9 min Applications

Latvia as a breeding ground for IT success: Zabbix and DeskTime are living proof

Latvia as a breeding ground for IT success: Zabbix and DeskTime are living proof

Techzine attended the Zabbix Summit in Riga, Latvia. There, we not only learned about what the open source monitoring platform Zabbix can offer, but also discovered CEO Alexei Vladishev’s unorthodox definition of sustainability. In addition, we saw parallels with the development of DeskTime, another Latvian success story from the IT world. What lessons can other companies learn from them?

Zabbix’s mission is crystal clear: as a monitoring tool, it wants to help companies function more smoothly and reduce downtime. That includes building a “single pane of glass” where all networks, servers, clouds, applications and other services can be monitored. Zabbix can be run on-premises and in the cloud and has installations for all kinds of Linux distros and cloud providers.

The company has been around since 2005 and now has more than 10 million users worldwide. Its customer base includes some heavy hitters, such as Dell and the European Space Agency. However, Zabbix CEO Alexei Vladishev argues that Zabbix is suitable for companies of all shapes and sizes.

Most notably, there are no licensing fees associated with running Zabbix software. Nor has Vladishev taken a penny from venture capital (VC) firms, even though he’s proud to say his company has been profitable from its earliest beginnings.

Automation out of laziness

The main reason for Zabbix existing in the first place? “My laziness,” Vladishev admits. “I needed a tool to automate part of my work as a system administrator.” To avoid constantly having to keep checking various applications manually, he wrote a simple script. It gradually grew into the platform that has seen global use, with its usefulness becoming ever more relevant. Today, most companies rely on IT infrastructure over which they have no direct control, Vladishev says. “But the cost of downtime is huge.”

Zabbix is easy to install and assumes a “simple but powerful pattern” of data collection, data analysis and data visualization. Those who want to create custom visualizations can turn to so-called widgets. These can be used to create a completely company-specific dashboard, so that everything from a factory hall to a PR office can see the information most useful to them at a glance.

All companies are welcome to use the platform, but how does Zabbix make money from it? “I would distinguish two groups: Zabbix users and Zabbix customers. The latter are companies that pay us for technical support.” Vladishev emphasizes that that second group is the largest, because enterprise customers appear to have caught on to the value proposition of observability. Nowadays, the usefulness of observability is not limited to IT environments, but also IoT/OT. Everything from servers, networks and cloud services to factory floors and industrial equipment, in other words. Earlier this year at Splunk, for example, we saw the insights one could glean from monitoring a chicken coop – in other words, it has become a very broad concept. With “Monitor anything” as a key tagline on the platform’s landing page, it’s clear what Zabbix promises. Based on community feedback, the company chooses which standards to support next, previously including Modbus and now OpenTelemetry as well.

Essentially, what the company sells is a tiered subscription service for technical support. The options go from Silver to Global, with incident response times between one day and two hours depending on the level of support the company in question pays for. Those subscription are the main source of revenue. However, there are also training programs and consulting opportunities. Those are offered not only by Zabbix itself, but also by a global network of 250 partners. In the Netherlands, for example, there is Opensource ICT Solutions, which has been providing Zabbix support for more than a decade. “With this, we want to be as close to our customers as possible,” Vladishev states.


A particularly rare phenomenon took place during the Zabbix Summit keynote: criticism of the company’s own software. You don’t usually see a company flat-out state on stage it’s got its shortcomings. “We are not yet good enough at APM [Application Performance Monitoring, ed.],” Vladishev admitted. Also, according to him, Zabbix is still too much of a “read-only” application; in other words, it doesn’t interact enough with external devices as of yet. Version 8.0, a Long Term Support (LTS) version, should include this. Since we are still at version 6.4 in November 2023, that functionality is still some time away.

Besides this bit of humble rhetoric, there was room for some chest-beating. Vladishev talks about broad support for many security standards, including ISO 27001 certification. There’s a bug bounty program that began two years ago, which has awarded $16,000 for finding vulnerabilities since. “Zabbixers” (that’s what community members are called) can make money from their contributions, then. In terms of privacy, Vladishev also emphasizes that Zabbix does not monitor end users.

The ambitions for the platform are big, but Vladishev reminded users to be patient for some long-desired functionality. In time, Vladishev wants to ensure that Zabbix can be the focal point for monitoring IT and OT infrastructure. There’s some specific innovations coming up as well. Version 7.0 will include functionality that emulates a website visitor, making it possible to check whether an end-user action actually leads to a change in the database.

