Canadian automation vendor, PlateSpin, is touting virtualisation as a way for businesses to get better control over their data-centre. The company, which was founded in 2002, uses the technology as the base for a host of automated solutions covering server provisioning and consolidation, remote management, data-centre migration, disaster recovery and business continuity. PlateSpin now has 4000 customers and 500 partnerships worldwide. The vendor is channel-only and is looking to ramp up partner activity and market share. Company founder, Stephen Pollack, spoke with ARN during a recent visit to Australia about its position in the datacentre, where virtualisation is headed and how resellers can get on-board.

What is PlateSpin's value proposition?
We're trying to make it easier for companies to bring technologies into the datacentre. We had been doing a bit of work in virtualisation and with blade computing and one of things we noticed was vendors and consumers were having difficulty introducing new technology to their set-up. If the budgets weren't there to rebuild, you needed to find a way to fit it into your current infrastructure.

We saw virtualisation as the bigger opportunity: I need to take some of my existing infrastructure and make it easier to turn it into virtualised infrastructure. The problem was there was no easy way to automate how you made that transformation. So we built our P2V technology to automate taking a physical server and turning it into a virtual machine. From there we were able to build our go-to-market strategy around creating relationships with companies selling VMware. We have stuck with that channel strategy and now work with regional distributors, VARs, integrators, and more recently, OEMs.

It's also important for us to be known as more than just a virtualisation player. When you look at the datacentre, it's not one big virtualised environment: it's still a complex mix of multiple operating systems and infrastructure types, and IT people are trying to find ways to improve managing that complexity. That's where we want to play.

Disaster recovery [DR] is another area for us. What partners can do is build a virtualised backup device that, in a situation where everything fails, they can recover and run for a day or two. So when they go in to help a customer address server consolidation, the partner can also introduce them to how they can improve their DR strategy and give them the same cost benefits by utilising virtualisation. We're fi nding that's become one of the biggest business opportunities for our channel: moving beyond server consolidation into this dynamic workload management focusing on protecting workloads, making them recoverable, and applying this recoverability across all of my servers, not just the ones that are important.

Who are PlateSpin's competitors?
The space that's most competitive today is against those providing imaging, backup and restore products. At the high-end there's the Symantec/Veritas/Altiris offering, and companies that offer individual features around this. It's a bit early to identify a competitor trying to harmonise these different datacenter activities on a common set of technologies. We think that will happen in the future, but the bigger vendors are slower to modernise their architecture. Virtualisation has really handicapped them because they're going into datacenters with products that don't take advantage of it properly. Newer vendors, such as ourselves, have the advantage of a fresh start based on the new stuff. We also support the physical environments and offer a bridge between the old and the new.

Down the stream, the classic competition will become the management vendors - Opsware [which just got consumed by HP], bits of what Tivoli is trying to do and CA's Unicentre products would be examples.

How is PlateSpin positioning its products to customers?
Part of the transition IT shops need to go through is to stop viewing changes to the datacentre as discrete projects. To consolidate a 1000-server environment historically, you'd do a big assessment and create an 18-month deployment plan. The problem is that by the time you get to the other end your users, business and the technology is different. Virtualisation helps because it brings a degree of flexibility to the datacentre. If it's also used as an embedded technology, like how we are offering it in the DR space, it brings flexibility to your DR program. And then if it's used in provisioning, that helps another part of your datacentre.

It doesn't have to be all about virtualization either - you could leverage virtualization like a runtime environment, similarly to embedding a database into an application. How many people use databases today and don't need SQL programmers anymore? Good ISVs now embed the database low enough you don't even know it's a database and it just manages itself. We're starting to do that with virtualisation and making it an integral part of our technology platform.

Do you think virtualisation will become an inherent part of the platform?
It has to - it's inevitable. I say that for a couple of reasons. If I go back to my Unix days 25 years ago, we were building applications for a single purpose. You didn't need all of the extra runtime environment that came with the operating system. With Unix, you could trim it out and create a customised version dedicated to your application, but Windows is nothing like that. The customers we find with the most successful environments are the ones that have a tight coupling between the operating system and the applications one-to-one. What that really says is the application needs enough runtime to service its needs.

And a virtual machine does that. If you look at it longer term, it makes sense to say virtualisation will become the runtime environment for the application, and therefore go deeper into the stack to the point where it becomes the transparent utility platform things run on. You won't need the general purpose operating system anymore. We think we'll start to see this happen - Microsoft is talking about it, Linux vendors are talking about it.

Applications will come with their own runtime environment, which I think is potentially how differentiation will occur between the vendors supporting Xen, Virtual Iron, and Microsoft and VMware. They'll have virtualisation technologies which are application specific.

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