Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Data Palette Gets Better and BladeLogic Joins the BMC Camp

It’s just Tuesday, and already it’s been a hectic week for data center automation with Stratavia announcing Data Palette 5.0 and BMC acquiring BladeLogic for about $800M.

Let me start with what's more relevant to customers and end-users: Data Palette 5.0 is something the Stratavia engineers have been working on for almost 2 years now (in conjunction with version 4). It is a game-changer in that it is the first data center automation (DCA) platform to combine native provisioning capabilities with run book automation and database automation to address DCA needs across multiple domains – the sys admins (with server provisioning and hardening requirements), the Tier 1/Help Desk (with generic run book automation requirements) and the DBAs/App admins (with more advanced database/application automation requirements).

The traditional DCA products like BladeLogic and Opsware have essentially focused on provisioning. In the case of Opsware, they started out with server provisioning and then expanded into network and storage provisioning by acquiring Rendition and Creekpath respectively. However these vendors quickly figured out that provisioning without process automation forms an incomplete offering. After all, most admins would like to do “something” with newly provisioned hardware – like harden the server, install specific applications on it, create user accounts and so on – all of which require process automation capabilities. To address that, Opsware last year acquired run book automation vendor, iConclude. BladeLogic addressed that problem via an OEM with run book automation vendor, RealOps (relabeled as Orchestration Manager) and when the latter got acquired by BMC, established an OEM arrangement with another vendor Opalis.

Sounds nice, huh? Well not so much for customers, because as anyone who has tried to integrate multiple products together knows, leveraging disparate tools in a seamless manner is not as easy as it sounds. There are always different GUIs, configuration styles and architectural components to reckon with, in addition to competing terminology, metadata and redundant functionality. Such integration challenges have been more pronounced in the case of BladeLogic especially, since with an OEM, you only have so much control over another vendor’s offering… But I guess BladeLogic has an excellent bunch of sales guys that have been able to sell into large organizations in spite of these challenges. Either that, or customers didn’t know they had an alternative.

With Data Palette 5.0, this hurdle towards a coherent integration of provisioning and run book automation capabilities is a thing of the past. Data Palette’s new console provides both set of capabilities that tie into each other via a common architecture that includes a shared console, policies, rules, metadata and consistent terminology. Now you can define templates for provisioning Windows, Linux and UNIX servers, along with corresponding CIS policies and apply them via a generic run book/workflow. You can use the same console to discover existing servers and leverage an automated run book to scan for compliance and configuration policy violations, report on them and optionally, remediate them. No more having to go from one product screen to the other and having to re-enter rules and preferences.

The other improvement is the thin client for both defining and deploying workflows. Both administration functions (such as defining workflows) as well as user functions (executing the workflows) can be accomplished via the web GUI, built primarily with Ajax and Flash. The new GUI implements the concept of a “digital whiteboard” with easy drag-and-drop of reusable workflows steps to illustrate a custom process. Each of the workflow steps are chained together via an input/output mapping that allows users to create new workflows without the need for scripting or having to study the code within each step. However if you are a scripter, the code is available for viewing/edits and you can add additional steps to the library in any scripting language with built-in version control (in fact, you can mix and match steps in different languages – all within the same workflow!!!).

Data Palette 5.0 also brings in the concept of custom policies. I realize different vendors seem to gravitate towards a different definition for the word “policy”. Within Data Palette, policies are a collection of common attributes that you can use to treat multiple “like” servers (or other data center assets) as one. For example, let’s say you have 40 Windows 2003 machines and 10 VMware Windows virtual machines that you need to apply PCI rules to. You can create a PCI policy outlining the relevant Windows-specific rules and attributes and then apply that singular policy to all 50 machines. Corresponding automation workflows can then utilize the policy attributes to log onto those servers, do the appropriate checks and report on all of them in a consistent manner. Finally, Data Palette’s original forte in database administration automation and 5.0’s innovation in terms of functionality and ease of use makes it stand head and shoulders above anyone else in terms of out-of-the-box database and application related content and capabilities.

BTW, in case you are somewhat wondering how Data Palette differentiates from BladeLogic and Opsware (both in terms of current capability as well as future direction), here’s a quick picture to represent each vendor’s competencies.

Both BladeLogic and Stratavia share some customers (BladeLogic Operations Manager used for server provisioning and configuration management, and Stratavia Data Palette utilized for database and application automation). They do have a good team that knows what they are doing. I would hate to see a good team and good technology disrupted. And looks like BladeLogic had no dearth of suitors. In closing, I hope BladeLogic gets its fair share of mindshare at BMC.

No comments: