Start-ups Offer Cool Tools to Ease IT's Pain

Mobile device management: Klomptek

One of the most immediate needs IT managers have today is controlling mobile devices in the enterprise. Tracking and securing lost and stolen mobile devices has been difficult for IT, but with many of these smartphones and tablets having access to corporate data, the ability to locate them, lock them down and erase them if they go missing is critical.

"Getting a handle on mobile device management is becoming an increasing priority for many organizations, particularly if they have access to sensitive data or functionality," says Scott Crawford, managing director of security and risk management for Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a consultancy in Boulder, Colo.

At a glance

Company: Klomptek

Enterprise product: Track and Protect

Pricing: Free to download the application. Prepaid packages are available -- for instance, 10 commands cost $5.99, and 45 commands cost $19.99, depending on geographic region.

Funded by: Privately funded by founders.

Klomptek developed Track and Protect to secure IT's investment in mobile devices and the data stored on them, says founder and CEO Robert Harmsen. An online service, Track and Protect can be managed centrally by IT or individually by users.

Once a device is registered with Track and Protect, IT or a user can go to a personal, secure Web page to take steps to control and locate it if it has been lost or stolen. From that page, which can also be accessed via mobile phone browsers, a user can send SMS-based commands to lock their phone, silence it so it doesn't attract attention, use GPS (if available) to locate it, or have the phone call another number and amplify the microphone so the user can hear the surroundings. For instance, the user might recognize a train station or children playing in a park.

Other options include remotely activating the phone's camera so the user can see the phone's location or take a picture of the thief, sending an SMS message to the phone announcing a reward for its safe return, and accessing the phone's history, including numbers dialed and data sent.

Track and Protect enables remote lockdown of the device based on personal preferences, such as three failed password attempts. IT or a user can remotely wipe a compromised phone, and the service can automatically grab and back up stored data from the phone before it is wiped.

Harmsen says Track and Protect is different from its competitors in that it uses an encrypted SMS transport layer to carry out all these functions. Regardless of the device's platform, Track and Protect can interact with the phone, even if it's been turned off, the SIM card has been removed or the battery is low.

Track and Protect is available in 190 countries, including the U.S. The company is targeting countries where phone theft is prevalent, such as Russia, Brazil, China and Indonesia. "Say you were traveling abroad and lost your phone. You could go to an Internet cafe, log into your Track and Protect Web page, and locate it or secure the data," Harmsen says.

"Hosted mobile device management may offer an advantage when the hosted service can be accessed from the same public networks as these mobile devices," says EMA's Crawford. "This potentially improves the ability to reach and manage these devices wherever found."

Database virtualization: Delphix

One task that can consume a lot of IT's time, not to mention data center infrastructure, is database cloning. Test and development, data warehouse, and support teams, among others, request copies of production databases on a regular basis. Each time, IT must provision server and storage resources to house all these database copies.

At a glance

Company: Delphix

Enterprise product: Delphix Server

Pricing: Starts at $2,000 a month for an annual subscription.

Funded by: Greylock Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Adding to the problem, the data becomes stale almost as soon as it is duplicated, and it can be difficult for IT to track the different versions in existence to delete them and re-absorb the underlying resources.

Start-up Delphix has developed Delphix Server to virtualize databases. Essentially, the software creates full read/write clones of Oracle 10 and 11 production databases. These clones are automatically generated from abstracted snapshots and log files, and they require a tenth of the storage space compared to physical databases, according to Karthik Rau, vice president of products and marketing.

The virtual database regularly syncs with the production database; only changed data is sent to the virtual database, reducing the infrastructure workload.

Overall, Delphix aims to consolidate data center resources and speed application testing, development, deployment, management and upgrade cycles.

In addition, Delphix's secure self-service portal lets IT set policies and allot storage so users can fulfill their own requests. For instance, if a developer needs a copy of the company's ERP database, he can provision it himself. This guarantees fast access to the freshest data, and when his project is complete, the virtual database can be deleted and the resources re-absorbed.