Truly open source

A key selling point for Zabbix is that it is open source. Other parties, such as Red Hat, have drummed up a very broad definition of open source. In fact, with the curtailments on the availability of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, it is now “source-available,” with free use of an up-to-date version no longer feasible.

Vladishev describes his view of open source as follows: “It’s about the availability of the technology. Not only companies are using Zabbix, but also individuals.” He refers to collaborations with universities in Brazil, Latvia and beyond giving students the opportunity to learn about all kinds of IT topics. “That’s only possible with free and open source software, no strings attached.”

Its open source nature has of course been a major cause for Zabbix’s spread. Behind the software’s development lies Vladishev’s interesting definition of “sustainability,” which is a term that in Western European circles is quickly linked to ecological objectives. “Sustainability means predictability. It’s the ability to make good long-term choices.” The most important thing, then, is to ensure stable growth, not an explosion of green digits on the stock ticker fueled by millions of rapidly-gained venture capital euros. According to Vladishev, the lack of venture capital is a major reason that Zabbix inspires so much confidence among users. The lack of external funding significantly limits the budget, though, but the CEO actually sees that as a positive thing. After all, as a result they don’t hire anyone they can’t actually afford, because in VC town, investments need to be paid back in kind in the long run.

Latvia as a breeding ground

Zabbix grew quite organically, but focused on the international market from day one. Latvia has a population of 1.8 million, but has an impressive IT industry for that size. By 2022, the IT sector accounted for 4.7 billion euros in revenue and 6 percent of GDP. Yet because of the growth of communities elsewhere in the world, Zabbix has chosen to expand: the company now has multiple offices in Japan, the U.S., China, South America and Mexico. Those locations shadow the natural development of communities in those particular areas.

To shift gears a bit: we also spoke with Ugis Briedis, COO of DeskTime. This IT software package focuses on employee time management. Everything from employee absence to project management can be monitored and visualized with the tool. Unlike Zabbix, DeskTime actually grew explosively, with the Covid-19 pandemic as its jet fuel. “We saw a huge growth of about 120 percent at that time,” Briedis informs. Earlier this year, DeskTime CEO Artis Rozentals wrote in Forbes that the team had to double in size to meet the high demand. “Companies needed to be able to keep measuring the productivity of their employees, so demand for DeskTime skyrocketed,” Briedis says.

Fortunately, he says, there’s plenty of IT talent to be found in Latvia. However, he does note that the competing offerings from abroad are often backed by a staff 10 to 100 times greater in size than them. “You’re fighting an uphill battle,” Briedis argues, referring to the uneven size comparison with the outside world. He also notes that there are certain connotations about the supposed “Eastern European”-ness of the country elsewhere in the world. However, the big advantage of a smaller party like DeskTime, he says, is that it can be a lot more nimble than the more cumbersome international players.

This explosive growth contrasted somewhat with the ambitions of DeskTime (and what Zabbix is looking for, as it happens). DeskTime CEO Rozentals spoke of “cautious optimism,” stressing that they hired only the people it needed for its efforts in the present, not some ambitiously perceived future. In other words, it’s the exact same mindset we saw at Zabbix.

More high-profile similarities can be identified between the success stories of Zabbix and DeskTime. “We are a bootstrap company,” DeskTime’s Briedis reveals. “So no outside investment, no venture capital. We are self-sustaining, we invest everything we earn back into the company. Many organizations that experienced growth during Covid-19 or at other times relied on outside money. That becomes a problem in the long run, because you have to pay it back later.” The potential result is clear: mass layoffs like those we saw in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in early 2023.

This attitude is for good reason. In fact, DeskTime is a product of the Draugiem Group, which builds small tech companies without forcing a rapid growth demand upon them. Originally, Draugiem.lv was basically Facebook’s Latvian counterpart, but it then chose to reinvest its proceeds in other tech initiatives at home. It managed to create the country’s first unicorn (a company worth more than $1 billion) with online print platform Printful, and now has 12 brands under its wing.


In short, these two companies are examples of what can happen when you shirk the desire for rapid growth, even if fate determines that such growth is possible. Alexei Vladishev’s definition of sustainability may be surprising at first. Nevertheless, there is a certain straightforwardness to that sentiment that we pick up on our visit to Riga. At its core, sustainable software creation relies on a good and useful product. The results speak for themselves, if we take Zabbix as an example: partners are popping up all over the world, with an almost weekly cadence. Apparently Zabbix’s and DeskTime’s revenue models travel well, despite (or perhaps because of) the small size of the nation that birthed them.

Also read: Hybrid Cloud Monitoring – Essential for Your Entire Network