Centeris eyes Windows/Linux simplicity

Centeris CEO Barry Crist can rattle off a litany of reasons for why you should give his company's management software a whirl. But perhaps his most illustrative selling point is this: "What if your Linux administrator goes on vacation?"

The two-year-old company, which has the second version of its Likewise product ready for release now, specializes in helping small and mid-size businesses manage Windows and Linux servers from a common Windows console, including the Microsoft Management Console. More specifically, the server and agent software enables Windows administrators to manage Linux systems and hook them into Active Directory while shielding them from the command-line interfaces and other intricacies of the open source operating system.

Version 2.0 features support for new server roles, including DNS and firewalls, whereas the company started with file, print and Web server support in the first edition launched at the start of the year.

Also new are more of what Crist calls power-user features. These are for administrators who aren't necessarily spooked by Linux and want to use command line interfaces or do SSH sessions to manage Linux servers remotely.

Keeping its eyes on the proliferating number of Linux distributions, Centeris has also reworked its software to dynamically support new iterations. Crist says it has become especially important to handle new 64-bit versions of Linux, as even SMBs are deploying or at least asking about them.

Centeris won't divulge how many organizations are buying its software, though does boast that 4500 different ones have downloaded its software for evaluation. The 35-person company is partnering with heavy hitters such as IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Red Hat to get its software into customers' hands.

Industry watchers say that while a certain amount of integrated Windows/Linux management support can be had from management platform vendors, that it is smaller companies such as Centeris that are really focusing on the issue. Others in the market to one degree or another include Centrify, Qlusters and Quest, they say.

"Companies getting the most bang for the buck out of Linux have one team managing Linux and Windows," says Andi Mann, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates.

Though some observers say wresting control of Linux servers from Linux boosters isn't a cinch.

"Centeris' newest offering ... would be the perfect tool if the sysadmin was away on leave. It seems to provide the basic tools to manage a Linux server, but, in my opinion, couldn't match the power of even a junior admin at the keyboard," says Matt Darby, IT manager for Dynamix Engineering, who checked out the Likewise 2.0 demo on Centeris' site. "Managing servers, and checking logs is one thing, but servers need maintenance, not just managing."

Crist acknowledges that winning over Linux advocates isn't easy despite the "error-prone" techniques used by many to manage Linux systems, though he says Centeris has had success when customers see, for example, how committed the company is to advancing technologies such as the Samba open source file and print program and incorporating it into Likewise.

Centeris might even be open at some point to rolling out software that enables companies to manage Windows and Linux servers not just from Windows consoles, but from Linux ones.

"It's come up," says Crist, a veteran of a couple of start-ups, plus much bigger players such as Mercury Interactive.

The company earlier this year banked its second round of venture financing, bringing its total to just under $US17 million from Ignition Partners, Trinity Ventures and Intel Capital. Crist says the company's $11.5 million second round funding announced in March should last a couple of years, maybe even to cash flow-positive status. He says that given the company's easy software download system and major partners, Centeris doesn't need to spend a boatload on outside sales people, typically a big software company cost.

Likewise 2.0 costs $US350 per server, with discounts available for five or more servers.

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