10 IT management technology start-ups to watch

Cloud computing, SaaS, virtualization, open source software are among focus areas for IT management newcomers

IT management software and appliance vendors used the downturn to show how they could help companies reduce manual labor, cut costs, streamline processes and optimize IT services during the economic downturn.

IT operations teams short on staff and budget dollars this past year have turned to myriad management technologies to deliver optimized services in increasingly virtualized and cloud computing-oriented environments. Quite a few of those technologies come from relative newcomers to the industry, and we've rounded up profiles on 10 of them worth watching into the new year. (Watch a slideshow of these companies' products.)

Company: AccelOps 

Founded: April 2007

Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.

Focus: AccelOps, software available as a virtual appliance or via software-as-a-service (SaaS), offers data center management capabilities by mapping services and managing multiple IT components as a unified service.

Why it's worth watching: With technical leadership coming from Cisco, AccelOps is able to map IT services down to the network level and perform root cause analysis without requiring IT staff to recreate incidents or compile sophisticated data. The product performs IT service management, targeted at mid-tier companies, but also works to guarantee availability and compliance. Offered in two easily digestible formats -- virtual appliance or SaaS – makes industry watchers think the newcomer could land customer accounts.

"Ninety-percent of start-ups that cross my desk are SaaS-enabled. In many cases, they offer the same type of management services but the delivery method is the differentiation," says Jasmine Noel, co-founder and principal analyst at Ptak, Noel & Associates. "Some of them will be successful because for a lot of people in IT operations if you can get some of the same functionality cheaper, that's appealing."

How company got its start: Founded by executives from former security information management vendor Protego Networks. Following Cisco's $65 million acquisition of Protego (which became part of Cisco's MARS product) in 2005, founders left Cisco in 2007 and began another venture to address a market need by applying event correlation, network and systems expertise to unified data center monitoring.

How company got its name: AccelOps is a play on accelerating or accelerated IT operations by helping assure IT service reliability and optimize resources.

CEO: Imin Lee, previously founder of Protego and director of engineering in Cisco's Security Technology Group.

Funding: $8 million in Series A funding led by Miramar Venture Partners, October 2007

Who's using the product: The Jewish Home of San Francisco and American Systems and Port of San Diego are publicly named AccelOps customers.

Company: Aprigo 

Founded: March 2008

Headquarters: Waltham, Mass.

Focus: NINJA, currently available as a free download with limited capabilities but expected to be available via SaaS in early 2010, offers IT managers a means to find data stored across their networks and cloud provider environments and collect meaningful statistics such as the age of files, the number of files assigned to any group and how the files have been accessed in the past day, week or month. Such information can help IT managers control data sprawl, Aprigo executives say, and also enable them to reduce costs associated with managing data needlessly and ensure compliance with regulatory standards.

"We allow customers to not only understand what is going on in their environment, but we also allow IT managers to assign a dollar value to how much it costs them to manage a gigabyte of space per year. For instance, if they learn that 90% of their data isn't being touched, there may be less costly storage options," says Gil Zimmerman, CEO and co-founder. "We considered it a sort of business intelligence for IT that touches on storage resource management as well as capacity planning."

Why it's worth watching: Aprigo's technology can help IT staff at small and midsize firms get a handle on their data and how it is being stored, accessed and consumed. With cloud computing and virtualization, compliance becomes a bigger issue and IT teams with few resources could be challenged to track data at an enterprise level and remain compliant.

"As environments get more dynamic, there is an increased risk to end users in terms of keeping track of software licenses and data. Compliance will become more of an issue and emerging companies are trying to address these pain points with SaaS because smaller companies can't spend the money on enterprise-class tools," says Mary Johnston Turner, research director at IDC.

How company got its start: The company's three co-founders – Zimmerman, vice president of sales and marketing Tsahy Shapsa and Ron Zalkind, vice president of products – met while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces as software engineers. They wanted to deliver a product to address data management and help midsize companies understand risk, capacity and costs associated with data stored in customer and cloud environments.

