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Web monitoring tools gain ground against Big Four

As more companies' revenue streams move online through Web-facing services, IT managers have turned to smaller management providers for mission-critical, LAMP-stack Web environments.

It has become increasingly common for a company's online presence to drive its revenue. If the Web-facing services your company offers are down or performing poorly, your company loses money.

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The growing revenue associated with online service offerings is one reason upstart systems management vendors like AlterPoint Inc., Hyperic Inc. and Zenoss Inc. have gained traction with enterprise customers.

Hyperic specializes in monitoring Web applications, and many of its customers provide Software as a Service (SaaS) and other online offerings.

Making a splash in Big Four pond
Hyperic customer Ed Bailey, Unix team lead at a major credit reporting agency, uses Hyperic HQ Enterprise to manage Web apps that drive his company's revenue. Bailey said many of those applications run custom code in Python or C++, and it was important for him to have a tool his team could extend.

"We looked at traditional commercial monitoring software, but making changes is hard with those tools. Plus, IBM and BMC Software are pushing professional services and it drives up the cost and implementation time," Bailey said. "If you're looking at Tivoli, you'll have limited documentation, pay a huge amount of money, and they won't answer your questions.

Our company is more focused on things that generate revenue rather than ... spending time ... on this.
Ed Bailey,
Unix team leada credit reporting agency

"There is a 1,000% profit margin on enterprise event management software like IBM Tivoli NetCool and HP OpenView, but they are tremendously crappy products," Bailey continued. "We like looking at companies like Hyperic because of the rapid improvement of the tool. These smaller companies are aggressive and the tool will keep improving."

Michael Coté, an analyst at Redmonk, an IT consulting firm, said best-of-breed vendors like Hyperic make very quick strides against general systems management vendors, as they can focus on a niche like monitoring the LAMP stack. "There is a lot they can offer for companies looking to monitor open source-based stacks, as opposed to the Big Four, who are more focused on enterprise ERP [enterprise resource planning] or CRM [customer relationship management] applications."

The Big Four systems management vendors do not perform well in these open source, Web-tier environments, according to Matt Stodolnic, the vice president of marketing at Hyperic in San Francisco.

"For the executive who says it's his one job to make sure the Web application doesn't go down, we generally win the deal," Stodolnic said. "We're not the Big Four; we're very focused on Web applications critical to your business. IBM labs does incredible work, but the Big Four vendors don't know how to spell LAMP" [which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP].

Freeware vs. enterprise systems management suites
One way that smaller systems management vendors can break into large enterprise deployments is by offering products for free, sometimes under an open source framework, sometimes not.

Hyperic offers an open source version of its Hyperic HQ monitoring product. The company embedded a monitor in the free software that counts how many people use it. Stoldonic said companies can turn that feature off, but Hyperic counts 3,500 organizations that haven't turned off the beacon. He estimated two to three times that number use the open source version of Hyperic HQ.

"The folks [using the open source version] are largely self service, relying on a fairly active online community for support, with 30 to 40 questions asked and answered each day," Stoldonic said. "The open source offering is great for people with standard systems management needs. You can get it up and running in a few hours, or spend a lifetime customizing it."

And therein lies the rub for Bailey, who doesn't have the time to cobble together -- let alone develop and maintain -- the automation, security and reporting features that ship with the enterprise version. "You can make a reporting system for the open source version of Hyperic HQ. If you have the time, you can make anything. But our company is more focused on things that generate revenue rather than me spending time working on this," Bailey said. "I used to work at a university and we had time to build something like that, whereas now we have millions of transactions that are making money."

Stoldonic said large companies use the open source product as a non-time-constrained proof of concept. "They use it for six months to see if we pass the technology hurdles," Stoldonic said. "If you're a big company, you need major automation features. You need our agent to be self-aware. You need to leverage our security for any add-on features, and you need to continue to leverage that security without writing code."

The case for the Big Four management suites
Besides the fact that your IBM software sales rep takes your CIO out for martinis and steaks every month, is there any reason for companies to keep these dinosaur framework suites around?

Yes, if breadth of coverage is important, said Liam McGlynn, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates.

"When you're talking about infrastructure tools at the component level, the Big Four aren't as universally robust," McGlynn said. "But BMC, IBM, HP, CA -- these companies can orchestrate processes and manage incidents across multiple applications, spanning the network."

The Big Four have staked their claims on IT Service Management (ITSM) and application service-level agreements -- helping speed resolution for outages.

"Unless you have integrated management frameworks, you can't tell where the problem is, no matter how well instrumented your components are," McGlynn said. "You can have your network, mainframe, Web services instrumented to the nines, but if you don't have that all tied together in a knot, you don't have anything."

Note: This is the first article in a series on smaller IT systems management vendors competing with the Big Four systems management providers (IBM, Hewlett-Packard, BMC and CA) in enterprise data center management. The series will explore the pricing and functionality advantages that smaller vendors bring to the table while weighing the strengths of the incumbent framework vendors.

Have your admins openly rebelled against OpenView? Would you trade that "single pane of glass" for point products that work? Are you sick of training staff on 20 different vendors' tools? Email Matt Stansberry at about your IT management concerns and story ideas.

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