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Opsware hopes to play well with others

Company's next release will let customers tailor data center automation product to their existing processes.

Data center software company Opsware wants to fit in better.

Next month, the company will release an update to its software for administering server hardware that is designed to work better with existing management applications. The update, Opsware System 4.5, will include tools that allow a systems administrator to build applications tailored to how customers use their management systems.

Opsware is one of dozens of companies seeking to realize an industry vision of utility computing, in which businesses pay for computing resources based on usage, as they would purchase gas or electricity. Large hardware providers IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun have each purchased smaller companies to acquire the various technologies required to fulfill that goal.

Compared to larger technology suppliers, Opsware is taking a very focused approach to utility computing. The company's software is designed to automate common tasks performed by server administrators, such as applying new security patches or configuring several servers at once.

Much as software programmers' productivity tools let them write code faster, Opsware and its competitors offer tools to make system administrators more productive. While some companies need to employ one person to manage 15 servers, Opsware claims its automation software lets one person handle 100 servers.

Large corporations or Internet service providers can have several data centers, each with hundreds or thousands of servers performing different tasks. Opsware customer EDS is using Opsware software to administer 50,000 servers in 154 data centers.

An Opsware executive said the company's product lets IT managers automate or improve the processes they already have in place, rather than forcing new methods on them.

"We find that IT organizations have a huge investment in their own unique processes, and they're organized around their processes," said Sharmila Shahani, senior vice president of marketing at Opsware. She added that processes and policies for patches and other software updates vary greatly among companies.

Opsware System 4.5 includes Opsware Extension Builder, a visual development tool that lets an information technology professional construct a program that performs a specific task. A company could use the tool to automate such processes as sending out security patches to Windows servers based on the company's patching policy.

Shahani said Opsware is seeing strong demand for its software, whose cost averages about $1,200 per server, as customers seek to contain the rising cost of employing server administrators. The company in February forecast that its revenue will double over the course of fiscal year 2005, compared to the previous year.