Start-up brings glitch wiki to IT pros

Splunk believes tech administrators deserve a Wikipedia equivalent for tracking system data center errors and events.

Splunk is setting up a public collaborative Web site, or wiki, for IT professionals who hunt down system glitches.

The San Francisco-based start-up on Monday is expected to launch a commercial version of a hosted service called Splunk Base, which aims to be the equivalent of an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia, but for technology administrators.

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Splunk Base is a hosted wiki where system administrators can post information on errors they encounter while running data centers. A database administrator, for example, might report a problem that often occurs when setting up an Oracle database to run with Apache Web server.

The system, which is available for free, allows administrators to tag, or label, their entries so other users can more quickly find solutions to their system woes. The company name is a play on "spelunking," or cave exploration.

Splunk's other product, released late last year, is an on-premise server application that allows administrators to view and search through log file information to speed up troubleshooting.

Chief Executive Splunker Michael Baum said the idea to develop better tools for system adminstrators came from his previous jobs at Yahoo and other e-commerce companies.

"We spent a lot of time keeping our systems running, and I saw our people spending a lot of their time looking through log files--a very primitive (method)," Baum said.

Computing gear--including routers, servers, databases and Web servers--each record operations to a log file. But making sense of this event information and correlating it across different components is complex and time-consuming, Baum said.

Efforts have been made to standardize log information into a single format that, in theory, will help system administrators pinpoint problems quicker. As part of its autonomic computing initiative, IBM published a common log file reporting format.

Baum said that enticing device and software vendors to standardize on that format is "ludicrous," in part because of the effort involved. Also, he noted that new products come to market quickly, so adhering to a single format is tricky.

Instead, Splunk has designed its software and Splunk Base to allow system administrators to submit information themselves and then classify and search the collected information of their peers.

Chief Community Splunker Patrick McGovern said the company hopes to build up Splunk Base--and drive demand for its on-premise software--much the way an open-source project tries to attract contributors.

"It will be viral," said McGovern, who used to run operations for open-source project Web site SourceForge. "The more people who use it, the more content there will be and the more useful it will get."

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