Tiny toolmaker saves big money for Windows admins

You can pay a mint for tools that monitor your Windows servers. But at least one small software company offers products that are far less "minty" and still deliver the goods. One caveat, though: this little "diamond in the rough" company is hiking its prices.

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You just don't need an elephant gun to kill an ant. By the same token, IT administrators may not need a large and expensive system management tool to get basic information about the health of their Windows servers.

That's the word from some Windows administrators who, while looking to keep their budgets in check, have stumbled across a tool that they say saves them tens of thousands of dollars to do what Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and other large server management platforms do -- minus the complexity and high cost.

IT managers say that the problem with most of the name brand server monitoring and performance measurement tools is that they cost too much. Jeff Moller, a systems engineer at the Los Angeles offices of a global computer manufacturing company, said that he was checking out monitoring tools for his 150 to 200 Windows servers and was considering a product that would have cost anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. He found a product from a tiny vendor, Breakout Software, that he claims does the same job, but which cost him less than $10,000.

"From a monitoring perspective, it's not an HP OpenView," Moller said. "But then again, you are not paying for HP Openview."

Matt Krieger, associate director of global network architecture services at Reader's Digest, Pleasantville, N.Y., said that he also wants basic monitoring and alerting features so he can check the health of his NT and Novell NetWare servers.

Reader's Digest has an IT staff of several hundred people worldwide, but there are only a few of those experts working in global network services. "Our goal is to provide [monitoring] information without having a staffer dedicated to the job," Krieger said.

Krieger shunned products from companies such as Argent Software Inc., Novell Inc. and others, mainly because they cost between $750 and $1,200 per server. Though the price of Breakout's MonitorIT has since risen by at least 40%, Krieger bought the software at a cost of roughly $20 per server.

Customers comparing manageability tools say that products from small companies like Breakout are diamonds in the rough. They can do the same job monitoring server availability and performance as competitive products from Microsoft, Argent, Computer Associates International Inc. and Concord Communications Inc., among others.

Breakout Software is a small, virtual company of about 10 employees co-founded in 8 by networking industry veteran Floyd Roberts, who has been an executive at Artisoft Inc., a programmer for RCA and an independent consultant, working with IT staff at the Chicago Tribune and at the European American Bank.

Roberts' strategy has always been to build a product and sell it to a larger player, and he said that's what will probably happen with MonitorIT at some point.

MonitorIT has two components: software that runs on the server and a client; both components can talk to a Microsoft Windows or SQL Server back end. The software runs event logs and monitors SNMP traffic.

Moller said that with his large number of servers, in an economy where staffing is tight, the software provides eyes and ears across the enterprise that alert him to any problems within his system. He said the software agents on MonitorIT install immediately and that it takes a few hours to define exactly what needs to be monitored.

"Every IT department needs a fundamental level of visibility into their own systems," Moller said. "We didn't want to pay out of the nose for that visibility."

But MonitorIT won't be inexpensive for long. Today, the company does use price as a weapon against the larger, well-known competition. With the recent release of a new version of this software, Roberts said that he raised prices by 40% to 50% on average, though he also said that the software is still as much as 10% cheaper than other software.

"The way we would like to see this play out is that we raise our prices, and the other vendors bring theirs down," Roberts said. "This way, the customer will benefit."

And since it's a small company trying to make it in a tough market, what if it goes out of business? At this price, Moller said, "If they go out of business, we don't go out of business."

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