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Cassatt extends server virtualization reach

Start-up's software is designed to make collections of servers into a fluid, adaptable software foundation. Next version due Tuesday.

Cassatt, a start-up whose software is designed to make collections of servers into a fluid, adaptable software foundation, plans to release the next version of its software on Tuesday.

Version 3 of Cassatt Collage will differ from its predecessor chiefly in its ability to control software running on a wide range of server types, not just on collections of similar machines, said Rich Green, executive vice president of product development.

The software now can control software running on servers spanning the three traditional "tiers" into which many data centers are divided--the back-end database servers, the front-end Web servers that send and receive information over the Internet and the midtier application servers that fetch and process information from the other two tiers.

Cassatt's software is specifically geared for increasingly popular but notoriously hard-to-manage collections of lower-end servers running Linux or Windows servers on x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. The software costs $50,000 for a master machine and 10 servers under its control; each additional 10 servers in the pool costs another $20,000.

Cassatt, founded and led by BEA Systems co-founder Bill Coleman, is betting customers will pay those prices to cut administration expenses. "It reduces your need for administrators to be running around doing basic work at very large scales that consume enormous amounts of money and time," Green said.

But many other companies today are also in the market. The general approach they're taking: Break the rigid link between software and the servers it runs on, a move that helps make it possible for data centers to automatically adapt to changing requirements. Breaking that link--done through a technique called virtualization--lets a program be moved to a different computer if its existing machine fails or is overloaded, for example.

"The only way to make this work is to logically separate out the application from the computing environment," Green said. "The applications don't really have to know that machines are moving around underneath them or the network is being reconfigured around them."

Among Cassatt's competitors are established companies such as Veritas, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Computer Associates and EMC's VMware subsidiary. In addition, start-ups in the area include Trigence, Virtual Iron and XenSource.

It's not surprising there's activity. Data centers are complicated and servers spend much of their time twiddling their thumbs, figuratively speaking. Automation and virtualization stand to improve the situation.

Cassatt's software monitors performance and can move software among different servers if problems are detected. It uses standard software interfaces to shut down software and restart it elsewhere, Green said.