Startups Angle for Autonomy

Three startups are targeting products that give the data-center new smarts, which they expect to launch this summer

July 14, 2004

4 Min Read
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This summer and fall, a field of startups, including UXComm Inc., Symbium Corp., and Katana Technology Inc., will be launching products that help further automate the data center.

The emphasis here appears to be on management systems. In fact, judging by recent trends in the network management world, it appears there is still plenty of room for startups pursuing niches in the management software area (see CA Warning Points to Product Holes).

The three startups listed above are all aiming to give more managers more software control over the hardware and applications in the data center, often focusing on specific problems, whether it be hardware management, maintenance, or adapting applications for virtualization.

Here's a closer look at these three companies and what they are doing:

  • UXComm looks to sell products that uxtend the data center management tools from giants like BMC Software Inc. (NYSE: BMC), Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) (NYSE: CA), and IBM Tivoli.UXComm's approach to monitoring data centers is to do all the sensing and decision-making within the components and nodes, instead of running less intelligent sensors that report back to central servers. That way, decisions based on management policies can react more quickly to changes. That should help users save time and money, says the company, because the system is more efficient than traditional approaches.

    "Our thought is that there is a growing need for increasing the management applications capability as it runs locally on each server, says Jeff Tyre, director of produx management at the Beaverton, Ore.-based company.

    UXComm’s AutonomIQ 2.0 software will support almost any protocol or standard, including IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface); blades to compact PCI operating systems; and APIs to ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture). Essentially, the user picks the preferred way they want to manage things, and the software translates the rest.

    Version 2.0 also includes policy-based management, such as via SNMP traps. For example, a policy can be set to automatically shut down certain types of servers when the data center temperature reaches a high point, Tyre says. Pricing isn’t yet disclosed. UXComm’s funding so far includes a $6 million first round, co-led by Olympic Venture Partners and Foundation Capital.

    Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) also helped fund UXComm, and it resells UXComm’s technology, says analyst Brian Babineau, of the Enterprise Strategy Group, who believes UXComm may succeed by working with, not against, the larger companies. “They have enough intelligence in their agents, because they’re not trying to do too much” he uxplains. "That’s their ultimate return on investment: How do we save time and money?"

  • Symbium, meanwhile, says it plans to come out of stealth mode in September. In the meantime, it's dropped a few hints about what it's doing.

    "We’re trying to automate IT services,” explains Ben Robitaille, CEO and president, based in Ottawa. The examples he gives are fixing a Windows server stuck in the much feared Blue Screen of Death, or solving problems with printing, terminal services, and the like. “We have a special hardware product that will actually kick the server back up and running."

    Symbium currently has 45 employees and $6.75 million in venture capital, led by VenGrowth Investment Fund Inc., of Toronto. The first product will target remote offices, eventually moving into core data centers, Robitaille said.

  • Another stealth-mode startup, Katana, is working on server virtualization, officials said. Rather than just partitioning servers, Katana plans to virtualize aspects such as processors, memory, and I/O as well, then dynamically apply those resources wherever they’re needed.

    If that sounds a lot like grid computing, there are some differences. For example, Katana officials say the software won’t require any rewriting of applications.The software will target commodity servers and will soon enter beta testing. Katana raised $8 million last year from Highland Capital Partners, of Lexington, Mass., and Matrix Partners, in Waltham, Mass. Additional funding is planned soon, company officials say.

So is there a common key to success to the current crop of data-center management startups?

"We're seeing the funding going into security and the ability to leverage existing infrastructure," as well as on compliance technologies, ESG's Babineau says.

More venture money is going to startups where the managers have high-level degrees and experience building distribution channels, he noted. Will startups gain more traction? Babineau says customers should buy tactically what they need today, whether it be from a startup or a large vendor. "If there's a gap in their IT infrastructure now, it's time to do that," he says. There, startups may now have an edge, as the larger vendors have been somewhat slow in introducing new products. Sooner or later the larger vendors will catch up.

Whether these startups succeed or not, they likely provide a glimpse of where larger players and customers are going in the future.— Evan Koblentz, Senior Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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