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Microsoft Boosts Cloud Automation With Opalis Buy

Microsoft announced last week that it acquired Opalis Software for an undisclosed amount.

Opalis will become Microsoft's wholly owned subsidiary, according to the deal. In addition, Microsoft plans to integrate Opalis' software into Microsoft System Center products. Opalis' offices in Mississauga, Canada will be continued for the time being and some of Opalis' employees will join Microsoft, according to a Microsoft FAQ.

Opalis makes IT process automation software for managing datacenters. The products include prepackaged workflows, as well as integration solutions that work across various servers and management systems.

Microsoft's System Center and Virtual Machine Manager products already work with Opalis' software via integration packs, according to the FAQ. However, Microsoft is also considering broader product integration with the acquisition, and plans to announce further details "over the coming months."

The two companies already have customer bases that intersect. Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Management and Services Division, explained in a blog and video that many of Opalis' customers already use Microsoft System Center management software. In addition, Microsoft will be able to leverage the ability of Opalis' software to integrate with other infrastructure management products, such as solutions from BMC Software, CA, HP and others.

The move is a "very competitive" one for Microsoft, according to Andi Mann, vice president of research at Enterprise Management Associates. Microsoft was able to automate individual tasks in System Center, but it still needed Opalis' technology "to really put them together into cohesive and automated processes," he explained.

"That has been -- especially over the last year or two -- a serious competitive differentiator for [Microsoft's] competitors," Mann said. "Especially BMC, CA, HP, Novell, and NetIQ -- all have acquired this capability over the last year or two, which has left Microsoft behind the curve."

Microsoft took a huge step forward in acquiring Opalis, which Mann described as the leading independent solution provider in the IT process automation field.

System Center products still lack "significant help desk and problem workflow solutions," according to Donald S. Retallack, Ph.D., research vice president for systems management and security at Directions on Microsoft. However, Microsoft will be addressing those issues in its upcoming products.

"The Service Manager product, due in 2010, will introduce the people part of problem resolution (trouble ticketing, escalation) but the Opalis acquisition adds automated processes (for example, moving virtual machines when resources get scarce or managing other vendors products). Both are needed to achieve the Dynamic Data Center concept that Microsoft is aiming for," Retallack said in an e-mail.

Microsoft explained that it decided to acquire Opalis based on customer requests for software that could capture IT processes "in a documented and repeatable way," according to Microsoft's blog. In addition, Opalis' software was considered easy-to-use by customers, Anderson said.

Opalis' IT process automation software does not require coding or scripting to use, according to Todd DeLaughter, Opalis' president and CEO, in a blog post. He also suggested that Opalis' software will help Microsoft with its broader objective of bringing cloud computing to the masses.

"This automated response is a core building block for the future of IT -- closed loop remediation of IT issues," DeLaughter wrote in his blog. "It also happens to be the foundation for the automation necessary to deliver cloud computing -- self adjusting pools of computing resources that can be tuned based on real-time events."

Mann said that Opalis' software helps address part of the requirements of a cloud computing system, as defined by the NIST -- namely, the ability to automate provisioning and deprovisioning based on an end user request.

"Now that is something that IT process automation and Opalis specifically are able do today. And that's the sort of thing that cloud computing is going to require -- that level of very complex process automation to make these cloud services come online and come offline without involving IT staff," Mann said.

Microsoft is continuing services for Opalis' customers until licenses expire, although it plans to discontinue the Opalis Dashboard product. Instead the Opalis Dashboard will be offered by Altosoft under its own brand. Altosoft developed some of the code for the Dashboard product. 

Microsoft provides further details about the Opalis integration at its Microsoft Pathways Web site here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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