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Open source stirs up systems management market

The systems management space has long been a boon to traditional proprietary vendors, but strong plays from open source companies are providing new opportunities even as Microsoft provides one of its own.

To some, the arena of systems management is one exclusively controlled by an old guard of proprietary vendors like IBM, CA and Hewlett-Packard Co. However, a spate of new applications in systems management are proving that open source may have the clout to stake a claim in this market as well.

And some analysts believe open source systems management has a stronger chance at widespread adoption in the midmarket space where the demand for integrated, affordable and scaled-down applications is higher than it is in larger enterprises.

Typically, midmarket customers are hesitant to adopt open source systems management applications because of concerns about support, said Joyce Thompson Becknell, a senior analyst with Union City, Calif.-based Sageza Group. But many open source vendors have already banded together to address this concern via the Open Management Consortium, she said.

Companies like Qlusters Inc. founded Open Management Consortium in May to establish conventions and standards that enable open source integration and interoperability. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Qlusters is an open source provider of systems management software for virtual environments, and Open Country is a Belmont, Calif.-based company that manufactures a Web-based interface for Unix systems administration.

"Midmarket companies tend to have fewer IT employees without specialization and, subsequently, less time to spend on products that are not fully integrated or that require special skills," Becknell said. "By bringing together the support and capabilities of multiple vendors, midmarket companies may find it easier to use their products and be more likely to try those solutions."

As the trend in systems management heads toward what Becknell describes as "über-management systems that will control nearly everything except the weather," open source vendors will be in an especially appealing position for the midmarket.

"The notion of open source management, compounded by a consortium of open source management partners is mind-bogglingly good," she said. "It gives one hope that IT managers will be able to take their farms of heterogeneous servers and make them better managed with open source as an option."

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Challenges remain for open source systems management

The rise of open source alternatives in the systems management space is a timely one, as Microsoft has announced that it too will soon deliver several new management tools under its System Center brand.

The new tools, called System Center Operations Manager 2007, are a rebrand of Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 and are now in beta. From the TechEd conference held in Boston earlier this month, Microsoft announced that its latest offering is the first to use the XML-based System Definition Model, which can measure the reliability of services like Exchange Server, individual applications and Active Directory. It also manages Windows Vista clients.

But even as Microsoft expands its offerings, Becknell was still optimistic about the chances for open source and the consortium.

"While all the big vendors profess to be highly interested in the midmarket, their success has been varied and certainly not as strong as they would like," she said. "The smaller open source players are also small or midmarket businesses, and they understand the needs of these companies."

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