Digital Reflection

Posted by Graham Wheeler on Friday, February 11, 2005

I’ve been going through old CD-R discs of mine with a view to reburning them on DVD-R to safe some space and generally clean them up. It’s amazing what I’m finding - things that I had totally forgotten having written. For example, I found a SNMPv1/v2 MIB compiler and browser that I wrote back in 1995. Until I saw it I had no recollection that I even did that! After some reflection it all came back. In May 1995 I started Open Mind Solutions with two friends from university days. Our plan was to do work for hire to finance the development of a software product. At that stage I had quite a bit of experience with SNMP, having recently implemented RMON while working for Mosaic Software. It seemed that there was a lack of good network management software, and what was available was hugely expensive (HP OpenView pretty much had the market). We felt that we could build a worthy competitor to OpenView based on FreeBSD.

Our first job was to raise money, and for that I wrote a network-enabled clone of HP’s advmail X400 mail client for Wooltru. HP’s client had to run on the same machine as the server, which didn’t scale at all in large enterprises like Wooltru. IBM had sold Wooltru a RS6000 server and OpenMail license, but this was just not going to work, and heads were about to roll. HP wouldn’t commit to fixing this, but referred Wooltru to a British company that did a lot of OpenMail development. They said it would take at least 9 months and several million pounds to fix advmail. We told Wooltru we would write them a complete clone of advmail that worked over TCP/IP in six weeks, for about $15,000 (yes, we were naive, at least in our pricing, but this was South Africa, and that seemed like a lot of money). It took me four weeks (working 16 hour days, 7 days a week) to deliver an almost bug-free system that Wooltru used for several years as a mail client for (IIRC) about 50,000 staff. That still ranks as one of my two greatest programming feats (my partner Ian thankfully wrote the text for the hypertext help system - which was a feature unique to our version; HP’s didn’t have any).

I used the C++ class library I built on top of ncurses for advremote as the basis for the SNMP browser, which I started working on after advremote (our name for our client). It took about two weeks to build a pretty cool (albeit text mode) SNMP browser/manager app. However, IBM (through whom we had done the Truworths work) then kept me real busy writing vertical applications for the beverage retail industry for the next six months, and the SNMP work gathered dust, which is probably why I have now all but forgotten about it. Because six months later Aztec Information Management asked us to write a management front-end for the Firewall Toolkit (fwtk). And when I saw the awful code in fwtk, and decided to write my own toolkit in C++, we ended up with our eventual product, the Citadel Firewall, almost by accident. In less than a year we changed our names from Open Mind Solutions ( to Citadel Data Systems (, and the rest is history (for me, anyway). CDS was eventually bought out by CEQURUX Technologies BV; Ian took cash and went on to do an MBA in France and became a venture capitalist, while I took shares and stayed on at CEQURUX - who then fell victim to the dot com bubble burst. This left me near broke at age 37 and resulted in my move to the USA. Ce’st la vie.

One point of note in my trawling - my CD-R’s go back to 1996. The ones burnt then are largely unreadable now. It seems anything more than one directory level deep is lost, and a fair bit more beside. Those burnt in 1998 also have problems, although they’re mostly okay. Anecdotaly I would put the lifetime of a CD-R backup now at no more than 5 years. You have been warned.