Its first product won’t even be available until this spring, but Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup ScaleXtreme already has big plans: to become, as CEO and Co-founder Nand Mulchandani puts it, “the Salesforce.com of the systems management market.” The company plans to do that by taking the complexity out of systems management — a market dominated by feature-packed (some might say bloated) products from vendors like HP, IBM, BMC and CA — and deliver it as a cloud service. It certainly has the technical chops to pull off its goal, as well as the experience to convince customers that it knows from whence it speaks.
The Salesforce.com comparison is particularly apt. Just like Marc Benioff cut his teeth at Oracle before deciding there was a better way to do CRM software, ScaleXtreme’s founders have plenty of background in systems management from which they drew their notions that it could be done better. Mulchandani has been CEO of OpenDNS, as well as a senior director of product management at VMware, and CTO and Co-founder Balaji Srinivasa was the principal product architect at data center automation pioneer BladeLogic, which BMC bought for $800 million in 2008. Prior to that, Srinivasa held roles at CA and Unisys, among other leading technology companies. Another comparison might be to cloud-based application-performance-management startup New Relic, whose founder and CEO, Lew Cirne, also founded Wily, which is now among CA’s flagship APM applications as the result of a $375 million acquisition in 2006.
ScaleXtreme is following in the footsteps of its cloud-based, or SaaS, forefathers, too, by focusing on simplicity of use over broad capabilities. Mulchandani explained that although ScaleXtreme is “probably not going to provide every feature that Opsware (now part of HP) and BladeLogic (now part of BMC) are going to provide,” it will make simple tasks very simple. As time goes on, he added, the company plans to add more advanced and complex features, but that those will have to come organically.
The product, which Mulchandani expects will be available for early access in March and generally available about a month later, lets users manage and automate the inner workings of any servers under their control — on-premise or cloud-based, physical or virtual. It will cost between $150 and $200 a
month year per server, as opposed to approximately 10 times that much for traditional systems management products. Not only are relatively low costs pretty much a prerequisite to cloud-based software products, but, as Mulchandani pointed out, paying a $1,500 a month license fee for a cloud server that costs nine cents an hour doesn’t make too much sense.
Another area where ScaleXtreme is trying to distinguish itself from traditional products is via the social nature of its product. In this case, however, social doesn’t necessarily mean likes and networking, but, rather, things that matter to systems administrators. According to Mulchandani, old-school systems management products lock in processes to that specific product and that specific system, making it essentially impossible to share them among the greater IT community. With ScaleXtreme, on the other hand, users can share links to their processes, scripts and other content, or even sell them via an app store that will be part of the GA version.
Accel Partners already has recognized ScaleXtreme’s promise to the tune of $
2.42.5 million. And, in fact, that funding has allowed ScaleXtreme to follow in the footsteps of SaaS providers like Salesforce.com and New Relic in one other critical area — operating its own infrastructure. Mulchandani has done the math and concluded that his company can buy and scale with quad-core Supermicro boxes, for example, for less money than hosting its infrastructure with a cloud provider. Although, he noted, it might burst to Amazon Web Services or Rackspace if computing demand skyrockets for some reason, but that isn’t a likely concern in SaaS. Even Salesforce.com only operates about 3,000 total servers for its primary and disaster-recovery infrastructures. Mulchandani certainly isn’t bashing cloud providers, however; he added that if ScaleXtreme hadn’t already secured funding, it certainly would be using the public cloud to host its operations.
Obviously, growing to be as successful as Salesforce.com won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable. What makes all leading cloud services great is taking a big, but overly complex, traditional process, paring it to its core (initially), and making it both inexpensive and easy to buy, so that, in the case of ScaleXtreme, enough individual administrators can use it autonomously until it ultimately becomes a critical part of the IT environment. Systems management is very big market, and ScaleXtreme appears to have done its part. Is mass uptake next?
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