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Opsware Tackles Network Automation

IT automation vendor Opsware Monday added the next layer to its systems automation platform, with the announcement of Network Automation System (NAS) 4.0.

Today's announcement is the first phase of a three-phase integration roadmap, and it comes three months after the Sunnyvale, Calif., company bought the technology with its $33 million acquisition of Rendition Networks. Opsware officials said NAS 4.0 will be available later this month.

Opsware bought Rendition to address the next layer of complexity in a network. It currently provides a server automation tool for Web, application and database servers on Windows, Linux and Unix platforms, and it sells an asset-tracking product to track software components on a network.

Officials say that while many network change and configuration management (NCCM) tools by competitors provide an automated method for automating network policy changes, they don't do any of the things network administrators really need them to: tell them if the changes they're making are the right ones to make.

NAS 4.0 handles the more complex network of routers, switches, firewalls and load balancers that are used to shepherd servers in the network. In addition to automated network changes, the Opsware software includes:

  • A compliance center to measure and enforce any changes to the network that violate information-handling standards like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or COBIT; the software also creates automated reports based on those standards;
  • a workflow and approvals tool to create customized approval processes, as well as reports and notifications to go with those custom processes;
  • the Access Control List manager automates security management, with access to machines based on privileges and the ability to automate responses to network attacks like worms .

The next step, according to Eric Vishria, Opsware director of product marketing, is to integrate NAS with its server-automation and asset-tracking lines, though he said the three will always be available separately.

Vishria said customers from both Rendition and Opsware have been asking for a combined network device/server automation tool for some time. A seemingly simple task of adding a server to an application in the enterprise has a ripple effect that includes more than just the server and application.

"You have to reconfigure the switch, re-configure the load balancer, open a firewall port and then once you do those things you go back to the application servers, re-configure that cluster and then notify your monitoring systems, backup systems and everything else," Vishria said. "You can really easily see that what you need is a coordinated workflow across all of these different things, so you can just turn the crank quickly; that's the direction we're moving."

Phase two, expected to be complete in the fourth quarter of 2005, will introduce integrated workflow processes to manage changes across network device, server and software components, as well as a central data warehouse to retain all change history and asset information.

Phase three will focus on a unified programming model and business service management and is expected to be completed the second quarter of 2006.