How company got its name: Using a combination of letters from the founders names, executives came up with a short, easy-to-remember company name that started with the letter A.

CEO: Zimmerman, previously managed business development and customer advocacy at EMC and an entrepreneur in residence at Cedar Fund.

Funding: $3 million in venture capital funding from Israel-based Cedar Fund, March 2008

Who's using the product: Aprigo says hundreds of companies use the free version of NINJA, and "dozens" have paid for the product since its soft launch Nov. 16.

Company: Conformity 

Founded: July 2007

Headquarters: Austin

Focus: The Conformity platform provides identity and access management capabilities for companies using multiple SaaS-enabled applications. Company executives say their cloud application management platform will provide centrally managed visibility and control over SaaS users for compliance and governance purposes.

"We are focused on the back-end user account provisioning and permissions management required in a multi-SaaS environment," says Scott Bils, co-founder and chief marketing officer. "Essentially, we tell IT managers if someone should be allowed access to applications and once they are allowed in, what they should be able to do with that application. But we do it for multiple applications with various users and permissions."

Why it's worth watching: The company's success hinges on widespread adoption of cloud-based services and SaaS applications, both of which gained attention from industry watchers and customers in 2009. If enterprise IT managers invested in such services, then industry watchers argue they will need a mechanism to control access to the environment – which would be different from existing access management offerings.

"Conformity offers an interesting concept because if all IT managers do jump on the cloud, then they are going to have to figure out the best way to integrate and manage access to these services, while ensuring that everyone's identity is consistent. The company is talking about providing identity management, a sort of single sign on, across all these different cloud or SaaS-provided services," says Noel.

How company got its start: Founders Scott Bils and Roy Kipp recognized the need to centrally manage multiple SaaS applications and user access to those applications as the trend toward hosted applications grew.

How company got its name: Based on premise that for SaaS and cloud applications to gain acceptance in the enterprise that usage and management of these applications would have to "conform" to existing IT policies and controls.

CEO: Tom Smith, formerly CEO at Countermind, a Colorado-based mobile software developer. He also held senior executive and sales positions at @hand Corp., Rational Software, HP and Dazel.

Funding: $3 million Series A funding from Guggenheim Venture Partners, January 2009

Who's using the product: Conformity names Initiate Systems and Genband as current customers with multi-SaaS environments.

Company: DeskCenter Solutions AG and DeskCenter USA 

Founded: April 2007 and October 2009

Headquarters: Leipzig, Germany and Long Beach, NY

Focus: DeskCenter Management Suite combines 15 applications to enable administration of physical and virtual desktops, servers and applications across a network. The platform delivers one database, one installation and a user interface that includes: asset, license, user, remote, service and power management; operating system, application and patch deployment; and helpdesk and service scheduling.

Why it's worth watching: Using various pricing models, including a SaaS option, DeskCenter signed 600 customers in its first year of delivering product. The company estimates some 180,000 desktops at both SMB and enterprise clients are managed with DeskCenter Management suite. Priced at less than $3,000 for 25 devices, the vendor offers several needed features for companies of all sizes trying to control their client environment at an accessible price point.

"Desktop operations teams are now responsible for the security and disaster recovery of the devices, both physical and virtual, that they manage. This means that IT organizations need client management solutions that not only help them manage and secure today's more standardized PC environment, but will also be able to support the desktop of tomorrow – one that is virtual and more heterogeneous than ever before," reads a Forrester Research report on client management systems.  "The cost of managing devices is on the rise, while visibility into these devices is on the decline."

How company got its start: Founders believed they could develop a more complete, all-inclusive helpdesk and IT management tool for the mid-market at a reasonable price.

How company got its name: The founders decided the name appropriately conveyed the company's technology – as it is designed to manage desktops from a central console.

CEO: Michael Witzsche, chairman of the board of management, DeskCenter Solutions AG, and Hans J. Kaemmlein, CEO and president, DeskCenter USA.

Funding: Parent company privately funded to date, currently seeking investments; DeskCenter USA funded by parent company.

