Start-ups aim to tame IT management complexity

IT management newcomers tackle problems posed by cloud computing, virtualization and advanced applications in ways industry veterans haven't yet

IT management newcomers race to deliver the next-generation management platform that can control cloud computing, virtual systems, advanced applications and heterogeneous environments without requiring extensive manual labor.

IT management start-ups taking advantage of new software delivery models, incorporating innovative computing platforms and attacking sophisticated problems with simpler approaches could help enterprise IT managers embrace emerging technologies such as cloud computing and virtualization without giving up control of their environments.

10 IT management technology start-ups to watch

"Technologies like virtualization and cloud computing are driving the demand for advanced automation and service-level management capabilities because environments using both internal and external computing change the way management software must work," says Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates. "Management software needs to be aware of its environment and now it must be able to adapt to manage applications and services in these hybrid on-premise/cloud computing environments."

A flurry of fresh-faced companies has emerged to both ease familiar pain points and address newfound challenges. Several upstarts say they can do it by using the very technologies that are driving the complexity in today's heterogeneous networks: software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud computing and virtualization.

Slideshow: 10 technologies from 2009's IT management's start-ups to watch

"There has definitely been a change in delivery models. Now management software is available via quite a wide spectrum," says David Williams, research vice president at Gartner. "Because management requires on-premise data, many service offerings still require a probe or bit of software on the customer site, but the heavy lifting of the management technology can be done by the vendor."

For instance, companies such as AccelOps, Aprigo and Vineyard Networks offer their management SaaS, which enables IT managers to reap the benefits of sophisticated management software without having to invest the time in installation and maintenance of the applications. led the way for management vendors to package their ware as managed services, inspiring both newcomers and veterans such as BMC, CA and HP to embrace the SaaS model.

The fact that IT buyers want management software in more easily digestible formats is no surprise to industry watchers, who say the combination of the economic downturn, growing complexity of customer environments and the lack of budget dollars and manual labor pushed management technology to its tipping point. Now not only do management software makers have to provide insight into the environment, they must also be able to automate multiple tasks, with little input from human operators.

"Automation has just exploded because IT managers need to improve efficiency and productivity, without adding a lot of staff," says Glenn O'Donnell, senior analyst with Forrester Research. "Virtualization has exploded and torn down the barriers of resistance and trust that used to keep IT from adopting automation."

Newcomers such as AccelOps, Conformity and Elastra plan to cash in on this need for higher IT automation in advanced computing environments using virtual systems and potentially cloud services. 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. Elastra's Enterprise Cloud Server (ECS) is a platform to automate the allocation of application and related resources existing in private and public cloud computing environments. And Conformity promises to help enterprise IT customers with complex, multi-sourced environments better manage identities and access to various applications. Conformity executives say their cloud application management platform will provide centrally managed visibility and control over SaaS users for compliance and governance purposes.

"Management has become so critical to cloud computing because cloud depends on virtualization and the automated provisioning and spinning out of virtual machines. Virtualization management continues to be a healthy segment of the market, and cloud management is one step up from that," says Mary Johnston Turner, research director at IDC.

Considering the complexity IT managers face they also want tools to simplify operations management and really dig into the details of network data.

"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," Forrester's O'Donnell says.

That's why companies such as ExtraHop Networks and layerX Technologies are getting attention. Separately, the vendors provide products that help enterprise IT track the performance of business services down to the granular network layers. 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. This view into application performance from a network perspective is becoming increasingly valuable to IT managers, analysts say. LayerX, on the other hand, provides an IT search technology called punq, portable utility for network query.

"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," Williams says.

Companies such as Splunk started the IT search trend a few years back, but it is now taking off with IT managers that need a way to gather meaningful data quickly.

"The service desk function and other support groups are always in search of data in real time during their troubleshooting activities. Logs, configurations, traps, alerts, script, codes, metrics and configuration details are all real data that can be extremely useful during the incident and problem management process, writes Evelyn Hubbert, senior analyst at Forrester Research in a recent report. "IT search engines can help gather data from a variety of sources and organize it into information chunks."

And Germany-based upstart DeskCenter Solutions promises to make client systems management easier by combining 15 applications into one software suite, which manages both physical and virtual servers and desktops. Cisco veterans came together to launch Windmill Networks, which offers its Integration Manager as a VMware virtual appliance. The software correlates, translates and reconciles information collected from multiple third-party management systems to highlight configuration inconsistencies between tools, which could prevent performance problems.

Another start-up launched by management industry veterans, RiverMuse, works to provide advanced event and fault management using an open source business model.  With vendors such as GroundWork, Hyperic (acquired by SpringSource which was later acquired by VMware) and Zenoss offering commercial support packages for their open source software, enterprise IT buyers can now adopt the flexible technology without worrying about support.

"Open source management is making a comeback because enterprises that dabbled with it before now can use the community-based model of open source software with commercial open source offerings," Gartner's Williams says. "No one should be snubbing their noses at the open source management applications available now. They are pretty robust technologies with huge communities adding adapters and commercial support offerings."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.