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CA buys assets from data center automation firm Cassatt

Cassatt has long had innovative product to automate data centers and allow them to respond more flexibly to changing workloads. CA's acquisition of Cassat assets and expertise could give this tech a better route to market.

[UPDATE: Clarification that CA "acquired some of their data center automation and policy-based optimization expertise and assets" rather than the company as such.]

Although it's hardly unique to this area of technology, it seems as if the start-ups in the forefront of developing data center automation tools have had a particularly tough time flourishing as standalone businesses even before the current spending downturn.

The latest casualty is Cassatt, from whom CA is acquiring data center automation and policy-based optimization expertise and assets on undisclosed terms. From Tuesday's press release:

Cassatt's Rob Gingell, executive vice president of Product Development and Chief Technology Officer, and Steve Oberlin, Chief Scientist and co-founder, have joined CA, along with their team of developers, engineers, and other key employees. In addition, CA has acquired several Cassatt patents and patent applications, as well as other intellectual property.

"Cassatt has long been a champion for using a cloud-style architecture to manage data centers like a 'compute utility,'" said Cassatt Chief Executive Officer and founder Bill Coleman. "This is a great move for both organizations because of the vision we share -- delivering a new, dramatically more efficient way to run data centers. The acquisition of Cassatt's data center automation technology and expertise by CA, one of the world's largest and most successful software companies and an innovator in business-driven automation, will help make this vision into a reality for customers."

It's not surprising that someone would acquire Cassatt. The company has been peddling very innovative policy-driven automation software for a number of years now. Along the way, company execs have updated their strategy more than once with an eye to making their technology more consumable and more directly responsive to near-term IT concerns.

For example, the company packaged together a product specifically oriented around data center power optimization. More recently, it has spun its story around the idea of constructing private clouds.

Automation technologies such as Cassatt's address very real problems. But they're tough for a small company to sell for a couple of reasons.

The first is that they remain on the leading edge of the adoption curve. Large IT departments are indeed handing off more and more operations to their management software. But relinquishing control of data center operations has long been a slow and incremental process.

The second is that automation software is primarily interesting at large scale. If you only have 10 servers, you probably don't feel a pressing need to automate. It's when you have a thousand servers and you can't run things manually any longer that you are most driven to turn to software for help.

But adopting a management platform for large swaths of a data center is a big commitment and requires a level of trust that enterprises are more likely to place in a CA, Hewlett-Packard, or IBM than they are in a start-up--however great the products.

The result is this, as CNET Blog Network blogger and former Cassatt employee James Urquhart noted in late April:

In the end, though the pipelines were always big, the deals dragged on for months and months and often failed to close in the end. Coleman himself acknowledged as much in the article:

"What frustrates me is my own naivete," he says. "I thought I could give companies something radical that had a proven return on investment, and they would be willing to change all their companies' computer policies and procedures to get that. Right now it's hard to get people to get beyond proof of concept tests or a data center energy analysis."

From CA's perspective, it seems like a good acquisition. The traditional management players such as CA, BMC Software, and Symantec have not been at the forefront of the real action in the data center the past few years. Virtualization and other technologies that largely came in from the grassroots level have had far more impact of late than enterprise-spanning products such as CA's Unicenter.

All of these companies have been fighting back, but they've had to make up for seriously lost momentum. Cassatt brings CA some very good technology that CA should be in a better position to get into the hands of customers than Cassatt ever was on its own.