Blast Internet Services plans to expand into network management with the cash acquisition of OpenNMS from Sortova Consulting Group announced today.

Tarus Balog, who founded Sortova in Pittsboro January 2001, joins Blast to guide its new network management strategy, the company said.

Balog tells LTW that Blast bought all of Sortova’s assets, but the company remains alive but inactive.

OpenNMS has received industry praise on the IBM developerWorks and Dell Computer Web sites and in InfoWorld Magazine in 2002.

Balog says that with OpenNMS, “Blast aims to compete with Hewlett- Packard’s Network Node Manager.” That product costs $10,000 to $20,000. OpenNMS can be downloaded free, but a typical annual service contract costs the same as for NNM — $3,995.

OpenNMS offers buyers several advantages over commercial products, says Balog.

Three for One

“Basically, OpenNMS does three things,” says Balog. “It monitors service levels on your network, how available are your Web and mail servers and databases. It does performance trending, to spot problems before they occur. And it has an event management and notification system.”

Balog, who has installed commercial network management systems, says, “If you bought node manager, it would only do the performance part and you’d have to buy additional pieces to get the service and event management parts.”

Just how do company’s make money distributing free software programs?
Balog says OpenNMS is more of a tool than an application.

Balog explains that he could go to Lowes and buy the same lathe an expert uses to make fine heirloom furniture. “But I’d be lucky not to lose my hands using it,” he says.

Buying the tool does not mean you know how to use it, he explains. “You need an expert person to install the software. You can spend a million dollars on a software key and still not have it installed on your network.”

Balog says some of OpenNMS clients do download it, use it, and even contribute ideas to it, but have enough expertise not to need a service contract, “So, we don’t see revenue,” he says.

But other clients come to OpenNMS because some commercial tools, Balog notes, “are getting hideously expensive.”

Cheaper Way to Go

He tells the story of one client, Springnet in Missouri. “They’re part of a utility company. They needed network management and got a quote from a commercial vendor of $300,000. They figured churn and network problems were costing them $60,000 a year.”

So Springnet talked to the vendor and found out they had to buy annual support too at 20 percent of the purchase price, or an additional $60,000 a year.

Instead, Springnet downloaded OpenNMS, tried it and asked Balog’s company to give them a set-up and services package. “We did it the whole thing in a month for less than $25,000,” he says.

Joining Blast frees Balog to focus on network management issues, he says. “We (Sortova) were a small company, so I was the janitor, receptionist, accountant. Here we have people to do those things.”

Blast, he says, “is actually profitable and making money every month. We are looking at some ideas that would require capital and talking to venture capitalists about those. We’re happy now, but there is a lot of potential for us to grow.”

Blast employs 26 people. It provides Web building and hosting, network configuration and development, Web-enabled application development, file transfer automation, ecommerce, multi-media, design, and content development among other services.

Blast Internet Services