IT chiefs work to get a grip on data
- By William Jackson
- May 20, 2003
Tim Howes, Opsware's Enterprising Manager
When Tim Howes was vice president of technology at America Online Inc., he watched AOL partner sites collapse under heavy traffic demands because their data center infrastructures could not scale up.
So Howes in 1999 helped Netscape Communications Corp. legend Marc Andreesen found Loudcloud, now Opsware Inc., to manage data centers for information-centric enterprises.
The Sunnyvale, Calif., company where Howes now is chief technology officer changed its name last year after selling its managed-services business to focus on data center automation software.
The market for Opsware software is based on Howes' belief that the complexity of managing IT infrastructure is growing exponentially and that administrators are looking for ways to get their arms around it. Many government enterprises are trying to decide whether to outsource IT management or keep it in-house.
After getting an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, Howes earned a master's and doctorate in computer science from the University of Michigan.
GCN senior editor William Jackson interviewed Howes by telephone.GCN: What is Opsware Inc. doing after giving up managed services to become a software vendor?
HOWES: Opsware is the primary product we sell. It's data center automation software we developed at Loudcloud in the managed services business, to make our work more efficient. Last June, we sold off our managed services business to EDS Corp. so that we could become a software company focused full time on selling the software to enterprises.GCN: How does Opsware work?
HOWES: It has functionality in three buckets. The first is provisioning and patch management for operating systems.
The second bucket is Web servers, application servers, databases'provisioning, managing, configuring and tracking the infrastructure over its life. That's where enterprise IT spends a huge amount of its time, and Opsware automates those tasks.
The third bucket is custom code and content'the Web applications, servlets and HTML pages that run on top of the software infrastructure.GCN: Does this replace the need for managed services or is it in conjunction with that?
HOWES: The tool is useful to managed-services providers as well as enterprises that choose to keep their IT operations in-house. They face similar challenges in giving quality service economically. EDS is one of our flagship customers, but we have other customers at the Energy Department that are doing it themselves.GCN: What are the relative advantages of in-house versus outsourced IT management?
HOWES: It varies. Typical reasons that people decide to keep it in-house are that they already have a level of IT expertise or they believe it is core to their business.
Typical reasons to outsource are that they think it is not part of their business or they might not have the internal expertise. It might be more of a financial decision, such as that they can refinance their IT operations by outsourcing to somebody.GCN: Is there a tipping point where an enterprise decides to outsource IT management?
HOWES: I haven't seen one event or one tipping point that drives all customers either to or away from outsourcing. A combination of things leads to the decision.
It could be financial realities or quality of service demands that result in outsourcing. And I've seen people decide to leave managed services and come back in-house when they're not getting the quality they need or don't feel they have control.GCN: Where is the government market for automation software?
HOWES: Energy is the biggest government customer we have so far. We've seen a good amount of traction in the government space. More than in commercial enterprise IT, government purse strings are a little looser these days. Agencies are more willing to spend because of the emphasis on security. It has certainly opened up some IT funding. GCN: Are there special government considerations in a decision to outsource?
HOWES: There are definitely special considerations, especially as you get into the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies. At some agencies it's simply not an option to outsource. They also sometimes have auditing or other requirements that force them to keep things in-house.GCN: Do you find the government is more likely to consider outsourcing now?
HOWES: From what I've seen, the government is more likely to adopt new technologies. It's continually moving toward more off-the-shelf technologies and is pretty forward-thinking about new things.
The ability to do this is enhanced as agencies keep IT management in-house. They also have a large investment in IT personnel and IT infrastructure that they want to leverage. So, because of some of the special requirements, they may be a little more likely to keep things in-house.
On the other hand, that is balanced by the general drive to outsource things that are not core to the business.GCN: Can you name any government leaders who are examples of how best to manage an IT enterprise?
HOWES: It's hard to pick somebody who has really nailed it so far, but there are definitely some leaders.
We've been working with Karen Evans, CIO at Energy. I'd also say Dawn Meyerriecks, chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency. They are both leading the charge in terms of where they want their respective agencies to go. But I'd say either of them would say they are not there yet. GCN: What's the path you see?
HOWES: Most of what I talk to them about is data center automation. They see the need for better automation and standardization to give a better level of service to their customers.
Like a lot of other agencies and enterprises, they awakened after the boom in technology spending that rose with the Web and the dot-coms. Now they find themselves with a little bit of a hangover, and their organizations are not as under control as they'd like them to be.GCN: How big a driver is security in managing the IT enterprise?
HOWES: It definitely is a driver for data center automation. The typical mistakes people make are exactly the kind of things that lead to security breaches. The SQL Slammer worm is a great example. The patch for that was available last July.
In terms of outsourcing, it's not really possible to outsource just security. Security isn't limited to a few guys in the security office. It's important to look at security across the entire operation'all your applications, your entire infrastructure, all your people and processes and technology.
But there are pieces of security that you can very usefully get as services. Something like a vulnerability analysis can be very helpful. But you can't just outsource security.GCN: Describe what you call utility computing.
HOWES: IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are now talking about utility computing. I think Opsware will play a part in that.
Utility computing is pretty broad. It lets you quickly provision servers from a pool or from one to another application. You quickly move capacity from one place to another. You virtually move the hardware'as well as software, licenses, the configuration that goes along with that'to respond to different business needs.GCN: Is the government doing this?
HOWES: Some agencies we talk to have more needs in this area than others. In the intelligence community, there are hot spots where agencies need to put in computing resources relatively quickly.
Other agencies have needs that change more slowly, but they still need to refresh their technology or lower their hardware and software costs.GCN: How does this differ from seat management programs?
HOWES: Seat management is to the desktop side what utility computing is to the server side.