Sometimes the best business ideas come about when you’re focused on something else.
For Steve Francis, founder of Santa Barbara-based LogicMonitor, that something else was running network and data center operations for technology companies. He kept the servers humming at ExpertCity before it became Citrix Online and for Fastclick before it became part of ValueClick.
Everywhere he worked or consulted, he realized there wasn’t a good automated way to monitor what was going on in the data center. Inevitably, a fix would be made in the heat of the moment — a new storage volume would be added, for example — and IT people would make a mental note to manually add that new volume to the data center’s monitoring system. But they’d forget. “If that volume you created filled up, you wouldn’t know about until it went down,” Francis said.
In time, Francis tallied up that he was spending a lot of time tracking down and solving problems that could have been prevented with better monitoring. And that was a major distraction from the core business that the data center was supposed to support — for example, how to serve ads faster and better or how to make a remote desktop experience smoother.
A vehicle provides a good analogy. You buy one to get you where you need to go. But what if the vehicle had no gauges or indicator lights to tell you how fast you were going, whether the engine was in danger of overheating or whether you were running low on gas? You’d spend so much time working to ensure that your car didn’t blow up or grind to a halt that it’d be hard to focus on your destination.
That’s essentially what was going on in data centers with manual monitoring processes. So Francis made an automated monitoring system and instrument panel complete with all gauges that an IT administrator would need. While he was at it, he left some room to create custom gauges that a particular business might want, like how much revenue each type of online ad being served up was generating.
“It ended up being on all the executives’ desks,” Francis said. “I really built the product for the problem I had and with me as the audience. The goal was to make everything in the data center automatic.”
Francis realized he probably wasn’t alone in struggling with monitoring. After several months of research into how to turn his fix into a marketable product, he launched LogicMonitor in 2008. He funded it himself, with some angel investment from Andreas von Blottnitz, the former CEO of ExpertCity. The company has grown from a handful of employees to nearly 20.
LogicMonitor is designed to be used by anyone who needs to keep an eye on some computers. It’s remotely hosted as a software as a service, meaning that IT administrators can check their network’s health from any web browser or smart phone. AppFolio, Underdog Media and CIO Solutions are all tri-county companies that use the service.
LogicMonitor is built to be an off-the-shelf system for web-based businesses or IT departments to keep track of how busy or full their servers are and other basic metrics. Francis said about 60 percent of the customers use it out-of-the-box this way. “They just have to define who gets woken up at 2 in the morning” if there’s a problem, Francis said.
Another core group of users is IT departments. LogicMonitor is in use with the state of Vermont and even legal firms and electrical contractors that do most of their paperwork electronically.
The big surprise has been remote IT administrators, the offsite teams that many small and mid-sized companies used to watch over their networks. “Accidentally, we now have a lot of managed service providers — that’s probably our biggest market segment,” Francis said.
But the unfolding stretch of runway for LogicMonitor might lie in cloud computing and hybrid clouds. There are services like RightScale that help IT administrators manage their cloud resources, but they aren’t designed to also monitor in-house resources. And in-house monitoring systems aren’t designed to keep an eye on whatever cloud resources are tapped if a large computing need arises.
But LogicMonitor can keep tabs on both sets of resources, all in one control panel. “We’re one of the few solutions that can do end-to-end visibility, which is why a lot of people are coming to us,” Francis said.
• Contact technology columnist Stephen Nellis at [email protected]