OpsWare Opens Up and Extends with 4.5 Release
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
One of the fundamental problems with computers is they all do not usually run the exact same software, and even when they do, the IT and business processes that applications embody are not implemented in exactly the same way from company to company. Automating the management of such systems is therefore problematic if you are, like OpsWare, trying to automate the data centers of the world--and do it on a budget.
The answer, according to OpsWare founder Marc Andreessen, is to extend the system management and provisioning software so it can automate the many unique processes each company has. And then, faithful to his free source roots, Andreessen hopes eventually to cultivate a community of OpsWare customers who extend the program to automate the provisioning and patch management of all manner of applications that OpsWare might never have the time or money to produce on its own.
But before that can happen, comes the launch of OpsWare 4.5, which puts a new feature called Extension Builder, into the hands of a critical mass of customers. OpsWare expects to double its revenue this fiscal year--which ends in January 2005--to around $36 million, and it has 250 customers for its data center automation products. It is well positioned in the automated server management, provisioning, and virtualization software market that analysts at IDC predict will grow to around $5 billion by 2008.
And although OpsWare doesn't like to say this, with the typical IT shop having one system administrator managing maybe 15 or 20 servers--and in the government, the average is more four or five--with its software allowing a single administrator the ability to manage maybe 100 or 200 servers, IT shops will look at these tools as a way for administrators to do more, while also cutting the number of administrators.
The OpsWare System is a system management suite that helps install, update, maintain, and dynamically provision instances of the five major operating systems--Windows, Linux, Solaris, AIX, and HP-UX--and dozens of popular applications--including middleware, databases, and Web infrastructure programs--that ride on top of those operating systems.
The Opsware program itself runs on Solaris or Linux platforms. OpsWare 4.0 was announced in February, and as one of its features, it turned the agent software within OpsWare on its head and created an asset management program called Data Center Intelligence, which lets IT managers see, in real time, exactly what their servers are doing. OpsWare 4.5, which includes all the same management and provisioning and which has the same $1,000 to $1,200 per server price tag, throws in the Extension Builder toolset.
The extension features are useful in a number of ways. For one thing, the APIs in Extension Builder allow system management programs such as IBM's Tivoli and Candle products or Hewlett-Packard's OpenView products to be linked to OpsWare using a two-way integration that lets OpsWare talk to them and they to talk to OpsWare.
For instance, Allmerica, a financial services company that is an early adopter of OpsWare 4.5, used the scripting features of the program to tie into the Red Hat Network and update its racks of Linux servers based on its own prioritization of the kinds of patches that need to be done immediately and those that can wait. Now that the system is set up, the patching of Red Hat servers is completely automated, and Allmerica is confident that the Red Hat machines are as secure as they can make them--and all of them are updated in exactly the same way.
Moreover, Extension Builder means that companies on the leading or bleeding edge of technology do not have to wait for OpsWare to support a new platform or application. If, for instance, they want to manage Solaris 10 or AIX 5.3 when it first becomes available, customers now have the tools to build custom scripts to manage those environments.
One other interesting feature of OpsWare 4.5, according to Shamila Shahani, senior vice president of marketing at OpsWare, is a set of APIs that allow OpsWare to link into the financial systems of major ERP programs. What this means is that you can tie and IT administrator job--pushing out upgrades to 1,000 servers, for instance--directly to the people that drive that process and actually then get reports on what those upgrades cost in terms of man-hours and IT budget.
OpsWare 4.5 will be generally available in August, and the Extension Builder feature is included with the release for free. OpsWare 4.0 customers on maintenance contracts will receive the upgrade to OpsWare 4.5 for free.