Who's using the product: Current DeskCenter customers include Lufthansa, Porsche, Volkswagen, Deutsche Post, Honeywell, Lotto Bayern and Auto 5000.

Company: Elastra

Founded: June 2007

Headquarters: San Francisco

Focus: Enterprise Cloud Server (ECS) is a platform to automate the allocation of application and related resources existing in private and public cloud computing environments. ECS lets customers compose, orchestrate and manage systems made up of Oracle databases, WebLogic Application servers and other enterprise-grade software as well as open source applications such as MySQL, Apache and Tomcat. It also integrates with management platforms from BMC, CA, HP, IBM, Splunk and Zenoss.

Why it's worth watching: Elastra holds the promise of making cloud computing accessible and simpler for customers, especially those companies without a large IT staff supporting a private cloud. With the technology, industry watchers say, creating, managing and allocating resources from a shared pool could become easier and enable more companies to take advantage of the cloud model.

"Elastra is sitting in the middle as a bridge of sorts getting various tools to talk to each other, which would enable automation across the environment," Noel says.

And with that type of integration among tools touching private and public cloud environments, says EMA Research Director Jim Frey, it should reduce the risk for companies considering cloud.

"The cloud is nothing new, but there are new cloud entities -- and for more organizations to take advantage of this type of model, they would need this level of automation and control of resources to get the full advantage," Frey says.

How company got its start: Founded by industry veterans and entrepreneurs, Elastra was established to address an emerging need in the cloud market.

How company got its name: Derived from the word elastic in the Elastic Markup Languages (ECML, EDML and EMML), which were created to provide control over applications in public or private cloud environments.

CEO: Kirill Sheynkman previously co-founded and served as president and CEO at Stanford Technology Group, which was acquired by Informix/IBM in 1995, and Plumtree Software, which was acquired by BEA Systems in 2005.

Funding: $2.6 million in Series A venture capital funding from Hummer Winblad, August 2007; and $12 million in a Series B round from Amazon, Bay Partners and Hummer Winblad, August 2008.

Who's using the product: Infosys as well as other "enterprise customers" are currently working with the technology, company officials say.

Company: ExtraHop Networks 

Founded: January 2007

Headquarters: Seattle

Focus: The ExtraHop Application Delivery Assurance system is software packaged as an appliance that passively autodiscovers servers and devices connected to the network and inspects network traffic. The product is able to reassemble the path, or hops, an application takes across the distributed network. The product serves up performance, protocol and other data via a Web-based user interface, which allows network and applications teams to drill down by application, device, protocol or even errors to learn more about the problem.

Why it's worth watching: In the realm of advanced computing and virtual systems, the network matters. And more important, application performance across a next-generation network matters because it directly impacts business transactions. ExtraHop provides data that both network engineers and application performance managers need to understand how to fine tune the environment to best support business transactions.

"ExtraHop takes advantage of the network data and does rich, deep application packet analysis, which is definitely a step up from the traditional probe technology and it also addresses application team needs," EMA's Frey says. "This technology takes the capabilities of two tools and pulls them into one that can work for multiple groups in an organization."

How company got its start: As lead architects of the BIG-IP v9 product at F5 Networks, Jesse Rothstein and Raja Mukerji (now company president) brought application awareness to the load balancer. They founded ExtraHop Networks to bring that same application awareness to network management technology.

How company got its name: Founders had code-named the company "extra hop" to convey how the technology shows all of the hops an application takes across a network, and it stuck.

CEO: Rothstein co-founded ExtraHop after six years at F5, where he was the lead architect of BIG-IP v9 and co-inventor of the TMOS Platform.

Funding: $1.5 million in seed funding from Madrona Venture Group and private investors, November 2008; and $5.1 million in Series A funding from Madrona and other investors including Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, February 2009.

Who's using the product: ExtraHop lists Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines, Microsoft, McAfee, Applied Discovery, Motricity, Nintendo and WhitePages among its customers.

