High Times For IT Operations Management

Saturday Jun 16th 2007 by Clint Boulton
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Virtualization, IT operations management and power and cooling! Oh my!

Reporter's Notebook: KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- I knew virtualization would be a pervasive theme coming into the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations and Management Summit. I just didn't know it would be "throw a rock in a roomful of people and hit someone doing virtualization" pervasive.

Dave McKnight, the first person I sat down to breakfast with at the Gaylord Palms Convention Center Monday morning, is an IT operations manager for Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.

He told me virtualization is what brought him to the event. Jones and his IT staff have consolidated workloads from 12 servers onto three IBM p550 dual-core Power-based servers, thanks to a combination of logical partitioning from IBM's Virtualization Engine software and VMware, which is splitting up different Windows and Linux workloads.

One of the things this allowed McKnight to do was run database test applications. Nothing freaky about that right? No, not at all.

But things began to get weird when Gartner analyst Tom Bittman later that morning singled out database applications as one of the most common targets for virtualization.

This was no ordinary manifestation of deja vu; for the next two days I had virtualization pounded into me as a key theme for high-tech in the new millennium.

But I won't clog this dispatch with my thoughts on Gartner's claim that virtualization has only reached 4 percent of its market potential, or that managing virtual server sprawl and securing those virtual machines is a weak area ready for an explosion of growth. Those topics will keep for another day.

Big four on top but for how long?

Something a Gartner analyst Donna Scott said in the session on IT operations management really got my attention. While IBM, HP (Quote), CA (Quote), and BMC (Quote) own 55 percent of the $10 billion operations management software market, she said, there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the ease of use and lack of integration in their tools.

"There is a lot of potential vulnerability for the leading software providers if they don't get their act together."

This problem paves the way for would-be challengers Microsoft (Quote), Oracle (Quote), EMC (Quote), Symantec (Quote)and SAP (Quote), which have big footprints and have all made moves to bolster their management software products, to compete for the remaining 45 percent share.

Scott also said BMC may not be large enough to last and may get acquired; one of the challengers could step in and snap up BMC to significantly bolster their portfolios with advanced change management database software. In the next breath, she said Oracle has a 50-50 shot at becoming one of the leaders, owing to its work with RAC and grid software.

"They're making acquisitions in every other software area, so why not this software area so they can expand their footprint in the market?"

I asked Todd DeLaughter, CEO for run-book automation (RBA) software maker Opalis, for the skinny on this; Opalis partners closely with BMC and makes an integration pack to work with BMC's Patrol package.

No CEO likes to talk acquisitions, particularly when they helm a small startup in a hot, rising space such as RBA, which is essentially an emerging market for IT process automation. DeLaughter, who left the cozy confines of HP to steer Opalis, was no exception.

"That's obviously not something I want to comment on," DeLaughter told me in a meeting here.

"But what I've seen is that in the six months I've been in the role is that a general discussion with a customer about IT process automation is interesting, but when you can start to align IT process automation with existing management vendors in their environment -- like a BMC, VMware, or a BladeLogic -- that helps extend the value proposition of those companies. If consolidation happens, that will take care of itself, and I don't know what those combinations look like."

Interesting that he mentioned those vendors in particular. How's this for a chess move? BMC takes Opalis and Oracle takes BMC. Is that a checkmate for IBM, HP and CA? Food for thought.

Coolest cooling technology

The award for coolest cooling technology at the event goes to SprayCool. Yes, that's really the company's name.

Forged 20 years ago to help cool such military machines as tanks, SprayCool differs greatly from the liquid cooling options such as IBM's Cool Blue, HP's Dynamic Smart Cooling or Sun's Blackbox.

Patchen Noelke, SprayCool's director of marketing, showed me a datacenter rack full of Sun, IBM, Dell and HP blade servers with tubes running to and from the processor unit.

One tube literally sprays the processor with a coolant, then sucks the liquid out and vaporizes it on the way back to heat exchange where it's used it all over again. This unusual method reduces 30 percent to 40 percent of the heat emanating from the rack.

So while IBM, Sun and HP all cool the air around servers, SprayCool opts for in-chassis cooling, landing it a spot in Gartner's datacenter cooling and power management quadrant, said Gartner analyst Michael Bell in his session here Tuesday.

"It actually sprays a non-conductive fluid right onto the processor. You might think that's insane, but you have to see it to believe it," said Bell, clearly awed by the approach.

"Hot liquid then goes down through a heat transfer unit at the bottom of the rack, which is served by chilled liquid. That chilled liquid is then recycled back and sprayed on the chips."

What's really interesting is that you don't have to retrofit your servers to accommodate SprayCool. Because of this, Bell and SprayCool's Noelke said original equipment manufacturers, such as IBM, Sun, HP and Dell could add this technology to their machines.

Dell would be the most likely candidate to do this because it doesn't really have a power and cooling technology to rest its head on. IBM, Sun and HP might be less inclined because they offer their own methods of cooling datacenter racks.

Dell could significantly boost its power and cooling credibility by snapping up SprayCool. It would also help restore some of company's luster. But it better not wait; somebody will buy this company, because there is nothing else like it.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.

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