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BMC Buys Phurnace – Quick Analysis

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It was a pleasant surprise to see that BMC was buying Phurnace this morning. Over the past few years, I’ve had pizza and soul-food lunches here and there with the local Phurnace team and seen them cart their technology through the various phases of startup life. They were a RedMonk client from time-to-time as well, as with BMC.


BMC is buying a what seems to be a good Java infrastructure (read: the middle-ware & application layer), model-driven automation and management tool that’ll augment their existing Blade Logic automation portfolio. You don’t hear much about application management automation in IT Management, outside of the dev/ops pioneers who’re evolving traditional definitions of “automation.”

The Deal

As usual when it comes to acquisitions, I have to disclose that I’m no good for figuring out the numbers side of the deal, so I have no idea if this was a “good deal” for BMC, Phurnace, or whoever. Update: I spoke with Phurnace CEO Larry Warnock who told me that it was a good deal on Phurnace’s part, no fire-sale here, he said. For a company that’s had as little funding as Phurnace ($5 million), it was probably a nice amount.

I will say that the anecdotal sense I’ve gotten from many people in the Austin scene and beyond is that startups, esp. those getting into their 3rd and 4th rounds of funding, are looking to get bought this year.

With the purse strings a bit loosened from last year’s Economic Crater, it seems like it’s happening.

What Phurnace Does

While I’ve mentioned them in a podcast here and there, I don’t believe I’ve written up Phurnace formally. Essentially, their software managed Java infrastructure configuration – primarily application servers like JBoss, WebLogic, WebSphere, etc. There’s tools for extracting that configuration, making a common model, translating between the different types of configurations, and then spitting that configuration back into Java infrastructure. The alternative to using these tools is to manually do all the configuration setting.

With this, the started out doing application server migration, esp. for people who wanted to move from more expensive commercial application servers to JBoss. They told me they also did a lot of business in the Java portal world along these same lines. More recently, Phurnace moved into the more general area of configuration management for Java infrastructure. The idea was that automating this configuration management was better than doing it manually. And, indeed, that’s usually the case if only to remove the chance for human error in deployment (of course, humans could, and will, make errors directing and configuring that automation).

Quick Analysis

As a happy coincidence for Phurnace, automation theory has recently gotten enamored with model-driven automation. Instead of doing your automation (managing the configuration and releases across IT, to use a simplified definition) with scripts that change things directly, you instead make a model of your IT. As you update this model, you pass it over to the model-driven automation tool, which figures out the changes and applies them. Last I heard from the BMC automation folks – during a briefing on their partnership with Cisco around the Unified Compute box – they were getting all model giddy. Thus, the happy coincidence for Phurnace who does modeling of Java infrastructure.

More specifically, I suspect that BMC looked at what Phurnace had as something to fill in Java automation capabilities in its portfolio. With the disclaimer that I haven’t spoken to either BMC or Phurnace about this, it’s pretty clear that BMC’s interest in Phurnace is the technology: the models of Java infrastructure and then the tools needed to do automation tasks over that Java infrastructure.

As the press release from BMC says:

BMC plans to quickly embed Phurnace technology into the BMC BladeLogic Server Automation Suite product, providing customers with seamless, rapid full-stack provisioning and compliance of all infrastructure layers, including the operating system, patches, middleware and applications.

And, indeed: BMC usually buys a company the size of Phurnace to add features to an existing portfolio, here, automation from Blade Logic, rather than buy into a new market. Occasionally, BMC will do big bang buys like Remedy and Blade Logic which tend to transform (Remedy) the company or, at least, add in a whole new product line (Blade).

The interesting part is also that this is automation – I’m assuming – at the application layer, where as most automation talk in past and present is at the infrastructure layer. Of course, the thought leaders in this area – folks like Reductive Labs (Puppet), OpsCode (Chef), and in a more general sense cloud management outfits – are doing a helpful job of blurring the distinction between traditional IT layers like application and infrastructure with their dev/ops angled automation. Check out this white paper done by Reductive Labs and dto solutions on the topic for a nice toe-dip. And, I’d expect to see more application layer automation from VMWare/SpringSource. Older automation portfolios like BMC’s Blade Logic line need to keep a close eye on these developments, hopefully, taking in the proven parts of that work.

As always, being an Austinite, I like seeing the Austin angle. While we’re trying to graft on consumer, round-corner cool kid expertise to our portfolio down here (Gowalla and HomeAway and then the Capital Factory guys, among many others), it’s still the case that you can’t throw a rock without hitting an enterprisy, infrastructure nerd like Phurnace.


Disclosure: while not currently clients, both Phurnace and BMC have been clients in the past. I worked at BMC prior to RedMonk as well. Reductive Labs and dto solutions are a client, as are others who care about IT Management in general.

Categories: Enterprise Software, Java, Quick Analysis, Systems Management.

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Comment Feed

10 Responses

  1. Thanks for the blog, Michael. Let me know if I can answer any questions for you. Twitter @robertreeves.

    Take care,


  2. Sure thing, have fun with BMC 😉 As someone who worked in a BMC group that'd be acquired…I'm sure it'll be a fun BigCo adventure! 😉

  3. How do you define model-driven automation, and what do you consider a model in the IT Management context? Does your definition have analyst consensus?

  4. Lunt: By "model-driven automation," I pretty much mean the concepts that Puppet, Chef, etc. build on: the idea is that you're more compiling your systems based on a model you've built up rather than specifying each individual piece. This assumes a lot out of your tools (it can build an OS "image" for you and has the tooling itself to do the actual "hard-work" of mapping from model to reality) – and assumes you'll put up with not having direct control over every single thing on the machine. The second part is a big cultural shift, so you have to sell it really hard to existing admins and IT folks.

    As vague as my own definitions are here, I don't know that there's some wide analyst consensus.

    Thanks, as always, for the question/comment 😉

  5. Thanks Cote. For the most part, that explanation matches what I was thinking. The model in this case is the collection of systems, potential applications running on those systems, and the connectivity amongst all of these items. I've seen 'model' also refer to the details of a specific system (i.e. signatures for CPU, memory, interfaces, etc.). How about coining the terms "micro-model" and "macro-model". 🙂

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] is that BMC just bought local startup Phurnace.  Additional coverage from Austin Startup and Redmonk.    There are a few friends and former colleagues over there, and I wish them well at the new […]

  2. […] talk about the excitement in “model-driven automation” at the […]

  3. […] or help them buy into the “next generation IT management” market? As recent example, BMC buying Phurnace is instructive, while Microsoft buying Opalis fits the good, old fashioned IT management space […]

  4. […] speaking with the Phurnace pholks before they were acquired by BMC, there’s a brisk business going on migrating from closed-source portals (IBM’s and […]

  5. […] speaking with the Phurnace pholks before they were acquired by BMC, there’s a brisk business going on migrating from closed-source portals (IBM’s and […]