Company: RiverMuse

Founded: May 2008

Headquarters: Belmont, Calif.

Focus: RiverMuse Core is open source management software designed to perform event and fault management across next-generation networks. Company officials say the software uses "an agile architecture to support modern service delivery infrastructures" that include virtualization, Web-based and service-oriented architecture technologies at a lower total cost of ownership. Industry watchers say that means the technology can perform event management and correlation in the cloud.

"We have seen a resurgence in event and fault management and we link it back to the cloud. Once IT managers don't have direct control of the infrastructure, they will be much more dependent on tools to diagnose what is going on and to assign performance and problem ownership," EMA VP of Research Andi Mann says.

Why it's worth watching: Two primary reasons to pay attention to RiverMuse are its open source business model and its management team's pedigree in the network management market, industry watchers say.

"This company seems to be laser-focused on solving the problems that Micromuse and RiverSoft did, but using an open source model, which gives customers some promise on opening the technology up and making it more flexible," says EMA's Frey. "This type of layering of business and service logic over network and system events is definitely needed."

How company got its start: The company was established to fill a hole in the network management and event correlation market with open source software. It was founded by entrepreneur Phil Tee, Predrag (Fred) Mutavzdic and Mike Silvey, who were the team behind the inventions of Micromuse and RiverSoft, and Phil Blades, one of the first Netcool (Micromuse's flagship technology) customers.

How company got its name: With founding members having history with two management industry darlings of the past decade – Micromuse (acquired by IBM) and RiverSoft (acquired by Micromuse pre-IBM acquisition) – RiverMuse reflected the pedigree of both previous management software vendors.

CEO: JL Valente, also company president, previously held positions at management software makers CA, Viasoft (now ASG), InfoVista and most recently Cittio.

Funding: $4 million in Series A funding from Sierra Ventures and Trinity Ventures, January 2009.

Who's using the product: The open source RiverMuse Core (launched in July 2009) has been downloaded more than 800 times. RiverMuse officials report working directly with early adopters such as Vital Network Services, Eirteic, MKAdvantage, Airversent, Sleek Networks and Advertising.Com.

Company: Vineyard Networks 

Founded: May 2009

Headquarters: Kelowna, British Columbia

Focus: NetCore on Demand is offered via subscription and delivered as a SaaS application, in part. The offering includes an application-aware probe called NetView, which is installed on the customer site. Vineyard configures the NetView hardware probe to monitor the environment and then deliver to customers an interface called NetCore via a secure SSL connection. NetCore on Demand monitors WAN and LAN connections, Layer 7 service information, application traffic and Cisco's NetFlow data.

Why it's worth watching: Vineyard Networks is taking advantage of the trend for management vendors to package their products as SaaS as well as easy-to-deploy hardware devices. This hybrid approach will help IT managers use more sophisticated technology to monitor their environment, without having to be responsible for the care and feeding of complex management applications, industry watchers say.

"SaaS with management software has to take this hybrid approach in which the main functionality and user interface is on the vendor side, with several hooks into the environment on the customer premise," says Glenn O'Donnell, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. "IT management customers have been telling vendors ‘simplify this, make the purchase process and economic impact simpler' and vendors have responded with virtual appliances or SaaS offerings, which are ways for the vendors to do all the integration and hide the complexity of the technology so customers don't have to worry about it."

Vineyard, in particular, offers an interesting value proposition, EMA's Frey says.

"Network-based performance management using Cisco NetFlow data but also delivered in a remote hosted model can work really well," he adds. "There has never been a need for less network management, but now vendors like Vineyard are trying to help companies use these advanced technologies in a more efficient way and lower the learning curve so they can see the value sooner."

How company got its start: The founders wanted to create what many before them have also attempted: easy, inexpensive network monitoring and management technology for IT managers that couldn't devote money, time and energy to complex software that promised to help them better run their networks.

How company got its name: Named after an aspect of its local landscape in Canada: wine vineyards.

