AlterPoint spins out free network management software

Company launches open source project and community to further development on network change and configuration management.

AlterPoint Tuesday launched its ZipTie open source project that the company says will make sophisticated network change and configuration management technologies available for free.

ZipTie, a name loosely based on network managers' desire to tie together many components in their environments, offers customers, equipment vendors and software makers access to source code in AlterPoint's DeviceAuthority Suite under the Mozilla Public License.

"We are making our framework for network configuration management available in the ZipTie project to help customers struggling with proprietary tools and to further development of the technology area," says AlterPoint CEO Scott Harmon. "We are donating our code that supports multiple vendor devices on the ZipTie Web site on day one."

DeviceAuthority, heralded as a time and money saver by companies such as Citigroup, automates a device discovery process, which reports back hardware and software configuration data from every device to be managed. Network administrators can then set policies and rules, and the software can be set to automatically enforce them based on device configurations and network changes that could affect the configurations.

ZipTie is a client-side application that can be downloaded to a Windows or Linux machine. It features device discovery and backup, device configuration comparison, configuration change detection, configuration distribution and an extensive set of point-and-click tools for performing administrative functions on network devices such as routers, switches and firewalls.

AlterPoint, a member of the Open Management Consortium, plans in the first quarter of next year to offer a support package with its ZipTie application. The vendor has also launched an open source community to get IT managers working together on the challenges of heterogeneous network change and configuration management.

Industry standards efforts, such as NetConf, propose a means to consistently collect configuration information, but until recently many IT managers depended upon proprietary tools from their equipment vendors.

AlterPoint competes with the likes of Voyence, Intelliden and even Cisco, which recently revealed its heterogeneous configuration management product plans. Cisco was able to add such multivendor support to its tools via a partnership with automation software maker Opsware, but vendors like AlterPoint have been toiling for years to first obtain and then incorporate vendor-specific knowledge of network devices.

Available as software-only or packaged as appliances, network configuration management products typically capture and store server and device configurations; use automated features to provision and configure new devices; enforce access and change policies; and monitor actions taken on or in relation to devices. Network configuration tools can help maintain consistency across similar devices, ensure critical change data is documented and more quickly restore a device to the known "desired" state - meaning if a failure occurs after a change, network engineers can roll the device back to its known configuration before the change.

Configuration management tools from vendors such as Check Point, Cisco and Nortel offer configuration and change management capabilities for their respective gear, but the predominance of heterogeneous networks creates a demand for multi-vendor products.

Industry watchers say AlterPoint's move towards open source is driven mostly by business strategy to bring customers in through an open source door, but the proven technology could benefit IT managers looking to add the technology to their toolkits without breaking the bank.

"It is worth a look, certainly for comparison's sake," says Stephen Elliot, a senior analyst with IDC. "It really depends on the level of functionality and the level of support. Both have to be communicated clearly for customers to take it seriously."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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