The Opsware effect: Is BladeLogic next?

In the wake of HP’s acquisition of data centre automation vendor Opsware, competitors will be looking to shore up their offerings in the growing market, industry watchers said Tuesday.

One of the companies still “left for the taking,” according to some industry analysts, is Lexington, Mass.-based BladeLogic – which is currently filing for an IPO of its shares.

Brian Babineau, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, sees the automation software provider as one of the more attractive companies in the market space.

“If I’m a BladeLogic employee, I’m in a great position because a valuation of the market need has been set by a very reputable company in HP,” Babineau said. “BladeLogic might be able to stand alone right now and almost name their price if they continue to execute.”

Stephen Elliot, research manager for enterprise systems management practice at IDC, agreed with Babineau, saying he expects BladeLogic to receive the most attention in the industry.

“If you’re looking for a really decent product and install-base, BladeLogic is really the only other independent vendor out there,” Elliot said. Spokespeople for BladeLogic could not be reached at press time.

In terms whether bigger data centre automation vendors should be interested, Babineau said that while some of HP’s competitors have made similar acquisitions, they will still have to continue to look for better ways to integrate their technologies in order to keep up.

“If I’m one of the smaller players, like Symantec, who are not nearly as big as HP, I’m going to have to capitalize on this integration opportunity in order to grow,” Babineau said. “CA is another example of that, as these companies have to figure out how to get their products out the door and execute faster to stay with HP.”

A vendor that Babineau classifies as a “wild card” in the market space is EMC, who he said, may be getting involved in the market in the near future.

“[EMC] is kind of in that middle-of-the-road of market capitalization as it’s got some products in this area,” Babineau said. “But yet it could be acquired by somebody bigger, or it could be doing the acquiring in some cases.”

While consolidation in the data centre automation space may be fun to talk about for analysts, it is troubling to AlterPoint CEO Scott Harmon. The Austin, Texas-based automated network management provider said that he hopes the trend doesn’t continue.

“This may be good for HP and it may be good for Opsware shareholders, but there is a certain part of the industry that is not well-served by everything rolling into a few companies,” Harmon said.

“The market needs independent, small to mid-sized technology companies, so that IT managers can manage any equipment, data centre, or network, and buy tools that are independent from the vendor.”

Harmon also said that many big enterprises like to maintain a degree of independence from any one vendor and would rather avoid turning their entire data centre or network over to one company.

But Elliot disagreed with the Harmon, saying that AlterPoint’s criticism of the deal stems from its need to remain competitive in the market.

“AlterPoint is responding to more market pressure because HP is now a major player on the network side, especially in infrastructure management,” Elliot said.

However, Harmon said that unlike companies like Opsware, it will remain aggressive and focused on the network management niche.

“We think of ourselves as kind of the network Switzerland,” Harmon said. “Unlike Opsware, we didn’t really branch out into servers and storage, instead focusing very heavily on the management of IP networks. This was a pretty tricky equation, but it has set us up well as a nice, independent company.” Harmon said that its enterprise clients value AlterPoint’s focused approach.

“A lot of our customers, like Citibank and Yahoo!, really value that we aren’t too closely aligned with Cisco, HP or IBM, because they don’t want to buy their management software from a hardware company.”

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