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Xpert system, Xpress freebie take on the big boys

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Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

Cloudy toolmaker ScaleXtreme has rolled out an easier-to-use update to its Xpert server-admin tool in its continuing effort to take on the big initials of systems management: IBM, HP, BMC, and CA.

You have to keep the heat on if you want to win business from incumbents in the data center. Since the launch of its Xpert service last June, ScaleXtreme has raised the toolmaking temperature with both a new twist on systems management for virtual and physical machines, and very aggressive pricing.

ScaleXtreme is a cloud-based service for managing physical servers as well as virtual ones that run either in your own data center or in public clouds such as Amazon's EC2 and Rackspace Hosting's Cloud.

The company was cofounded by Nand Mulchandani, formerly CEO at OpenDNS and senior director of product management and marketing at VMware before that, and Balaji Srinivasa, who was a member of the engineering team that created system management tools at BladeLogic (acquired for $800m by BMC Software in March 2008) and formerly a software engineer at Platinum Technology, Computer Associates, and IBM. Mulchandani is CEO at ScaleXtreme, and Srinivasa is CTO. The company has raised $13.5m in two rounds of financing from Accel Partners and Ignition Partners.

Xpert is an agent-based management tool – like many systems management tools out there – but it is unique in that it only requires encrypted HTTP links between any client and the Xpert service, and that service and your physical and virtual servers, to do its management thing. You don't have to do anything crazy like opening up ports on your firewall to let Xpert tickle your servers.

The server side of the Xpert tool is written completely in Java, and on the client side it uses a mix of JavaScript and HTML, based on Google Web Toolkit (GWT), to make the tool accessible through Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, or Firefox. The tool's agent, an HTTPS transport method, allows admins to not only stand up physical and virtual servers, but to browse file systems, open up command lines, and do just about anything else you need to do on those server images. The service has thousands of customers, but ScaleXtreme is not talking specific numbers yet, Mulchandani tells El Reg.

Typically, companies that offer software as a service don't like to talk about version or release numbers on their code – but if you twist their arm a little bit, they will admit that they do, indeed, have version and release numbers and are not somehow magically immune from this practice just because they are running on a cloud. In this case, ScaleXtreme is rolling out Xpert 1.6, which includes three key new features.

The first new feature is an installation wizard that doesn't force system admins to plow through all of the possible configuration options in Xpert just to get started. Moreover, says Mulchandani, the wizard understands that companies are federating EC2 and Rackspace clouds with internal clouds based on VMware hypervisors as well as physical servers residing inside company data centers.

The second new feature is an updated user interface that allows for on-premise and cloud servers to be viewed together or separately, as admins need.

Third, ScaleXtreme is adding templates for the dynamic server-assembly feature of the Xpert tool and putting them in an online store – called the ScaleXtreme App Store, of course – so that customers don't have to build templates for their code stacks themselves.

The dynamic server-assembly (DSA) feature now has version control, which includes a rollback feature and an automatic update feature that works just like iOS and Android apps on smartphones and tablets. DSA is a key feature of the Xpert tool that allows customers to describe a generic server stack – this operating system, that middleware, those apps – and bind it to a generic operating system.

Different clouds have different operating system kernel levels certified on them, and DSA is meant to abstract these away and deploy your image on the closest variant of an OS that a cloud or your IT department has certified, without having to manually create an image. The way it works, according to Mulchandani, is that you preposition what the target OS image will be for internal and external servers, and DSA has workflows to do whatever changes are necessary to make the code stand up and work properly.

While the Xpert 1.6 tool will run on the Safari browser, there is not yet a version of the Xpert admin interface that runs natively on iPhones and iPads. But Mulchandani says that this is in the works and will be available shortly.

ScaleXtreme has two versions of its service. The Xpress tool is available for free and is intended as a loss-leader for a single admin that is managing a handful of servers. The Xpert service, on the other hand, is aimed at companies with multiple admins managing lots of physical and virtual servers, and who want tech support for the product. Xpert costs $15 per server under management per month, and Mulchandani quips that this is less expensive than the maintenance fees you have to pay for BladeLogic. ®

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