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EMC stakes claim in IT management

Five years in the buying

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EMC wants to sell you disks. And it wants you to buy VMware products to virtualize your servers. And now it wants to manage your servers, storage, and networks with a line of tools called Ionix.

When EMC bought Data General back in August 1999 for $1.1bn to keep the low-end Clariion disk array business from falling into the hands of Dell, it should have done itself a favor and kept the Aviion line of Unix and Windows servers and their avant garde NUMA architecture going. EMC might not have wanted to be in the systems business back then, but it can't avoid being in it now and doesn't want to, as many of its acquisitions over the past five years prove. EMC wants everything to do with systems except for actually building hardware and OSes.

The Ionix product is the result of five years of acquisitions by EMC. The first acquisition that EMC did was back in December 2004 when it bought System Management Arts (Smarts), which had a tool called InCharge for collecting performance data on devices residing on the corporate network. EMC then bought nLayers, which created a set of tools for discovering and mapping applications on the network and followed that up with its acquisition of Voyence, a maker of network configuration software.

In March 2008, EMC acquired Infra, a maker of Web-based tools for automating the management of IT resources and processes. And finishing off the set this May, EMC shelled out some dough for Configuresoft, a maker of system configuration and compliance tools that EMC was already reselling under an OEM agreement under its own Server Configuration Manager and Configuration Analytics Manager brands.

The Ionix line now four modules, and Bob Quillin, senior director of marketing at EMC, says that the company has done a lot of work integrating these products while at the same time leaving their APIs exposed so they can be integrated with alternative tools from IBM, Hewlett-Packard, CA, BMC Software, and others with niche products that provide similar functions to one of the Ionix modules.

The basic and perhaps key module of the Ionix set is called Ionix for Service Directory and Mapping, and it is largely based on the products that came from the nLayers acquisition. This is the part of the Ionix set that can tickle all of the server protocols and do network sniffing to find out all about the hardware and software running in the internal network behind the firewall. Quillin says that companies want to have tools that don't require agents running on their devices because maintaining agents is a pain in the neck.

Virtual machine hypervisors have only made relying on agents all that more difficult, since VMs move around and proliferate. The three other Ionix modules rely on what the Service Directory and Mapping module finds out about the servers (both physical and virtual), storage, and networks to do their jobs.

This module can automatically populate CMDB databases, and it hooks into change management systems as well. Such mapping of servers is often a requirement before a site goes virtual with servers in preparation for server consolidations or migrations, so there is an indirect VMware vSphere angle here too.

The Ionix for IT Operations Intelligence module is based on the Smarts tools. It does root cause and impact analysis as well as service monitoring for physical and virtual servers. The funny thing about this module is that system administrators where virtualization has taken off are looking for such an analysis and monitoring tool because, as you might expect, the hypervisor is being blamed for anything that goes wrong these days in the data center, much as the network might have been a decade ago when network technology was shifting a lot in data centers.

The third module is called Ionix for Service Management, and it is based on the help desk tools that EMC got through the Infra acquisition. The Smarts tools above are linked into this help desk so when it finds problems - perhaps ones that system or network administrators are not even aware of yet - it can generate a trouble ticket and get the ball rolling to deal with the issue. With companies having to do more with less - not only in terms of fewer servers and storage arrays, but also in many cases with fewer IT pros - this kind of integration is something that Quillin believes will find a receptive audience for. This module integrates with the CMDBs created by the foundation module above and does workflow automation as well.

The final module in the set, called Ionix for Data Center Automation and Compliance, mixes the server management tools from the Configuresoft acquisition, the network management and provisioning tools from the Voyence deal, and EMC's own ControlCenter tools for storage management into a single tool. This module does not have server provisioning, but Quillin says that EMC is examining its options, including extending the Configuresoft code or focusing on third party tools. (If EMC can buy it for less than building it, expect another acquisition soon).

The Ionix stack is available now, and Quillin says that a starter pack for managing somewhere between 50 and 100 devices costs in the range of $25,000. The pricing for the Ionix tools scales with the amount of storage and the number of storage arrays, the number of servers and virtual machines, and the number of network devices, which is where the variance comes in.

As part of the roll out, the Resource Management Software Group at EMC is also being renamed the Ionix Group. ®

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