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Startups offer tools to ease IT's pain

If you want to know what IT tools and technologies you'll be using in a few years, it pays to keep an eye on startups that are focused on enterprise technologies.

Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs agree that the IT startups that get funding these days are those whose offerings cut costs, relieve headaches and generally make CIOs' lives easier -- without capital investments in software and supporting infrastructure. Investors are backing startups that aim to do just that with systems that handle tasks like IT resource tracking, cloud storage, virtualization and mobile device management.

Here are snapshots of four startups that are bringing hassle-saving IT products and services to the enterprise. Even if you don't end up using these specific products, chances are you'll check out something similar within the next year or so

1. Cloud-Based IT Resource Tracking: Apptio

For the past few years, IT has been under pressure to evolve and become a service provider for the enterprise instead of being a cost center. This means tracking business units' usage of IT resources, including labor, hardware, software, power and cooling.

Apptio

Enterprise product: Technology Business Management suite

Pricing: Starts at $100,000 annually, depending on the number of users and modules deployed

Funded by: Andreessen Horowitz, Cisco Systems, Greylock Partners, Madrona Venture Group and Shasta Ventures

CIOs and other IT managers often develop bills of services using a combination of spreadsheets, business intelligence software, asset management systems and, in some cases, blind estimates, according to Sunny Gupta, Apptio's president, CEO and co-founder.

"IT executives are trying to manage IT without any real way to measure costs, quality of service and the actual value of IT products. They have management tools to measure individual aspects of IT -- such as the network, bandwidth and mobile devices -- but not as a holistic view," he says.

Apptio's Technology Business Management (TBM) software-as-a-service suite promises to give IT teams and corporate executives a consolidated look at all IT investments and their associated costs, showing the financial impact of client, infrastructure and application services, says Gupta. Authorized users can input data, run reports, view data via customized dashboards, or dispatch alerts based on predefined thresholds, such as a business unit's storage usage level.

IT also can create a "bill of IT" for each business unit to show its exact service consumption. Gupta says this is critical for forecasting, aligning budgets and developing an accurate chargeback program.

For instance, using TBM, a company might realize that employees are using 10 applications that perform similar functions. By standardizing on one, it could gain significant cost efficiencies in the form of volume pricing and streamlined support. Also, TBM offers what-if scenarios so organizations can weigh the pros and cons of granular business decisions, such as moving storage from the data center to the cloud or increasing the use of telepresence systems.

Gupta says that the Starbucks coffee chain started using TBM and discovered that the laptops it had deployed to cut desktop expenses were actually costing it more because of battery replacements and support issues. Armed with this information, the company was able to change its warranties and help-desk strategies to extract the savings it had initially anticipated.

Mark Gibbs, CEO of Gibbs Universal Industries (GUI), a consultancy in Ventura, Calif., says that as data centers become more complex, "IT resource tracking is as important as ever." And SaaS-based tools offer added benefits, such as easily deployed add-ons and instant feature updates based on requests and what-ifs that other companies use, he says.

However, he warns that IT teams must test how data gets into and out of these hosted systems to ensure that they interoperate smoothly with the tools that will feed them data, and to verify that accurate, real time information is used.

2. Cloud Backup for Web Apps: Backupify

Under strict scrutiny to make data recoverable and secure, IT is faced with an ever-growing challenge: controlling all the data that users generate in Web applications such as email, social media sites, and document-sharing and collaboration tools.

Backupify

Enterprise product: Backupify Pro 500

Pricing: Starts at $19.99 per month for 10 users; additional users are $3 per month each. Includes both a social media account backup module and Google Apps domain backup

Funded by: Avalon Ventures, First Round Capital, General Catalyst, Lowercase Capital, Betaworks and several individual investors

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Lauren Whitehouse regards this issue as the Achilles' heel for most organizations in this era of third-party hosted applications and cloud storage. "When IT owns and operates applications, they are responsible to make sure that the application and data are available, which includes employing backup/recovery tools and other high-availability technologies. Now that more organizations are outsourcing applications, the issue of downtime and data loss is getting exposed," she says.

This is particularly a concern because many online service providers don't have well-defined service-level agreements, Whitehouse says. She calls services like Backupify "an insurance policy."

Backupify is a SaaS-based system that backs up data from Basecamp, Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs, Twitter and other online applications to Amazon's S3 storage cloud network. "IT struggles because users are creating data in all these silos around the Web, and that data is exposed to hacking and viruses. It's also prone to loss from human error," says Backupify CEO Rob May. By centralizing user data in Amazon's environment, IT managers can apply security and deduplication policies for compliance without building out their own storage infrastructures, he says.

For example, to back up Google Apps, IT registers the accounts to store in Backupify and receives emails confirming each completed backup, as well as access to archives and downloads. The social media backup module works similarly; IT can register each service and user it wants backed up.

