In-Depth

Profile: Virtualizing Server Solutions

Cassatt Corporation's star-studded brain trust offers server consolidation solutions.

"The focal point of [our core Collage product] and a lot of what we do is providing a means of logically decoupling applications and operating systems from the hardware upon which it is run, whether the operating systems are Windows, Linux, or Solaris," said Rich Green, executive vice president of products at Cassatt Corporation, a company that provides enterprise software for dynamic and agile IT infrastructures. "Today, it's a decoupling or, conceptually, a virtualization layer that creates dynamism between operating systems and applications at the hardware."

Cassatt Corporation's executive team reads like an all-star roster of IT industry heavyweights who have all made significant contributions to hardware and software technologies. Cassatt was founded in 2003 by CEO William (Bill) T. Coleman, who was founder and CEO of BEA Systems. Coleman also was employed as vice president of systems software at Sun Microsystems, where he played a significant role in making the Solaris operating system a commercial success. It was while working at venture capital firm Warburg-Pincus where Coleman and the company purchased Unlimited Scale Inc., developers of the Cray T3E parallel supercomputer system.

Unlimited Scale was where Steve Oberlin, Cassatt's current executive vice president and chief scientist, served as president and CEO and was lead hardware architect on the Cray T3E project. Unlimited Scale was a spin-off group from Cray Research, and a lot of the core technologies developed there have been reworked and incorporated into Cassatt's core technology offering.

Coleman and company then set about bringing other prominent industry executives on board. Rich Green came from Sun Microsystems, where he was the vice president and general manger of Solaris in the 90s, and as the head of Java he was responsible for getting the J2EE and J2ME platforms to market. Rob Gingell, Cassatt's executive vice president and CTO, was the chief architect of Solaris and also the head of the Java Community Process (JCP). Steve Wilson, vice president of product marketing, was head of Sun's Java Performance Group and responsible for making NetBeans more of a household name among Java developers.

Cassatt's roughly 100 employees are spread out over three development offices in San Jose, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Minneapolis. The Colorado office houses the entire N1 team from Sun that has considerable experience in distributed systems management and automation. The Minneapolis team comprises staff members from the acquisition of Unlimited Scale.

According to Rich Green, Cassatt's customers routinely cite underutilization of server resources that cause millions of dollars in wasted hardware and software, time-consuming manual configuration, and over-subscribed data center hardware and power requirements that impact application availability and performance significantly.

"We have created a technology that automatically assigns server resources to applications and the operating systems under them to fulfill specified, or a priori specified SLAs, whether those agreements are defined in the context of priority, or load, or schedule, and we automate the allocation of those services to [customers'] physical resources," said Rich Green. "In doing so we can essentially make any application highly available without modifying any of the code or any of the operating systems, so that we can deal with automating replacement upon failures or restarting."

Goal-Based Analysis
Cassatt launched its core product, Collage, in early 2005. It serves as the version on which the company is basing its more recent push into the enterprise IT market, where it is building solutions such as the most recent release of the Collage Web Automation Module (WAM). WAM supports the BEA WebLogic Server and extends the core product to give Java EE applications the benefits of virtualization, including server consolidation for application server farms, new resource assignment, failure recovery, and faster deployment of new applications and services.

Collage hooks into the network, the operating system, and hardware levels, and with WAM hooks specifically into the application and Java Virtual Machine (JVM) layers to provide the ability to manage more complicated stacks of deployed software and multiple applications that are hosted on a single server. It also performs server consolidation that increases utilization and cuts costs. A technique called goal-driven automation along with WAM allows the technology to hook down into the application server at the Java Management Extensions (JMX) level.

The technology "can talk to the JMX agent inside the application server to measure various statistics about the health and performance of all of the applications and systems," said Wilson. "We're pulling back that data along with data at the operating system and hardware levels, and we're doing some analysis on that based off of the raw data as well as a set of the service-level agreements [SLAs] that [customers] provide. You can give us an SLA for each of the services that is going to be hosted in the environment, and these SLAs describe something about the availability or performance characteristics of the software. We're going to manage the application to that automatically."

Installing and running the Cassatt software and WAM module is noninvasive. It's installed on a regular server that functions as the control node, which is the only place in the environment where software is installed. An image matrix stores components such as the operating server and middleware (or application servers). The service matrix stores the applications—the collections of EAR files, WAR files, and deployment descriptors that make up Java EE applications. Both matrices can be managed independently to manage services easily and allow organizations to be responsive to server-usage spikes.

The Collage software monitors all the systems in an environment at the hardware level and the JMX level inside the application server to ascertain when the applications are becoming overloaded. If they do get overloaded, a set of responses is dispatched automatically through a hot-deploy of services out to servers that have spare capacity or the ability to bring on new application servers and deploy services to them—and all without human interaction.

Cassatt expects to release other modules that support other application servers as it grows its technology base.

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