December 5, 2004 9:00 PM PST

Cassatt looks to make data centers hum

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Closely watched start-up Cassatt is joining the ranks of IT providers convinced that corporate computing is too expensive.

The company on Monday is expected to disclose its product plans and reveal the names of initial software partners that intend to support the Cassatt software. The company was started by BEA Systems co-founder Bill Coleman, who is now Cassatt's chairman and CEO.

Cassatt is trying to take advantage of a movement among corporate customers toward lower-cost computing gear. Its software, called Collage, is designed to efficiently manage large networks of Linux or Windows servers. An initial version was released earlier this year, and an update is due out in the first quarter of 2005.

According to company executives, corporate customers--once they have access to souped-up administrative tools--will be able to switch from large, powerful servers to clusters of cheaper servers without having a systems administration nightmare.

"The largest growth opportunity is in automating IT operations," said Sunir Kapoor, chief marketing officer at Cassatt. "To do that, you need a new platform."

The practice of using racks of commodity servers--as opposed to high-end, highly customized machines--has been taking hold for several years, aided by the popularity of Linux on Intel-based machines during the 1990s.

But as data centers are populated with increasing numbers of servers and other devices, corporations are faced with increasingly complicated environments to administer, leading to potentially larger labor costs.

With Collage, the company's goal is to make it possible for a systems operator with only two years' experience to manage a large network of servers. The software automates administrative tasks, such as provisioning and configuring servers.

Collage uses a technique called virtualization for making several servers appear as a single box from an administrative console. According to Rich Green, executive vice president of product development, Cassatt has found that its tools allow a single systems administrator to manage tens or even hundreds of servers.

Of course, Cassatt is not the only company designing software to bring more automation into data centers in an effort to simplify administration.

Large companies, including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, also have automation tools, which they market using different labels. Several smaller so-called utility computing companies, such as Opsware, also have tools that are aimed at administrators and designed to automate jobs.

One of Cassatt's first customers is Pfizer Pharmaceutical, which is running a pilot project using Collage, according to Richard Lynn, Pfizer's vice president of global applications and architecture. The company is testing how Collage measures up to Cassatt's claims.

"In the virtualization space, Cassatt has the potential to be a leading offering because of some of its capabilities around application virtualization and high-performance computing," Lynn said.

Lynn said that Pfizer isn't worried about buying infrastructure software from a smaller provider. "If their technology is good, they will either get bought or grow," he said. "If it's bad, we won't need it."

Cassatt, which has secured venture funding from Warburg Pincus, has managed to attract a number of experienced executives, including Rob Gingell and Rich Green, formerly of Sun, as well as Mark Forman, who was the federal government's top IT executive for about two years, until August 2003. Supercomputing luminary Steven Oberlin is the company's chief scientist.

Cassatt has signed data management companies Ascential and Informatica as initial partners that intend to adjust their own programs to work with the Collage software, and IBM, which said Collage runs on its Linux servers.

 

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