Backupify is appealing to companies that must comply with data retention rules, such as those in financial services and healthcare, because it enables them to have the benefits of social media and Web-based applications without increased risk, May says.

3. Mobile Device Management: Klomptek

One of an IT manager's most urgent needs these days is controlling mobile devices in the enterprise. Tracking and securing lost and stolen mobile devices has been difficult for IT, but given that many smartphones and tablets have access to corporate data, the ability to locate them, lock them down and erase them if they go missing is critical

Klomptek

Enterprise product: Track and Protect

Pricing: Free to download the application. Prepaid packages are available -- for instance, 10 commands cost $5.99, and 45 commands cost $19.99, depending on geographic region

Funded by: Privately funded by founders

"Getting a handle on mobile device management is becoming an increasing priority for many organizations, particularly if they have access to sensitive data or functionality," says Scott Crawford, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, a consultancy in Boulder, Colo.

Klomptek developed Track and Protect to secure IT's investment in mobile devices and the data stored on them, says founder and CEO Robert Harmsen. An online service, Track and Protect can be managed centrally by IT or individually by users.

Once a device is registered with Track and Protect, IT or a user can go to a personal, secure Web page to take steps to control and locate it if it's lost or stolen. From that page, which can also be accessed via mobile phone browsers, a user can send SMS-based commands to lock a phone, silence it so it doesn't attract attention, use GPS (if available) to locate it, or have the phone call another number and amplify the microphone so the user can hear what's going on around the device. For instance, a user might recognize the sounds of a train station or children playing in a park.

Other options include sending a text message to the phone to announce a reward for its safe return, accessing the phone's history -- including numbers dialed and data sent -- or remotely activating the phone's camera so the user can see the device's location or take a picture of the thief.

Track and Protect enables remote lockdown of a device based on personal preferences, such as three failed password attempts. IT or a user can remotely wipe a compromised phone, and the service can automatically back up stored data from the phone before it is wiped.

Harmsen says Track and Protect is different from its competitors in that it uses an encrypted SMS transport layer to carry out all of those functions. Regardless of the device's platform, Track and Protect can interact with the phone, even if it has been turned off, the SIM card has been removed or the battery is low.

Track and Protect is available in 190 countries, including the U.S. Klomptek is targeting countries where phone theft is prevalent, such as Russia, Brazil, China and Indonesia. "Say you were traveling abroad and lost your phone. You could go to an Internet cafe, log in to your Track and Protect Web page, and locate it or secure the data," Harmsen says.

"Hosted mobile device management may offer an advantage when the hosted service can be accessed from the same public networks as these mobile devices," says Crawford. "This potentially improves the ability to reach and manage these devices wherever found."

4. Database Virtualization: Delphix

One task that can consume a lot of IT's time, not to mention data center infrastructure, is database cloning. Test and development, data warehousing, and support teams, among others, request copies of production databases on a regular basis. Each time, IT must provision server and storage resources to house all those database copies.

Delphix

Enterprise product: Delphix Server

Pricing: Starts at $2,000 per month for an annual subscription

Funded by: Greylock Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners

Moreover, the data becomes stale almost as soon as it is duplicated, and it can be difficult for IT to track the different versions in existence to delete them and reabsorb the underlying resources.

Startup Delphix has developed Delphix Server to virtualize databases. Essentially, the software creates full read/write clones of Oracle 10 and 11 production databases. These clones are automatically generated from abstracted snapshots and log files, and they require a tenth of the storage space that physical databases need, according to Karthik Rau, vice president of products and marketing.

The virtual database regularly syncs with the production database; only changed data is sent to the virtual database, reducing the infrastructure workload.

Overall, Delphix aims to consolidate data center resources and speed application testing, development, deployment, management and upgrade cycles.

In addition, Delphix's secure self-service portal lets IT set policies and allot storage so users can fulfill their own requests. For instance, if a developer needs a copy of the company's ERP database, he can provision it himself. This guarantees fast access to the freshest data, and when his project is complete, the virtual database can be deleted and the resources reabsorbed.

Rau says that, perhaps most important, Delphix Server ensures the accuracy of data and reduces production environment risks, since users can create and recover the virtual databases from any point in time. Using "true" replicas of the databases increases the quality and stability of the application in production.

"Since creating virtual databases requires no additional storage capacity and is fully automated through Delphix Server, developers can spin up virtual databases on the fly and create significantly more database environments with little to no additional infrastructure investment," Rau says.

GUI's Gibbs says the ability to virtualize databases is valuable for IT organizations. "For a large database like Oracle, being able to just click and spin up another version reduces the drag on IT and would let developers get on with their jobs quickly."

Gittlen is a freelance technology writer in the Boston area. Contact her at [email protected]


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