Software Maker 'Rents' System Management Expertise

Corporate IT groups can now rent the systems management expertise they need from a new breed of third-party service company that uses networks as delivery routes.

Software vendor Rogue Wave Software Inc., for example, pays a monthly fee for startup StrataSource to monitor and manage the company's Boulder, Colo., data center from afar. Rogue Wave gets round-the-clock coverage without having to find, hire and train three shifts of data center staff. The company has been using this arrangement for about nine months.

Remote management is made possible through a set of small StrataSource programs, called agents, that are loaded onto each of Rogue Wave's three multiprocessor Windows NT servers. The servers host business applications and a Microsoft SQL Server database. The agents schedule various management tasks, monitor an array of operating system and database event logs, and report trend information and problems to StrataSource administrators 1,500 miles away via Internet-based e-mail.

Before turning to StrataSource, Rogue Wave's technical staff was plagued with late night and early morning alarms concerning its NT servers and SQL Server database, says Keith Spitz, director of IT.

"They watch our systems for us 24-7 and try to correct problems any time of the day or night," he says.

StrataSource experts did a thorough, highly detailed assessment of Rogue Wave's servers, database and applications. Then the staff recommended a passel of changes to the systems for improved performance and reliability.

When the software agents alert StrataSource managers of a potential problem, the managers can log on to Rogue Wave's servers. In most cases, the managers can fix the problem or at least start fixing it. "There's a lot they can do as long as NT itself hasn't failed," Spitz says.

The StrataSource staff doesn't simply sit around waiting to be alerted.

"They do proactive monitoring, nightly systems logs, database consistency checks, disk free-space management and so on," Spitz says. "They call us with this information or alert us that we have to increase the size of the database."

The decision to rely on an outsider to watch over critical systems was fairly easy for Rogue Wave. For one thing, managers were impressed by the skills and expertise of the StrataSource staff, which currently includes 22 full-time technicians. StrataSource, based in Menlo Park, Calif., spun off last year from Relational Data Systems, a systems management consultancy in Irvine, Calif.

The economics of using a third party also appealed to Rogue Wave. Although hard numbers are lacking, Spitz's team was able to identify some of the costs associated with every hour of downtime, such as loss of sales momentum and decreased customer service.

"It was mainly a preventative argument - they could prevent problems from ever happening in the first place," Spitz says.

StrataSource charges $45,000 to $65,000 yearly for its service, depending on the number of servers. According to StrataSource President and CEO Thomas Jones, customers get a return on their investment in about two months. That's because hiring round-the-clock staff for even a small data center will cost a customer about $500,000 per year, he says.

Jones claims StrataSource is unique, but other vendors offer similar services.

Resonate of Sunnyvale, Calif., offers an Internet management service that is designed to monitor a customer's entire infrastructure: network, servers and applications.

Currently, StrataSource does not focus on applications but on their associated databases.

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