ever has been.

Caitlyn Martin
2006-12-13 13:20:32
Mike, thanks for your comments. I do Linux/UNIX consulting professionally and I have yet to see Zenoss deployed in the enterprise. I think it and Nagios will be around for a long time. Think postfix and sendmail.


As far as compiling on Ubuntu, any application using X libraries will have that issue since the library files are not in the traditional place,