Linux servers may be cheap to buy, but they can be expensive to manage and run. Evidence that systems management companies are now taking Linux seriously emerged at the recent LinuxWorld event in New York, with established companies, pure-play Linux firms and emerging startups all making early moves to launch management tools and frameworks. One of the newest entrants is CoroSoft, a Cupertino, California-based startup that came out of stealth mode and shipped its first product at the end of January.
CoroSoft, which until October last year had been operating under the name Plustream, has developed a datacenter automation management tool for Linux environments. It boasts of self-optimizing, self-healing and self-provisioning software that can power dense racks of tier-one Linux servers for nonstop operation, thereby significantly cutting operational costs and improving service levels. Solaris and Windows versions are promised for the future.
Andy Hospodor, previously VP of systems architecture at Western Digital and the man behind the founding of Quantum's Snap NAS division, founded CoroSoft in 2001 under the Plustream name. An April last year the company hired a president and CEO, Julian Elliott, who was previously vice president and general manager of Agilent's storage networking division. It currently employs 17 people, a figure expected to rise to about 40 by the end of the year. So far, the company has raised $3.8m in funding. It's now looking for "a sizable B round," says Elliott.
Rack-mounted tier-one servers, typically used for edge applications such as Web serving, are a natural fit for Linux, as they can take advantage of low-cost x86-based standard servers, well-established clustering and communications technology, and low-cost licensing for the operating system software. Blade servers take this architecture to new levels of density. IBM, HP and Sun are all now offering a Linux option on their rack-mounted systems. The opportunity for systems management firms is clearly a growing one.
Using a rules-based policy engine, CoroSoft's Datacenter Automation Product Suite turns multiple rack-mounted servers or blade servers – typically low-end x86 boxes – into a single virtual server, and provide application service monitoring and infrastructure monitoring, with rapid automated recovery in the case of a failover.
There are two main components. CoroSoft Director is the virtualization engine and policy manager that maintains the Linux infrastructure across network load balancers such as F5 Networks' BigIP or open source IP virtual servers. Foundation for Linux provides the intelligent server agents that communicate between individual managed servers to the Director, and pass statistics onto the resident application automation modules. Two such modules are available immediately, for Apache HTTP and BIND DNS, but support for standard applications will be added as the product shifts from tier-one toward mid-tier and back-end servers, as it evolves.
The recent LinuxWorld event in New York highlighted some serious competition for CoroSoft, as established systems management companies and startups added Linux support to their offerings. Of the established players, BMC Software released Mainview for Linux Servers version 1.2 for monitoring and managing Red Hat or SuSE Linux. It also enhanced Patrol for Oracle 8.4.5 for better Linux performance. IBM announced Tivoli System Automation for Linux, promising policy-based, self-healing management for Linux clusters of IBM zSeries, pSeries and xSeries servers.
Pure-play Linux companies are also getting in on the act. Linux distribution leader Red Hat introduced the first module of a systems management framework based around its Red Hat Network software update technology. The first management module adds configuration management, availability reporting and trend reporting. Red Hat bought NOCpulse, an ASP-turned-licensed-software company in the application and transaction monitoring market, back in October, and it will use the technology as the basis for Red Hat Command Center. And Ximian released version 1.2 of Red Carpet Enterprise, its centralized software management and version control toolset for Red Hat, MadrakeSoft and SuSE Linux.
A third strand of competition comes from startups. Opsware, previously known as LoudCloud, has added Red Hat Linux support for its datacenter automation software. It already manages Windows and Sun, IBM and HP flavors of Unix, and in this respect has the advantage over CoroSoft. But Opsware, along with a number of other emerging startups, is having to adapt software originally intended for the service provider market to fit the needs of enterprise customers. CoreSoft says it has focused on the enterprise right from the start.
Other competitive startups include Think Dynamics, Ejasent, Moonlight, Jareva (now part of Veritas) and BladeLogic. Linux virtualization hosting specialists such as VMware, Connectix and SWsoft work at the operating system level, rather than at the application layer.
CoreSoft claims these provisioning tools range from simple system monitoring products that may extend upwards to service-level monitoring, manual provisioning and automated provisioning. But only a few move further up to cover nonstop production updates and virtualization and dynamic scheduling. It claims that its differentiation is its focus on managing the applications, rather than the underlying hardware as most of the competition does. Linux is seen as a good early opportunity, because it scales well into large clusters, and because customers deploying Linux are more likely to be willing to do things differently. We expect its next move will be to add support for email and LDAP applications.
CoroSoft is an early player aiming at a booming market sector. It's also covering a broader sector of server provisioning than many of its rivals, with a focus on the application layer.
Currently, the product supports only Linux, which may make some enterprise customers nervous. And there are only two application automation modules, for Apache and BIND DNS.
Blade servers are now starting to ship in significant volumes, and all the major vendors offer Linux as an option. And large-scale Linux server farms are gaining market share in the high-performance computing sector.
The big systems houses have their own management frameworks, and have developed tools for blade servers. They will attempt to fold in Linux support as part of their overall product lines.
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