Currency Firm Trades on Open Source

Case Study: An online currency trading company finds that switching to an open-source network and system management tools helps accomodate its growth.

About a year and a half ago, Currenex Inc., a trailblazer in online foreign exchange currency trading, switched to open-source network and system management tools. That change has increased management coverage from one to three locations and has helped accommodate the companys rapid growth.

Leaving behind Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView suite, Currenex installed the open-source Nagios program to monitor the systems, network and services at small data centers in Redwood City, Calif., London and the companys headquarters, in New York.

"We switched from HP OpenView to Nagios because we liked the open-source approach [and because OpenView] provided a lot of functionality that we didnt need," said Kevin Young, infrastructure manager at Currenex, in Redwood City. "Nagios did two of the three things we needed, and we were able to bolt on an SNMP trap collector, the third thing we needed."

The name Nagios, which stands for "Nagios Aint Gonna Insist On Sainthood," was changed from NetSaint after trademark protection action in 2002.

The catalyst for the move to Nagios was a platform migration project: In the process of switching to Linux, Currenex IT staff started looking for other open-source products to cut costs and improve IT operations. "We were moving from [Sun Microsystems Inc.s] Solaris to [Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat] Enterprise Linux ES, and we just started looking around," said Young.

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In addition to eliminating the license and maintenance charges the company was paying for OpenView, the move to Nagios also let Currenex, founded in 1999, focus on fine-tuning the monitoring tools it needed, usually using Perl scripts. "With OpenView, we only had one license, so we ran all the monitoring out of Redwood City," said Young. "With Nagios, we built a distributed system, with one server in each of the data centers."

Young said each instance of Nagios is installed on a dual-processor HP DL380 server running Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES 3.0 with 2GB of RAM.

This level of hardware is not unusual for network management systems—and certainly not for Currenex, whose business depends on airtight network and system reliability and performance. Currency deals transacted with the help of Currenex systems average approximately $30 billion each day. Currenex customers—typically Fortune 500 companies with foreign payrolls, nongovernmental organizations and some wealthy individuals—use the system to price and execute orders to buy and sell foreign currency.

Support is always a concern when it comes to open-source applications. The Nagios site offers minimal support, but the application has a large community of users that IT departments can tap into.

eWEEK Labs spoke with Nagios progenitor and lead developer Ethan Galstad, who also set up the site to help link support organizations with businesses that want outside help with Nagios.

"The e-mail list for Nagios is about 3,000 and is fairly active," said Galstad. "I believe estimates that show Nagios has anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 installed users. People who need help should be able to get connected with those who can help."

Nick Mount, the Currenex systems engineer who finished pulling out OpenView and installing Nagios, didnt see the lack of a paid support option as a drawback to implementation of Nagios. When an open-source application has a user community the size of Nagios, eWEEK Labs agrees that lack of paid support should not be a deterrent to enterprise implementation—or at least serious consideration. We encourage organizations to drop "paid support" from their requests for proposal. Rather, look for "formal" support, such as active community discussion forums and a track record of released updates.

Currenex IT staffers feel so confident with the open-source model that youd have to look hard to find an application at the company that isnt open-source.

"Except for our [Oracle Corp.] database, pretty much everything else we use is open-source," said Young. "Nagios fits right in."

Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at

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