Ken Oestreich blogged recently about the very cool, probably landmark release of Cassatt that just became available, Cassatt Active Response 5.1. He very eloquently runs down the biggest feature--demand based policies--so I won't repeat all of that here. What I thought I would do instead is relate my personal thoughts on monitoring based policies and how they are the key disruptive technology for data centers today.
To be sure, everyone is talking about server virtualization in the data center market today, and that's fine. It's core short-term benefit, physical system consolidation and increased utilization is key for cost-constrained IT departments, and features such as live motion and automatic backup are creating new opportunities that should be carefully considered. However, virtualization alone is limited in its applications, and does little to actually optimize a data center over time. (This is why VMWare is emphasizing management over just virtualizing servers these days.)
The technology that will make the long term difference is resource optimization: applying automation technologies to tuning how and when physical and virtual infrastructure is used to solve specific business needs. It is the automation software that will really change the "deploy and babysit" culture of most data centers and labs today. The new description will be more like "deploy and ignore".
To really optimize resource usage in real time, the automation software must use a combination of monitoring (aka "measure"), a policy engine or other logic system (aka "analyze") and interfaces to the control systems of the equipment and software it is managing (aka "respond"). It turns out that the "respond" part of the equation is actually pretty straight forward--lots of work, but straight forward. Just write "driver" like components that know how to talk to various data center equipment (e.g. Windows, DRAC, Cisco NX-OS, NetApp Data ONTAP, etc.), as well as handle error conditions by directly responding or forwarding the information to the policy engine.
The other two, however, require more immediate configuration by the end user. Measure and analyze, in fact, are where the entire set of Service Level Automation (SLAuto) parameters are defined and executed on. So, this is where the key user interface between the SLAuto system and end user has to happen.
What Cassatt has announced is a new user interface to define demand based policies as the end user sees fit. For example, what defines an idle server? Some systems use very little CPU while they wait for something to happen (at which point they get much busier), so simply measuring CPU isn't good enough in those cases. Ditto for memory in systems that are compute intensive but handle very little state.
What Cassatt did that is so brilliant (and so unique) is to allow the end user to leverage the full range of SNMP attributes for their OS, as well as JMX and even scripts running on the monitored system to create expressions that define an idle metric that is right for that system. For example, on a test system you may in fact say that a system is idle when the master test controller software indicates that no test is being run on that box. On another system, you may say its idle when no user accounts are currently active. Its up to you to define when to attempt to shut down a box, or reduce capacity for a scale-out application.
Even when such an "idle" system is identified, Cassatt gives you the ability to go further and write some "spot checks" to make sure they system is actually OK to shut down. For example, in the aforementioned test system, Cassatt may determine that its worth trying to power down a system, but a spot check could be run to determine if a given process is still running, or an administrator account is currently actively logged in to the box that would indicate to Cassatt that it should ignore that system for now.
I know of no one else that has this level of GUI configurable monitor/analyze/respond sophistication today. If anyone wants to challenge that, feel free. Now that I no longer work at Cassatt, I'd be happy to learn about (and write about) alternatives in the marketplace. Just remember that it has to be easy to configure and execute these policies, and scripting the policies themselves is not good enough.
It is clear from the rush to release resource optimization products for the cloud, such as RightScale, Scalr, and others, that this will be a key feature for distributed systems moving forward. In my opinion, Cassatt has launched itself into the lead spot for on premises enterprise utility computing. I can't wait to see who responds with the next great advancement.
Disclaimer: I am a Cassatt shareholder (or soon will be).