Cisco vet launches net management start-up

Windmill Networks last week officially launched and introduced its management integration software that industry watchers say could help reduce network performance management headaches and speed troubleshooting for time-strapped IT staff.

With decades of experience in the network industry, including time spent at Cisco, executives at start-up Windmill Networks say their flagship software will hit a nerve with network managers looking to more efficiently troubleshoot problems, optimize network performance and reconcile management data across distributed systems. The company, founded in April 2007 and based in Huntsville, Ala., is headed up by former Cisco staffer Fred Gray, who co-founded Windmill Networks, serves as CTO and is currently acting CEO. He says 10 years working with Cisco clients revealed to him the need for integration across management platforms.

“The network management staff typically ends up with many tools that require a lot of care and feeding and none of which work well together,” Gray says. “In my experience, I find most network managers are tired of using Perl spackle to tie all the network management tools together. We have developed a system that communicates across tools without a lot of drudgery on network managers’ part.”

Windmill Integration Manager (WIM) installs as a VMware virtual appliance that includes a data correlation engine, which translates and reconciles information collected from multiple third-party management applications such as IBM Tivoli software or CiscoWorks. Customers pick and choose which agents to install depending on what management applications they have running in their environment. Network managers view data and generate reports via an Ajax-based user interface that supports all major Web browsers.

WIM would work well in large enterprise networks that can have anywhere between two and 60 management applications running simultaneously in their environments. The software aggregates data from third-party applications and translates, or reconciles, the information so that it can be easily compared and contrasted with data from other systems. This process alone could go a long way toward reducing troubleshooting time, analysts say.

“One of the major issues when troubleshooting is first dealing with the inconsistencies in data across different applications. Network managers have to determine what is the real situation or true source of data before they can act on it,” says Eric Siegel, a senior analyst at Burton Group. “It is more unusual for organizations to have one management application than for there to be many purchased for different purposes across several departments.”

WIM would highlight the inconsistencies between tools and potentially point to configuration or other errors that could prevent future performance problems, the company says. The software also enables network managers to make a change in one application, such as SolarWinds’ Orion, and have it propagated across all tools. According to Gray, who is in talks with several customers, one user expects WIM could cut two hours of manual labor every day.

“Our target customer has a network that is so sizable it requires staff to do this drudgery of collecting and making sense of data constantly,” Gray says.

The company will continue to develop more agents for various third-party applications as customers demand them. With WIM pricing starting at US$5,000 on the low-end (potentially scaling up to $100,000 depending on the environment), Gray thinks the potential ROI justifies the cost even in tough economic times.

“This is the type of product that will help customers get more value out of the systems they already have installed, cut down staff time around troubleshooting and help prevent future problems,” he says. “Network managers won’t have to ask themselves anymore, ‘What tool should I believe?'”

The privately-funded company doesn’t anticipate vendors such as BMC, CA, Cisco, HP, IBM or SolarWinds will find them competitive, but rather complementary. Burton Group’s Siegel agrees. “There isn’t really a competitor out there right now, but all management platforms should have this capability and probably they will in 5 years,” he says. “But network managers need something to help them survive now.”

As for the company name being based on a Don Quixote reference to “tilting at windmills,” or in layman’s terms fighting an unwinnable battle, Gray says it’s a light-hearted take on a serious problem across the IT industry.

“It’s sort of a joke, but really the time has come to make network management easier,” he says.

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