CEO: Jason Richards previously worked in operations and sales at Packeteer and prior to that, he held a senior position in engineering with Workfire Technologies, a British Columbia start-up that focused on Internet acceleration technologies.

Funding: Through a combination of angel investors, government research assistance grants, and the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust (SIDIT). Currently Vineyard has raised more than $1.6 million in operating capital.

Who's using the product: Customers include Pushor Mitchell, ECC and ASCI.

Company: Windmill Networks 

Founded: April 2007

Headquarters: Huntsville, Ala.

Focus: Windmill Integration Manager (WIM) installs as a VMware virtual appliance that includes a data correlation engine, which translates and reconciles information collected from multiple third-party management applications. WIM would highlight the configuration inconsistencies between tools and potentially point to configuration or other errors that could prevent future performance problems. The software also enables network managers to make a change in one application and have it propagated across many tools, the company says.

Why it's worth watching: Industry watchers say Windmill is filling a gap in many network managers' tool boxes, which would help to reduce labor and time spent configuring devices and applications. Much research has shown that many performance degradations and actual failures occur due to configuration errors.

"This tool provides a common, single interface to do configuration work and moves, adds and changes," says EMA's Frey. "The technology would be ideal for IT managers not wanting to invest in a full-blown enterprise-scale, network change and configuration management product, which typically encompasses a lot more capabilities around compliance, for instance. Not every department needs the full-blown product."

How company got its start: Former Cisco network management employee saw the need to better manage device configurations across large networks, solving a common and critical IT manager frustration.

How company got its name: As for the company name being based on a Don Quixote reference to "tilting at windmills," or in layman's terms fighting an unwinnable battle, founders say it's a light-hearted take on a serious problem across the IT industry: Making applications from multiple vendors work smoothly together.

CEO: Fred Gray, also co-founder and CTO, previously spent 10 years at Cisco, specializing in operational and network management issues for enterprise and service provider customers.

Funding: Seed round of $500,000 from private investors.

Who's using the product: The company could not disclose customer names.

Company: layerX Technologies 

Founded: June 2006

Headquarters: Coppell, Texas

Focus: layerX offers two notable technologies. Its Arbitrator product provides integrated real-time event correlation capabilities and includes modules for security, network and systems management, log management, VoIP and convergence. The technology is said to automate key functions including problem remediation and complex network tasks such as dependent system and application recovery. Another aspect of the software includes a rapid indexing technology that allows for fast searches, but is also part of the company's free IT search offering, dubbed punq.

‘The ability to search through and analyze logs is the first step in network troubleshooting," the layerX Web site states, "and as such should be a widely available option for IT personnel."

Why it's worth watching: With punq, layerX provides an alternative to the IT management search tools offered from Splunk, both in free and commercial versions. Punq, or portable utility for network query, is an unlimited use, free application that lets IT managers search live and historical event logs, save search criteria, collect and securely store Syslog and SNMP events, and archive and restore historical capture data for long-term log analysis. Such features are critical to IT managers looking to reduce troubleshooting time by searching infinite data at high speeds, analysts say.

"Punq offers the ability to gather huge amounts of data and try to make sense of it based on a time stamp. It is not an overly sophisticated technology, but if you know what information you need, this type of tool picks up loads of data and helps you make sense of it faster," says David Williams, research vice president at Gartner. "Search as a general mechanism to identify issues has become popular in a short period of time and I expect this type of technology will become an underlying element that many will apply in many management tools."

How company got its start: The founders met in early 2006 as part of a consulting engagement looking for a way to productize their technology, and the relationship evolved into the creation of layerX and its subsequent acquisition by Shared Technologies.

How company got its name: Aside from being the personal e-mail for company co-founder and CTO Keith Hayes, layerX represents the product's ability to bring a new layer of intelligence to the network.

CEO: Tony Parella, president and CEO of Shared Technologies, which acquired the layerX assets in April 2007. Glenn Means serves as president of layerX and previously worked at NEC Unified Solutions.

Funding: Privately funded as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shared Technologies

Who's using the product: Coventry and Carousel are among the company's customers.

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