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.

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