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Greg Butterfield, CEO, Altiris

Greg ButterfieldWhen people refer to the "Big Four" in computer management software, they're typically talking about IBM , HP , CA  and BMC .

But there's one company that refuses to be ignored. Altiris  last month threw its iron further onto the mainstream fire by pledging a service-oriented approach to desktop management software.

Basically, the company is seeking to automate computer management and keep them linked and communicating effectively regardless of what vendor wrote the underlying software code base or forged the box the applications run on.

Will this approach work? Time will tell. But service-oriented architecture (SOA)  approaches have been receiving all due attention since 2000, as the industry moves further into the realm of distributed computing.

Altiris CEO Greg Butterfield recently discussed internetnews.com his company and its place in the multi-billion-dollar management software market with.

Q: What is Altiris' goal?

For the last seven years since I've been with the company, we've been very aggressive in pioneering the concept of helping companies better align IT with business objectives.

Forrester Research just concluded that 75 percent of a person's IT operating expense as well as their time is being spent on keeping the lights on or keeping the IT department at status Quo. So that's the business that we're in, helping people take everyday mundane tasks and automating them with a process we call service-oriented management.

We have forged strategic alliances with the four-largest hardware manufacturers. So today HP, Dell, IBM and Fujitsu-Siemens Corp. are all partners with Altiris, and at some level are reselling or OEMing Altiris' products.

The reason for that is that if you look at the Forrester statistic I just gave, 75 to 80 percent of the cost of a PC is spent just deploying it, configuring it and setting it up to be used. That then becomes the biggest inhibitor for hardware manufacturers to sell new technology. We help facilitate that process by cutting the cost of the manageability or the services associated with technology.

Q: Some of those big vendors, like HP and IBM, make comparable management software, as well as hardware. What is Altiris doing that is different?

One of our strategies is heterogeneity. We're hardware-agnostic and we support multiple operating platforms. We support Unix, Linux, Palm, RIM, Mac Windows, and so the real strength of Altiris is we're a pure software company; we're not biased to a specific operating system or hardware platform.

One of the challenges that a hardware manufacturer has when they sell software is that the hardware divisions within the company want a competitive advantage against other hardware manufacturers, and so they start creating proprietary solutions that make the hardware platform a better managed environment.

The challenge this creates for end-user customers is that very few end users completely standardize on one hardware platform or operating system. Our strength is that we have an architecture that allows customers to buy management on an as-needed basis and have that operating architecture scale with them. We can extend and enhance existing systems.

For example, with HP's OpenView [management software], we help make OpenView a better managed architecture by providing desktop management, desktop deployment, migrations. That's one of the key differentiators for Altiris from the incumbent management leaders.

Q: So as a relatively new company compared to the incumbents, you stress the lack of affinity for any one platform?

We were incorporated in 1998. We've been able to build our company on newer or disruptive technologies. Now as you look at Linux and you look at Windows in a distributed, thinner device, we believe that Altiris can become much larger than it is today.

Give the customer the ability to pick the best solution for their needs, manage it with a common management architecture, where you have a single change and configuration management database and a single user interface, common policy management, task event management, Web reporting that's consistent across all devices and operating platforms.

We understood with the introduction of the Internet that people wanted a lightweight architecture that modular, flexible applications to sit on top of. You then give users the ability to pick and choose the modules they want instead of forcing them to eat the entire elephant at once. That's why you hear of large Fortune 2000 companies that spent millions of dollars on a proprietary management platform that never provided the return-on-investment they desired.

Our approach is different. Look at current trends like compliance. You have Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and all these different compliance needs. We have a module that allows you to compare your current operating environment to these policies that are based on different standards. You can buy just that module to audit your environment to see where you stand and comply with your vertical market or business.

We don't force you to buy the other 60 modules we offer. What we do is recommend that you buy some operational tools to remediate and put some things in a stable state to meet compliance. That's why the company has been able to grow from a couple million dollars seven years ago to already $169 million dollars this year, and we've given guidance of $57 to $61 million for the fourth quarter of this year.

Q: We hear the term "service-oriented" bandied about a lot. What does service-oriented management encompass from Altiris' perspective versus other SOA management or governance vendors in the market?

SOA is trying to solve the overall problem of how different companies interoperate with one another. We are not writing specific technologies to be part of the larger SOA at this time. What we've done is built a SOA-like architecture that allows people when they implement management on heterogeneous, multiple devices to get the same benefits that SOA is promising.

We have a connection layer that allows us to integrate with other management products. We have a software developer kit where we have over 150 ISVs that are using Altiris' Web services to help further their business cause. We create a Web service , stick it out there as a module and instead of writing their own inventory collection, software distribution engine, or software metering engine, customers can call to the Altiris Web services and basically get a SOA environment to cut development time and management costs.

Q: So no plans to acquire one of the SOA management vendors out there, such as an SOA Software or an AmberPoint?

We believe we have an architecture that would allow us to go an enter that space without requiring us to do an acquisition. The framework's there. Even though we've had seven years of year-over-year growth, we still have limited resources and are busy just meeting the needs of some of our large strategic partners and end user customers. Last week, we announced a strategic partnership with Dell.

Dell released a Unified Manageability Architecture, or UMA, which is very similar to Altiris' approach in not forcing an end user customer to go with proprietary Dell solution. Other ISVs that want to partner with Dell will be able to write to the UMA. Dell has basically adopted the Altiris architecture. We'll co-develop that with Dell, so the machines created on UMA will be pre-prepared to be managed by an Altiris environment.

Q: How does Altiris plan to grow market share in the future?

When I first joined the company, we had a product that allowed you to deploy and configure a machine, take an image and put it on a box. Today we have over 50 different modules. So, from cradle to grave I believe Altiris has as many if not more solutions that help solve that IT problem than any company out there.

We'll continue to organically release new modules that round out the systems and security configuration management, and IT service management space. Through organic development, strategic relationships, having third-party companies write to our platform, and through strategic technology acquisitions, we'll grow and build the company.