Former BEA Chief Coleman Spells Out Startup's Battle Plan

Bill Coleman, co-founder and former CEO of BEA Systems, is back in the game. Earlier this month, he launched a new company called Cassatt, which promises to deliver next-generation systems management tools, called Collage, and in January to begin shipping tools for utility computing architectures built atop Windows and Linux servers. The company's initial vendor partners include Ascential, Engenious, IBM, Informatica and Kx Systems. In an interview with Editor In Chief Michael Vizard, Coleman says a new era of commodity-based computing means greater opportunity for business-savvy solution providers and doom for incumbent vendors such as IBM.

CRN: What is driving all the interest in utility computing?

COLEMAN: In the overall market--and I don't care whether it's the SMB or enterprise market--the big drivers are to rationalize operational expense and capital expense and generally figure out how to do better with what you have. I think that's the only reason people are interested in this whole area. My opinion is that this is driving the automation of IT operations, which is something that has never really been done.

CRN: What impact will this overall trend have?

COLEMAN: My feeling is that the big guys have always wanted to find these movements and use them to sustain their costs. That eventually will be their downfall in this area, particularly in the small- to medium-business markets. My theory is that this is about the commoditization of computing, period. We're starting with the commoditization of the hardware. But ultimately, probably in the next decade, we'll see the commoditization of software around Web services and not applications. On the software side, it will mean the disintegration of monolithic applications.

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CRN: What impact will that have on vendors?

COLEMAN: On the hardware side, only the commodity players win. When an infrastructure can be simple enough to use and powerful enough to scale, it eliminates all of the problems of high-scale management while providing guaranteed quality of services and business agility. That will eventually be provided by the most-commoditized players, which are the ISPs and the telco service providers. In doing it, they will drive out both the hardware costs and the operations costs. We'll be talking about buying the equivalent of a mainframe for $50 a month. And that basically will drive the large server guys out of the server business, and it will drive the large companies out of the IT operations outsourcing business.

So it totally compromises IBM's business model. It destroys the server model. What it does is makes the business a price-driven battle among the service providers selling capacity on demand. I believe what will happen is there will be a huge consolidation and transition in the service provider side that will compromise most of the generic outsourcing business today. Most of what IBM does for its outsourcing business is that. It will also drive outsourcing to a much higher level because as CIOs feel more comfortable with it, they'll realize that in doing it in one fell swoop, they're not just outsourcing the running of IT at a lower cost, because they're outsourcing their operational expenses, which the provider is eliminating. What's left is the next higher-level services, which is how do you configure workflows in a vertical market? That's where the winning next-generation application guys go, and that's where the winning systems integrators go. Everybody has to move to a higher level on the value chain or get crushed.

CRN: What opportunity does that present for solution providers creating managed services?

COLEMAN: I think there is a chance for new guys to come in because, in the next few years, the capital expenditure to actually provide these kinds of services is going to be really low. The real place to do it is in vertical markets, where you become the backbone ASP for a hospital and provide the whole thing. You provide the ability to help them to configure and customize the actual applications. I think there's a huge opportunity here because the capital expenditure is low and the value is going to be bringing the expertise.

CRN: What role do you see Cassatt playing in all this?

COLEMAN: What we need for this is what I call an operations system, something that automates IT operations, eliminates the cost of IT and enables the scaling of commodity computing, while providing guaranteed quality of service on an application and allowing business policies to dictate where the resource is employed. It has to attack all three at once: the scaling in operations costs, the quality of service and the business agility. What we're doing is providing a software infrastructure that virtualizes the hardware world and allows a company to set policy against their applications. Then we'll use what we call 'dynamic provisioning' independently of hardware and software to change workflows based on the policy and what's happening in the real business world.

CRN: How does that work?

COLEMAN: We virtualize the entire physical world so the management of all the systems looks like one big SMP machine. We virtualize the application space. We virtualize the data space. We can scale and parallelize the data. Then we just set policy against how the systems will run, how the applications will run and how the business will run and use the dynamic provisioning independently of hardware and software. What we do is optimize the policy of what's running where and how data on the network is configured to the policy. And it requires no changes to the physical environment, the operating system or the application. We plug in as a layer in between them all, and it works today. You install our system, it goes out and discovers everything on your network, profiles it, and sets your policies on how you want your system and applications to run. It automatically will detect if something fails and needs more capability and [will] harvest or repopulate it.

The basic mechanism, which we call dynamic provisioning, relies on some concepts we have patent-pending that can bring up a system or a network somewhere between five and 16 times faster than the other three guys. Plus, with one mechanism, we get provisioning, scalability, reliability, failover, patch management and version management.

CRN: Are you going to launch a channel program to support this effort?

COLEMAN: We're going to start a channel program early next year, probably first in the federal [government] market. We're also going to certify a lot of configurations over time. We're going to actually specify in our documentation, literally down to the part numbers, what to order and how to assemble it. I actually think there's a huge opportunity because it's something partners can get started on pretty quickly without gobs of training, technology and everything else.

CRN: How did this offering come together?

COLEMAN: We realized that virtualization should work the way that Cray had done on their MPP systems back in the early 1990s. So I bought a company called Ultimate Scale that had been the architects of that at Cray. They were building a Lintel version of the virtualization, and we took that and spent a little over a year generalizing that part for Windows. Then we built the rest to solve this problem.

CRN: What kind of impact does that have on performance of the overall system?

COLEMAN: We've scaled to more than 3,000 CPUs over about 800 servers. It doesn't matter. We add about 3 percent overhead on a server, and it never goes up. We have something that's called 'No Specialization' that allows us to offload all the management to specialized nodes.

CRN: How does your approach differ from all the things that IBM is trying to do in this space?

COLEMAN: In the first place, they're adding huge amounts of complexity to the system. They require you to change how your system is working. They're not saving you any costs. IBM has had a single strategy for decades, which is to continue to add complexity to the system so that you have to buy their systems and services. And it's been a very successful strategy. But it works against what customers want out of commodity computing, which is to eliminate the services.

Secondly, they can argue they have it, but they can't do it. It doesn't work. Today, we can give self-configuring, self-optimizing and self-healing tools. They are absolutely saying they will be able to do that somewhere after the end of the decade.