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24 March 2010, 15:04

Interview: Ethan Galstad - The Nagios future

Ethan Galstad interviewed by Dj Walker Morgan

Recently, Nagios, an open source application for network, server and application monitoring, has been the subject of a dispute. The operators of the French Nagios site claimed that Nagios Enterprises was forcing them to give up the domain because of postings about ICINGA, a fork of Nagios. At the centre of the dispute is Ethan Galstad, creator of Nagios and CEO of Nagios Enterprises. The H talked to him about what had happened and asked how he plans to take the Nagios community forward.

Galstad was quick to point out what he thinks is the problem: "Essentially, the problem is that the community, by and large, doesn't understand trademarks and the difference between trademarks and copyrights and what we need to do to protect them, not only for commercial reasons but to protect the integrity of the project in the long run". There are hundreds of sites which use the Nagios name in their domain name, which Galstad says are technically not allowable, but are allowed to operate because they are run by community members for advocacy of Nagios.

He explains that "The difference with nagios-fr is that it was intended from the start to be the official Nagios French site, which is OK as long as we make sure it is operated in a way that fits our guidelines". "But the problem we initially had was that it was in operation before we were contacted. Then some of the French individuals who operated the site wanted to set up a French company or non-profit, I'm not really sure which it was, and we said we could do something with that. Eventually it got to a point where they were promoting other solutions that really cause confusion for some of the people using Nagios."

The Nagios trademark policy has been around for some time and at around the time of the ICINGA fork of Nagios in May 2009, Galstad had drawn attention to the document. In looking for a policy, he says they looked around and found the Ubuntu trademark policy; "It's a balance between what we think the community needs and what we need on our end to protect it. I think our policy is almost an exact duplicate of the Ubuntu trademark policy". Galstad feels he has experience of the trademark issue from both sides. "When I started Nagios eleven years ago, I originally called it NetSaint and I had to switch the name because another company had the trademark on Saint".

Even before then, as a 19 year old student, Galstad had run into issues with a program to crack the password of Trumpet WinSock software. He named the program TrumpCrack and gained his first experience of a threat of legal action from Trumpet's lawyers. "It was a scary thing for me back then". Those experiences led Galstad, when approaching trademark issues with the community, not to use attorneys to send a letter but make personal contact, either himself or Mary Starr (Nagios Enterprise's Vice President); "It lets people know that there's a real person on the other end". Galstad has gone as far as having told the company's lawyers to only send letters when there's "a real serious problem that we've brought to their attention". Concerning the trademark policy itself "not everyone is going to agree, nor everyone is going to understand, but the guidelines are there for very specific reasons". Galstad feels he is being as fair as possible with the trademark policy.

Moving on to wider issues, a common complaint from developers is that their patches to Nagios aren't accepted. Galstad says that there's a number of reasons for this. Patches may not be of sufficient quality or may be very specific for certain individuals in the community. But underlying this is a problem of resources, particularly people's free time to contribute to the project. Galstad recalls how for a long time Nagios was a side project for himself, but that it reached a point where he couldn't address what was going on with Nagios just in his free time. At that point he went full time, and coded many features in Nagios 3. "What most people don't realise is, though, when an open source project grows, it's not just coding functions or accepting patches any more. There are a lot of other things you have to attend to that all take time. So we ran into a problem a year ago when people started saying 'Where's Ethan? He's not very active' and that caused a flutter in the community which was evident as soon as the Icinga fork was announced. It came as a complete surprise to me and the other Nagios plug-in developers".

To Galstad, it appeared that the driver for the fork was a lack of activity. He admits that he wasn't available all the time, but points out "no one person can scale to do everything so I brought two additional people onto the core team", Andreas Erricson works for op5 and Ton Voon who works for Opsera (both companies with Nagios based products). But even with three people on the core development team, free time to work on Nagios is at a premium. "We all have day jobs related to Nagios, so the time we can put in to accepting patches and sorting stuff out is limited". Galstad hopes to increase the size of the core team and see what they can do to speed up the process. As project leader, he doesn't expect people to put in a set number of hours per week on the project. The challenge is finding the right people to fill the roles and the experience to be able to determine what should be in the core and what should be a plug-in and whether a patch is of sufficient quality.

Next: Nagios and the community

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