Rau says perhaps most importantly, Delphix Server ensures data accuracy and reduces production environment risk as users can create and recover the virtual databases from any point in time. Using "true" replicas of the databases increases the overall quality and stability of the application in production.

"Since creating virtual databases requires no additional storage capacity and is fully automated through Delphix Server, developers can spin up virtual databases on the fly and create significantly more database environments with little to no additional infrastructure investment," he says.

GUI's Gibbs says the ability to virtualize databases is valuable for IT organizations. "For a large database like Oracle, being able to just click and spin up another version reduces the drag on IT and would let developers get on with their jobs quickly," he says.

Cloud-based enterprise testing environments: CloudShare

A major frustration that IT teams face is submitting requests for proposals and clearing their schedules as vendor after vendor comes on-site to engineer a proof of concept. CloudShare aims to eliminate that hassle.

Instead of building on-premises proofs of concept, technology vendors using SaaS-based CloudShare Enterprise, such as Cisco, can provide IT teams with a URL where they can collaborate to build proofs of concept in the cloud. Using detailed specs from IT teams about their environment, vendors can create a working model of their product.

"CloudShare enables on-premise systems to become SaaS," says co-founder and Vice President of Products Ophir Kra-Oz. "We replicate and clone hands-on copies of the environment and take it to the cloud."

Then, IT and vendors can test-drive and tweak the product together without having to disrupt the corporate network. CloudShare supports heterogenous and complex networked environments, and the user companies' own data and local on-premises systems can be integrated with the cloud environment, Kra-Oz says. "Customers can do everything they could using [CloudShare] as if the software were on-premises."

Conceivably, IT teams could demo multiple vendors' wares simultaneously, speeding the decision-making and ultimately the deployment process.

Julie Craig, research director at EMA, says cloud-based proofs of concept are highly beneficial for IT. "Companies that can do proof of concept in the cloud can save the consuming companies millions of dollars in hardware investments. They also can provide the complex technology engineering and related staff, which can be difficult to find," she says. And once the IT team at the customer company provisions its cloud-based environment, these resources are available to them anywhere, anytime, she adds.

At a glance

Company: CloudShare

Enterprise product: CloudShare Enterprise

Pricing: Starts at $500 per month and is based on price per 1GB RAM per month.

Funded by: Charles River Ventures, Gemini Capital and Sequoia Capital.

Kra-Oz says this is not only a benefit for IT departments, but also for the vendors themselves, since they don't have to commit their best engineers to travel from site to site. Instead, they can work with several sales prospects from any location, which alleviates the wear and tear that comes with travel. "Rather than having to set up each site visit, the engineer can reuse parts of the network configurations," Kra-Oz says.

Proofs of concept are not the only use Kra-Oz sees for CloudShare. He says the environment is also suitable for interactive training among distributed IT teams. For instance, if a company is installing a new ERP system, IT staff can use the cloud-based model to familiarize themselves with the software's features. This saves companies from having to fly in employees and carve out a part of the network for testing. CloudShare lets IT get to know the environment, get feedback from users, and identify potential problems before products and their supporting infrastructures are purchased and brought on-site, Kra-Oz says.

Planning ahead

As IT departments head deeper into 2011, many no doubt will be looking for new technologies that speed deployment cycles, help protect their current investments in mobile technology, and avoid costly hardware and software investments. And that means cloud. Enterprise Strategy Group's 2011 IT Spending Intentions Survey, for instance, found that organizations in cost reduction/containment mode indicated a significant increase in their willingness to consider cloud computing services or SaaS as a way to control IT costs in 2011.

However, experts warn IT to proceed with caution. EMA's Crawford says companies should take the time to examine the risks involved with handing data over to a third-party cloud or SaaS provider, and to learn as much as possible about how they protect data and where the provider's responsibility for security ends and the customer's begins.

GUI's Gibbs agrees, saying that while new technologies that make full use of the cloud may seem like fabulous opportunities, that is only the case if the organization has confidence that the provider can adequately protect its crown jewels.

Sandra Gittlen is a freelance technology writer in the Boston area. Contact her at sgittlen@verizon.net.

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