Microsoft Corp. announced on Friday that the company has acquired Mississauga, Ont.-based process automation software vendor Opalis Software Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

Microsoft corporate vice-president of management and services Brad Anderson announced the deal on the System Center team blog.

“I believe this acquisition is a pivotal piece to deliver on our dynamic data centre initiative,” Anderson wrote. “Opalis’ software captures the IT processes, in a documented and repeatable way … These capabilities will be added to Microsoft System Center to help customers automate complex IT processes, increase cost savings and shorten timeframes for IT service delivery across physical, virtual and cloud computing environments.”

Opalis Integration Server automates IT processes, brings together disparate management tools and integrates data across systems.

Opalis president and CEO Todd DeLaughter wrote on his blog that the combination of Opalis and System Centre will make automated process management “a mainstream offering throughout all levels of IT shops, large and small.”

DeLaughter wrote that the combination will allow IT shops to integrate legacy systems management tools, “so customers can take a ‘land-and-migrate’ approach with Microsoft versus a ‘rip-and-replace’ approach as they build out there next-generation virtualized data centres … I believe, with the Opalis technology, Microsoft will have the most complete virtualization stack available from any vendor.”

“That may be overstating it somewhat,” said Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. senior analyst Russ Conwath.

That said, though, Conwath believes that IT automation will separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of IT shop performance.

The software can be used for automated incident response, provisioning, virtual machine lifecycle management, recurring administrative tasks and cloud computing management, Microsoft’s Patrick O’Rourke, group product manager for Windows infrastructure, noted in a post on the Windows virtualization team blog.

“Automation really is going to be the differentiator” between high-performing IT teams and the rest of the pack, Conwath said. “As an IT person, I’d rather be solving business problems than keeping the servers running.” IT shops that are focused on “keeping the lights on” are in peril, he said.

According to the Microsoft Pathways Web site, Opalis will honour the existing support contracts for its 300 customers until they expire. Afterward, “support practices will be migrated to standard Microsoft practices over time and customers will be notified in advance of any process changes. New support contracts and the renewal of existing Opalis support contracts will be a Microsoft offering,” according to the Web site.

Conwath said when acquisitions lead to changes in licensing and support conditions, there will always be some grumbling from customers. Opalis is a small company that’s intimately involved with its customers; under Microsoft’s regime, that relationship could change, he said.

But the upside is Opalis’s technology will be available to many more IT shops, which will benefit “tremendously” from automation, he said.

There’s also the chance that Opalis’s technology agnosticism could suffer if Microsoft decides to go a more proprietary route. Microsoft could leverage that to move customers from other management technologies, such as CA Inc.’s, Conwath said.

Conwath expects some of those vendors might incorporate automation functionality into their own offerings, either by developing the technology inhouse or by acquisition.

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