CenterRun automates Web apps provisioning

Start-up CenterRun Inc. next week will release the second generation of its automation software that the company says can ease the workload for network operators deploying, configuring and analyzing Web applications across multiple servers and data centers.

CenterRun upped its flagship software of the same name to include a new feature that lets network managers make side-by-side comparisons of servers. The advanced comparison feature will show if, say, the configuration of a staging server has been accurately duplicated on a production server that will be supporting a new Web application.

Network operators gauge application performance based on the server and application configuration in the staging environment, so duplicating those details in a production network is critical, says Aaref Hilaly, CenterRun president and CEO.

"There are too many variables and interactions for Web applications to keep every configuration the same, but the risk-averse network operator will try to control the live environment for customer-facing applications," he says.

CenterRun 2.0 also now supports Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) deployment in clustered server environments. The company says the new feature will let network managers make changes to applications regardless of the configuration on the Web server or application server they have. CenterRun will detect changes and incorporate them into the software to better enable accurate configuration in future deployments.

Tools such as CenterRun - and those from competitors Opsware Inc., Jareva Technologies Inc. and Terraspring Inc. - which use automation to deploy and configure servers may take some of the pain out of a network operator's workday, says Bill Martorelli, a vice president at Hurwitz Group Inc. He says CenterRun seems to be differentiating itself by focusing on the application layer of a data center.

"They are really trying to help those commercial and enterprise customers that routinely deploy and update Web applications," rather than address service providers who design and deploy data centers differently, Martorelli says. For example, he says Terraspring's approach better suits a typical service provider network, which would be more homogenous that the average enterprise data center.

CenterRun's Hilaly says his company targeted enterprise networks for that reason. "Server configurations vary from data center to data center because managers incorporate subtle differences that aren't always recorded," he says.

The software works with a "master" centralized server installed on Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris and/or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows servers. Software agents are deployed on managed Solaris, Windows, Unix and/or Linux servers throughout the data center. The master server contains a data repository in which all user, application and server changes and actions are stored. The master server also includes the CenterRun software applications that perform specific automated tasks, such as deployment, comparison, notification and transport. The server software uses TCP/IP, Secure Shell and Secure Sockets Layer protocols, among others, to communicate with agents, which capture configuration and performance data on each managed server.

CenterRun's master server also comes with a set of ready-to-use components supporting the common application architectures and infrastructure servers, such as WebLogic, WebSphere, Microsoft IIS, MTS, .Net, Oracle, iPlanet, and Apache. The components enable CenterRun to support Web applications out-of-the-box and provide application knowledge that enables deployment. Network operators view and access CenterRun data via a Web-based graphical user interface or a command-line interface.

While the concept of automating such IT tasks seems good, Martorelli says the market for automated data center provisioning software is still emerging and those companies in it will have to prove their technologies through customer wins. CenterRun, like its competitors, has a handful of customers, and this week the company announced that security vendor VeriSign Inc. and health care giant Kaiser Permanente have signed on with CenterRun.

CenterRun pricing begins between US$1,000 and $2,000 for each managed server.

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