City of Grapevine and OpenNMS – Case Study and Customer Story

Traffic matters in Grapevine, Texas. The Dallas-Ft. Worth airport takes up the southern third of the city, which is part of one of the country’s largest metro areas; and Grapevine has a bustling, historic downtown district of its own. To keep the cars moving, Grapevine uses one of the nation’s first traffic light systems that automatically adjusts its timing in response to real-time traffic. A Motorola Canopy® radio network connects the pole-mounted cameras and controls that the City installed in late 2010.

In the first week of February 2011, Grapevine had a unique opportunity to test the traffic system under stress, when Superbowl XLV brought an extra 150,000 people to the area just days after a rare snowstorm laid down 3 inches of snow and ice. Would the cameras, controls and radios hold up under extreme weather, or would the system break down just in time for the Superbowl traffic?

Fortunately for Grapevine, the traffic system did just fine. And fortunately for the City’s IT Manager, John Jennery, OpenNMS made it easy to be sure the system never went down. As Jennery tells the story:

Right after the storm, the roads in Grapevine and Dallas-Ft.Worth weren’t in great shape, so we told most of our staff to stay home. I was the only IT person at the office, but with OpenNMS, it was easy to keep track of everything on the network, including our snow and ice-covered traffic light system. If there had been a problem, OpenNMS would have let me know.

In support of the traffic light system, our main job in IT is to know if a camera is working and if a unit is online. What makes our traffic light management process different from regular network management is that we’re working with radio, and the nature of radio is that the signal goes up and down all the time. A standard protocol could give us false positives for down equipment, so we had to create a special protocol with a properly timed series of pings that would give us an accurate status.

When the City decided to install the traffic system, we knew that OpenNMS– which we’d been using since 2004 – had all the flexibility we needed. In our first few months with the traffic light system, we’ve had no trouble adjusting the alarms, the monitoring logic and the XML to make it work for us. We also make heavy use of the OpenNMS iPhone app to monitor immediate conditions and the last few days of data.

The Traffic Department is one of many whose functions are supported by Grapevine IT network. As the City’s IT Manager since 1991, Jennery knows what network management was like before and after OpenNMS, and he’s quick to point out the benefits:

OpenNMS Works Better and Does More than Industry’s Leading “Solutions”

Before moving to OpenNMS, we spent two years working with one of the leading proprietary solutions for network management. Our initial software setup was successful, but then we lost access to our first support engineer. The next support person we got was totally useless. He gave up after failing to solve several of our challenges and then he just disappeared. At this point, we still couldn’t get alerts to work right and had to use a back door to manage many of our basic tasks. The software required agents that conflicted with nearly everything on our network and the best we could do was a ping test. It was horrible.

After our first year, we still had so many problems. They suggested we get onto the latest version of their software for another $38k plus $7k or $8k per year in support. No thank you! By that time, it was clear to us that the proprietary software could never pull off several functions that were very important to us what we later discovered OpenNMS does out of the box.

OpenNMS Proved Itself Quickly

In just three months with OpenNMS, we threw out our old system. That was all the time we needed to get familiar with OpenNMS and make enough modifications to run our network about as well as it had been. OpenNMS replaced the proprietary system that we were using to monitor our physical infrastructure, along with another well-known open source system that we were using for service monitoring. While no network management system can be perfect for every user, we have found that OpenNMS comes much closer than any other.

Total Solutions with the OpenNMS Group and Platform

Nearly always, we can do our own fine-tuning on OpenNMS to do things like change a variable or make the alerts more useful to us. But when we need to, we can ask the OpenNMS Group for help. For example, Grapevine has an atypical approach to scheduling our IT staff, so we needed to customize OpenNMS to coordinate high and low-priority alert messages to fit our staff availability. OpenNMS couldn’t handle these needs out of the box, but the OpenNMS Group made a few quick changes to our config and we were set. After they showed me what they’d done, I could clone the process and take care of everything from there.

The OpenNMS Group has been absolutely great – no matter which support engineer we find ourselves talking to. I highly recommend the model of using the free OpenNMS platform and paying the Group for occasional support. With the previous software vendor, I remember that when we’d call the support engineers, they often couldn’t help me do what I needed. But when we consult with the OpenNMS Group, they often give us not only the answer to the question we asked, but also give us tips for an even better approach.

Support at OpenNMS is very fast and very strong. We treat each other with professional respect, which means that I can tell them whether my request is an “I need this now” or “I need this next week” so that they can schedule their help exactly as I need it. I don’t feel like I have to play games to get timely support.

“With the OpenNMS Solution – We Have No Reason to Look Elsewhere”

There’s no tradeoff between effectiveness and cost with the OpenNMS solution. Virtually all of our special needs are covered with OpenNMS – either with solutions that come out of the box, or with modifications that we can do on our own or with help from the OpenNMS Group’s. Meanwhile, we are saving tens of thousands of dollars in both cash (for expensive proprietary software and support) and staff time. With the OpenNMS Solution we have no reason to look elsewhere.