Multiplatform Management Tool on Tap

Two-year-old Moonlight Systems will move in on large enterprise management software players' turf early next month when it raises the curtain on a line of software management tools of its own.

Two-year-old Moonlight Systems Inc. will move in on large enterprise management software players turf early next month when it raises the curtain on a line of software management tools of its own.

The new Moonlight3 automation software combines intelligent software distribution and flexible administration methods in a tool set that works across multiple platforms to manage the software for servers, routers and storage devices.

Moonlight officials said the suite should appeal to administrators looking to fine-tune data center performance and improve efficiency with a minimum amount of manual software updating or scripting.

Unlike most desktop-oriented software distribution tools designed to automate distribution of similar configurations, or the same software images, across many end points, Moonlight3 is designed to take into account many different configurations across various operating systems and revision levels.

Moonlights "fresh perspective" and flexibility helped to persuade data center operators at Digex Inc. to adopt the tool to manage its Unix servers, according to Mark Cross, director of Unix operations at Digex, in Laurel, Md.

"They had some very promising ideas," said Cross, who added that the tool did not initially meet Digexs requirements. "We did stress testing and we found the product actually worked as advertised, and we could bolt it into our infrastructure easily."

Moonlight officials said their flagship product is also already in use by Yahoo Inc. and WorldCom Inc.

In addition to its basic software management functions, Moonlight3 can roll back changes that are suspected of causing outages and allow operators to analyze system and file states. The tool uses standard server configurations as a base for updating, then makes changes for each machine based on variables such as host name or IP address, according to Bobby Mukherjee, founder and CEO of Moonlight, in San Francisco.

"We capture the configuration information using our own protocol between our main server and the target box," Mukherjee said. Moonlight3 then points the box at the target, copies the configuration information, and targets the unique and common files for the different servers, he said.

Digex found that it could install new software from a central location onto 1,200 servers in five data centers in less than 3 hours, according to Cross. In analyzing the tools return on investment, Digex found several benefits beyond plain dollars-and-cents cost reduction.

"Just the fact that it fits well into industry-standard protocols [such as Kerberos] compared to other types of tools like this saved us a tremendous amount of money," said Cross.

Because Moonlight3 supports Kerberos and Secure Shell security technology, Digex was able to deploy the system in about 60 days, officials said.

Users and analysts say other enterprise management tools from vendors such as IBMs Tivoli Systems Inc. or Computer Associates International Inc. dont work well for service providers or in data centers that combine a variety of servers acquired through mergers and acquisitions.

"To manage hundreds of customers with thousands of servers with all the permutations of configurations we manage—those products dont work well," said George Kerns, senior vice president of operations at Digex.

Moonlight3, which supports Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Linux, and Windows NT and Window 2000, is available now. Average selling prices are between $150,000 and $200,000.