Surgient revs fake server headache pill
Self-serve VM stacks
The server virtualization hypervisor space is seeing a flattening in revenues, as industry juggernaut VMware admitted  last week. But the myriad niche companies that are selling tools to manage virtual and physical servers are benefiting from the continuing sprawl.
One such company is the Austin, Texas-based Surgient, which today rolls out the 6.1 release of its Virtual Automation Platform. Surgient got its start selling a hosted platform that software developers could use to deploy demos of their products and quickly customize them for prospective clients as well as providing training for customers before they actually had their own installation of application software running.
The Surgient tool evolved into a quality assurance and testing tool for virtual server environments as VMware and others took off, and in 2007, Surgient made the smart decision to allow firms to buy its tool rather than restrict them to using the hosted version. Since then, the Surgient tool has grown up into a self-service kiosk of sorts for physical and virtual servers that takes away a lot of the headaches of - and for some, perhaps the paychecks of - system administrators who have to set up, test, and deploy iron (physical or virtual makes little different) to run applications.
Business is apparently good at Surgient these days. According to Nicole McGarry, product marketing manager at Surgient,the privately-held company had more than 60 per cent revenue growth in 2008, in spite of the economic downturn. (Surgient did not say how much revenues it has generated, but Tim Lucas, the company's president and chief executive officer, told the Austin Business Journal last July  that the company had a chance to double sales to around $20m in 2008, and that would suggest it hit around $16m to make the 60 per cent number work).
And part of the reason why Surgient is growing so fast, according to McGarry, is that too many people still have their hands in how a server gets deployed and no one ever seems to get the right information to the admins from the get-go.
"No matter what the process is that companies use, the people who are involved don't provide enough information, so everyone ends up going in circles," she explains. And that leads to long lead times before a server and its code can be deployed and then a backlog of requests that builds up. Which makes the system administrators look incompetent or worse. (We all know it isn't their fault, of course...) "A lot of people need to touch servers before they get released, and with IT being the gatekeeper to the infrastructure, they are really struggling."
The heart of the Surgient platform is a dynamic resource and capacity management tool that aggregates pools of virtual and physical servers that creates a giant calendar (just like the one you might use to schedule your meetings at work) for workloads running on particular virtual servers. The Surgient tool can provision VMs that run atop VMware's various ESX Server releases. The new Surgient 6.1 platform announced today adds support for VMware's ESXi 3.5 embedded hypervisor. The 6.0 release from last fall supported the current ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor.
Outside the vSphere
With VMware not yet shipping the just-announced  vSphere 4.0 virtualization stack and its ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor, Surgient 6.1 does not yet support this release. Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor, which is integrated with Windows Server 2008, was supported in Surgient 6.0, and before that, Microsoft's Virtual Server type 2 hypervisor was supported. The Surgient 6.1 release does not support the XenServer hypervisor from Citrix Systems or any of the various offshoots of the open source Xen hypervisor, but Mike Andren, director of product management at Surgient, says that the company is a long-time partner with Citrix and is in discussions about Xen, which is definitely on the roadmap.
With Surgient 6.0, the tool was integrated with Symantec's Altiris systems management tools to allow for the provisioning of physical x64 servers, and with the 6.1 release, the tool is integrated with HP's Server Automation tool (formerly known as Opsware) to do physical server provisioning. Andren says that big companies have invested a lot of money in these tools to do physical server provisioning, and integration makes more sense than starting from scratch to craft its own physical server provisioning features.
The prior release already integrated with HP's Quality Center lifecycle management tools, and the 6.1 release gets integration with IBM's equivalent Rational lifecycle tools. The Surgient 6.1 release now integrates with VMware's vCenter management tool, allowing for VM templates created using vCenter and controlling their deployment to be imported from vCenter. Likewise, VM workflow created by Surgient can be exported to vCenter. Andren says that the company is talking to IBM, BMC, and CA to integrate with their physical server provisioning tools.
The idea is to allow companies to keep doing what they are doing, but use Surgient to allow self-service deployment to schedule virtual machines on the network and to deploy them within the confines and rules of the lifecycle management tools.
While it is perhaps no big deal to create a software image and deploy it to a hypervisor running inside the corporate firewall or out there on clouds like Amazon's EC2, Andren says that one of the key differentiators that separates Surgient from VMware or VMLogix, its two main competitors, is that Surgient's tool can deploy complex, multi-tier networks of virtual or physical machines - or a mix of the two styles provided companies have Altiris or Server Automation installed.
And the tool has dynamic capacity management features that allow for pools of CPU, memory, and disk to be recaptured after VMs and physical servers are quiesced. Moreover, the new release includes partial host pooling, which allows partitions created by ESX Server or Hyper-V hypervisors on a single machine to be put into different capacity pools to be used by workloads assigned by Surgient. The idea is to drive up utilization as high as possible on each physical server.
The new release also has software license tracking, which helps companies to cut back on software licenses. Andren says that many high-end data centers often have between 20 to 30 per cent more software licenses than they actually deploy, just so they don't have to worry about running out of capacity at a critical time. With Surgient, companies will be able to track their licenses and not lock up funds on the actual licenses being deployed. Moreover, they will be able to kick out reports for their software providers to show them how many licenses are running in their shop and how it has changed over time to demonstrate compliance with their licensing contracts.
Perhaps most interestingly, the Surgient 6.1 release has a feature that acts like an air traffic controller, and given a condition that, say, a physical server needs to be taken down for maintenance at a certain time, it can figure out the best way to move workloads off that machine to minimize or eliminate downtime for the applications running on that machine.
Surgient Virtual Automation Platform 6.1 will ship on April 30. An entry setup for testing proof of concept across several hosts and dozens of virtual machines costs from $50,000 to $60,000. Production setups for data centers can run to six or seven figures for Surgient licenses. ®