Bluestripe and the Applications Management Conundrum

Bluestripe Software tackles the problem of "applications visibility" with a solution that triangulates performance between hosts, applications and VMs.

The founders of virtualization management start-up Bluestripe Software all have one thing in common: all four of them are former employees of Wily, a company that specializes in application management software and was acquired by Computer Associates, Inc., in January 2006. One of the founders is current CEO Chris Neal, formerly vice president of Americas Field Operations for Wily. Neal also worked for Oracle Corp. and NetDynamics, a company in the Java application server market acquired by Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Founded in June 2007 with funding from Trinity Ventures, Bluestripe is a relative newcomer to the virtualization scene. The company is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Its name is based on the colleges attended by the founders, longstanding sports rivals Duke and UNC, which use blue prominently in their school's colors.

Although the company is small (about 20 employees), it has an ambitious goal: to tackle one of virtualization management's biggest challenges -- giving IT admins visibility into the performance of specific applications running on virtual machines (VMs). In the last few years, even the giants of virtualization -- VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix Systems -- have not made huge strides in this area. In fact, the inability of VMware's vCenter management system to look more deeply into what is actually taking place inside a virtual machine prompted the company to address this product gap by acquiring a company called B-Hive.

Frictions Points: Admins and App Owners
But the R&D technology development challenge for the industry remains, especially as more and more IT shops become virtualized moving higher up the n-tiered applications stack tackling more I/O-intensive configurations such as integrated transactions involving Web servers and databases. Bluestripe's view is that as this process continues and virtualization becomes more mainstream, the management of applications -- especially mission critical ones -- will become a friction point between IT admins and what the company calls "application owners." "There's definitely trouble brewing between the VM team and the application owners," says Mike Lough, vice president of marketing.

This means greater "applications visibility" beyond simply managing the performance either of the virtual machine itself or the physical host server. It also means knowing the exact performance of the application and seeing where it's residing in terms of both. "Customers are concerned about losing visibility when they convert to a VM," says Lough. "They need to see where the application is, what it's dependent upon and all of the interdependencies that could be impacting performance."

Bluestripe has started tackling this customer wish list by developing an application service management software product called FactFinder. The initial release focuses on Microsoft applications in VMware environments. Claiming to be the first provider of ASM solutions for virtual environments, the company and its first product came out of stealth mode last year at VMworld.

FactFinder focuses on three functional areas: discovery and mapping, health measurement and what the company describes as "automatic triage" of performance problems. During discovery and mapping, the system discovers what VMs, physical servers and applications are running in any given IT environment. It then generates a map or visual representation of the relationship between the triad of VMs, physical servers and applications, which allows an admin to see where the application resides and how all three functions inter-relate.

What's the Competition?
Because Bluestripe is pushing the envelope on virtualization management, it doesn't have a huge amount of competition at the moment. This gives it a good shot at becoming a leader in this space. "I would say that Bluestripe is in a very good position because this is a [small] niche market ... but it's something that's very crucial and pivotal," says Laura DiDio, principal with ITIC, an analyst firm in Grafton, Mass. DiDio says she would not be surprised to see the company be acquired by either VMware, Citrix or Microsoft eventually.

The company's most formidable competitor is also its major partner: VMware. Last year at VMworld, the company took the wraps off of AppSpeed, an application performance capability sourced via the acquisition of B-Hive back in June 2008. The company's core product at the time of acquisition, B-Hive Conductor, is a virtual appliance that monitors end user performance.

AppSpeed isn't yet available but is on the company's VDC-OS product roadmap for 2009 as part of vCenter (formerly VirtualCenter), the company's core management platform. The product provides both performance management and SLA reporting for applications, primarily in terms of two metrics, SLA compliance and latency.

Another competitor is a company called Optier, an Israeli startup, with a product dubbed CoreFirst. Investors in Optier include Carmel Ventures, Cisco and Morgan Stanley. And CA has an offering in this market as well called the CA Wily Application Performance Management Solution, but the product is limited to Java and .NET environments.

The Complexity Challenge
The ever-increasing complexity that VMs add to IT environments will continue to be the challenge in virtualization management that startups like Bluestripe are looking to address. Whereas the old technology model was based on a 1:1 mapping involving a single application running on a single server, virtualized environments change the game by creating a triad of elements requiring attention: the VMs, the host servers they run on and any applications residing in the VM itself.

For all the touted benefits of virtualization -- and there are many -- management still remains a thorny issue and will need to be a critical focus of development for both vendors and IT departments going forward. Scale is one major challenge, as more and more servers continue to be virtualized and other types of virtualization, such as VDI, get added into the mix.

Another challenge that adds complexity is the fluidity that VMs bring into the picture. VMs are like basketball players: They don't stay in one place for very long and are constantly getting moved around courtesy of products such as VMware's DRS and VMotion. Because state changes are constant, management and monitoring will need to take place in a more dynamic fashion than in the relatively staid (by comparison) world of managing physical servers.

The extent to which Bluestripe and its competitors can address these issues remains to be seen. But the issues that IT admins face in dealing with the various layers of management in virtualization should not be underestimated. Vendors that can come up with strong technical solutions that simplify the process will have a major business opportunity on their hands in arguably IT's hottest market.

About the Author

Tom Valovic is a freelance technology writer.