In the era of cloud computing and virtualization, the options for deploying servers have never been more complicated. The systems management landscape, however, has remained comparatively static, with the market for outside services dominated by a few large players whose offerings are heavy on features and carry correspondingly steep price tags.
But just as the SaaS model pioneered by the likes of Salesforce.com has remade CRM software, systems management could be poised to take a similar turn to the cloud.
Such is the value proposition ScaleXtreme offers with its cloud-based systems management console, promising to ease the task of the administrator at a price point that compares favorably to the big incumbent vendors.
"Servers are being deployed much faster than systems admins are being hired," ScaleXtreme co-founder and CEO Nand Mulchandani explained. "These same admins are being asked to manage more servers, with more complexity, which they can only hope to manage through comprehensively automating their tasks."
ScaleXtreme is betting on an alternative to the costly and complex on-premises software that has long defined the systems management space, even amid the rise of new models of server deployment.
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's flagship product provides a unified console that can manage on-site physical servers sitting behind a firewall, virtual servers in a data center and dedicated machines housed by a hosting provider such as Rackspace, as well as Amazon's EC2 cloud servers.
"It's no surprise that the systems management market is highly correlated to the market for servers," Mulchandani said. "The server space is now heading into its second shift in decades -- the first shift was moving from single-purpose physical machines to virtualizing them. The second shift, that we're in, is taking some of these virtual machines and running them in the cloud. Unfortunately, the systems management market has been pretty static for years."
ScaleXtreme bills itself as a lightweight alternative to what Mulchandani described as the big four incumbents: BCM, CA, HP and IBM. He explained that many of his companies' prospective customers have been reluctant to commit to the larger vendors' products owing to their cost and complexity, with the result being that they continue to manage their servers manually. "Getting them to think of lightweight management and automation products is sometimes a challenge," he said.
Prior to the launch of ScaleXtreme, Mulchandani had been an entrepreneur-residence at Accel Partners, a venture firm that is now backing the startup. At Accel, Mulchandani focused on new methods of systems management to keep pace with the cloud era in work that laid the foundation for ScaleXtreme. Previously, he had done stints at OpenDNS, VMware and other firms. ScaleXtreme co-founder Balaji Srinivasa, who currently serves as the company's CTO, had been one of the early engineers and principal product architect at Bladelogic, a configuration management company that was snapped up by BMC in 2007 for $800 million.
Last month, ScaleXtreme entered what it calls its "early access" phase, a public beta that offers its product for a free trial until version 1 hits the market. At that point, Mulchandani said pricing will run around $150 annually for each physical or persistent virtual server. The company is planning an hourly rate for servers running in a public cloud. In both cases, ScaleXtreme will back a so-called "freemium" model, offering management of a limited number of servers for free.
As a cloud-based console, ScaleXtreme is accessible to admins from any mobile device, offering real-time performance metrics. The firm also sports a centrally managed library where users can buy, sell and swap scripts.
Looking ahead, ScaleXtreme plans to add some of what Mulchandani calls "traditional systems management functionality," including auditing and patch management. But a bigger step forward will focus on streamlining the process of bringing new machines into the management console.
"We currently focus on managing the machine after it has been started up," Mulchandani said. "We're going to be announcing some new functionality around being able to provision new machines in the cloud with providers such as Amazon, Rackspace and others, as well as integration with cloud infrastructure from VMware."
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn