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Splunk delves into log-search automation

Start-up looks to automate important but mundane task: retrieving data from the numerous log files kept by a computer's software.

A Silicon Valley start-up called Splunk believes it will ease overtaxed system administrators by automating a frequent and important but mundane task: retrieving information from the numerous log files kept by a computer's software.

Splunk's software is a specialized data-mining and search tool that digests log files and organizes information so administrators can see how a particular event affects different programs. For instance, an administrator could find out when an e-mail from a particular address arrived and how e-mail routing, virus-checking and spam-filtering software handled it, said Chief Executive and co-founder Michael Baum, who has been vice president of e-commerce services at Yahoo and Infoseek.

Splunk is one of a host of companies hoping to capitalize on the profusion of servers across corporate computer networks. This sprawl, dented only temporarily by the dot-com bubble burst, has meant headaches for administrators trying to keep machines running smoothly and troubleshoot problems.

"This isn't some pie-in-the-sky enterprise software contraption. This is a tool we want to get in the hands of sysadmins and developers who are in the trenches fighting this fight every day," Baum said. The software can process log files from many different servers, he added.

The company is announcing its plans and showing its product at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo this week, though its software isn't due until the fourth quarter. It runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Fedora, or on Sun Microsystems' Solaris.

The company will give a lower-end version of its product away for free. A premium product will be able to span several servers and therefore handle a greater volume of data collection and processing, Baum said. It also will let administrators convert a customized search into a routine monitoring tool.

The company is named after spelunking, the act of exploring caves.