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RealTime IT News

Sunny Gupta, CEO, iConclude

Jeff Hawkins It may not have the cache of some of the cooler consumer-oriented technologies, but the nascent market for IT management process automation is gathering momentum and could snowball in 2007.

Also known as run-book automation, such software automates processes and applies the correct resources to changes that arise in computer systems.

Theoretically, run-book automation will take a lot of the redundant, manual work out of the equation for the administrators, allowing them to focus on other tasks to help the business efficiently run.

Three run-book automation vendors came charging to the fore in 2006: RealOps, Opalis and iConclude.

The companies, which each count customer numbers in the vicinity of 50, are all vying for large pieces of market segment that the Big Four management software makers -- IBM , HP , CA  and BMC  -- haven't jumped into yet.

IConclude CEO Sunny Gupta recently discussed with internetnews.com the run-book automation market and his company's position in it.

Q: Why did you create iConclude?

Most of us at iConclude came from the product side at Mercury Interactive. We consulted with over 40 customers before we even started the company. Four years ago it became pretty clear that customers were saying that the whole systems management landscape has been extremely focused on the monitoring of the infrastructure, where you're looking at the events that affect the infrastructure.

Ticketing and service-desk type of products like BMC Remedy, which helps tracks incidents and their lifecycle. Change and configuration management databases (CMDB). Customers said all that stuff is great, but said there are still a lot of processes in IT that are extremely manual. There are a lot of common, repetitive tasks which need to be completed in an IT organization that have huge business impact.

Q: What kind of tasks or processes are you referring to?

Take financial institutions, which have as many as 500,000 to 1 million alerts coming in per day through their management consoles. The triage diagnostics and the remediation of these alerts is still pretty manual.

That's a big problem because the volume of these alerts is so high. If one of them gets missed, it can have some serious downtime impact on the business. But also, it's extremely expensive from a labor-cost perspective to triage and remediate these issues. We thought if that process could be automated, the customers would pay money for the software.

The second angle in this market was around complex change and configuration management. The CMDB helps companies track incidents, but customers said they needed somebody and something to orchestrate a lot of changes and integrate disparate IT systems that drive huge value to their organization. Sixty to 70 percent of these issues are related to change, and our software automates that change. Those are the opportunities we saw. That was the genesis of iConclude.

Q: Orchestrating changes on behalf of the CMDB could be a big boost to your business. What are you doing along those lines?

We have partnered with Opsware, which is one of the leaders in CMDB. They do a lot of provisioning, patch management software for servers, networks and storage. They have licensed iConclude technology for a product they offer called Opsware Orchestrator.

We are the run-book automation engine that is orchestrating the multiple, disparate change and configuration management processes. That's starting to get us access to a lot of big customers. We also have a strategic alliance with them where we are building a lot of process templates for resolving change and configuration management issues.

Q: How do you differentiate from RealOps and Opalis?

I think we differentiate on ease of creating a lot of automations. Our software is very much oriented toward an IT professional instead of a developer. The whole idea is these IT pros don't have a lot of time or the deep technical skill, so we create automations in a drag-and-drop environment so IT pros don't have to get developers involved.

The second thing is we ship with over 1,000 pre-defined process and automation templates. The time to value is quick because customers can use our templates out of the box. The third area is we're doing a lot of work around visualization of these run books and out they get executed. Fourth, we believe we have superior reporting and metrics.

Q: iConclude, RealOps and Opalis all have around the same number of customers, but each calls itself the leader. Gartner hasn't officially defined financial parameters for run-book automation. What gives?

We cater to large enterprise customers in financial services, transportation, oil and gas. The few times we do run into these guys, we beat them consistently. Our customers include Halliburton, Microsoft and Alaskan Airlines. We believe the large enterprise customers are going to drive this market in a big way: big financials, big pharmaceuticals, big oil and gas type of companies.

We have a lot of traction within these verticals. That said, I'm sure if you talk to our competition, they will say they have a lot of traction with some of these companies, too. But it's still an early market. The signs of the market developing are incredible.

Q: You have to think IBM, HP, CA or BMC will jump into such a potentially lucrative space. Do you expect them to and will we see consolidation?

We believe consolidation is pretty likely in this market. That's typically what's happened in the IT space. Obviously, there are exceptions with companies that have sneaked by the consolidation trend, companies like Opsware or BladeLogic.

Is there a market opportunity to build a standalone business? I believe so. The pain point is so big and run-book automation is kind of the next-generation platform for systems management. The world is moving away from the typical monitoring -- looking at these red, green yellow lights in the datacenter -- to proactive identification and bringing automation to bear.

Automation has been applied in every computing discipline, so IT process management or run-book automation is an area that is just getting mature.