EMC took square aim at the "big four" data center management software players\u2014HP, IBM, CA and BMC\u2014 this week when it launched Ionix. The new Ionix business unit and brand name are designed to make more noise about what analysts call an under-appreciated set of broad capabilities in data-center management tools. \nThe Ionix suite of network, systems and process management tools are so tightly integrated and so useful, says one longtime EMC storage customer, that his IT group bought the full set for its data-center management even though the company was shifting to rival NetApp's storage products. [ For timely data center news and expert advice on data center strategy, see CIO.com's Data Center Drilldown section. ]"Our experience with the suite was a lot better than we expected," says Hans Keller, senior director of IT operations for Erickson Retirement Communities, a privately held company that owns and manages 20 health-care facilities, has 11,000 employees and generates $1 billion per year in revenue. \n"We had this rudimentary set of tools to manage our WAN, service desk and systems but didn't give much insight into how our enterprise is functioning," Keller says. "At the same time we were getting ready to relocate a data center, so we needed to be able to do a lot of discovery on assets and the interfaces between them so when we did move we could do it without interrupting services, and end up with an enterprise monitoring service that was more appropriate to our size." \nKeller replaced tools such as What's Up Gold for WAN management and TouchPaper service-desk software with the Ionix suite which, unlike most beta testers, he paid for upfront. \n"You talk to the Big Four [HP, IBM, CA and BMC] and you get a white box you get to open up and then try to configure," Keller says. "We wanted something based on best practices so we didn't have to be experts when we started but it could grow with us as we became more expert." \nEMC has done a good job of lining up and coordinating the data center management assets it has bought since 2005, analysts say. \nBut EMC hasn't gotten as much notice or recognition as it deserves for the set of capabilities it built (and now will market under the Ionix banner), according to Dennis Drogseth, VP and analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. "Their growth has been very methodical. They got SMARTS for event automation, nLayers for app dependencies, Voyance and eventually ConfigureSoft for net and systems configuration, Infra for service desk. In my opinion, all of these really do create a kind of next-generation set of technologies." \nIonix "which sounds like an exercise in branding, and to some extent is," Drogseth says, was derived from the phrase "eye on IT," according to EMC press materials. \nThe new branding is designed to help the company present a range of options for the automation and management of various aspects of data center operations across physical and virtual servers, networks and storage networks, according to an EMC spokesman. \nWhile the new name and service-oriented descriptions sound relatively simple, "there are a lot of moving pieces here," according to Bob Laliberte, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "EMC has been pulling these pieces together for a couple of years\u2014configuration and change management, provisioning from a lot of different angles. What they're trying to do now is bring it under one naming umbrella and integrate them all more tightly." \nThe new business unit will offer four sets of integrated capabilities: \n1.\tEMC Ionix for Service Discovery and Mapping will be based on a configuration management database (CMDB) configuration management system designed to automate change management, doing application troubleshooting and mapping servers and applications before migrations or virtualization projects. \n2.\tEMC Ionix for IT Operations Intelligence includes root-cause analysis and impact analysis of errors, as well as mapping of the virtualizations among virtual servers, whose performance can also be examined using the same root-cause tools. \n3.\tEMC Ionix for Data Center Automation and Compliance is the broadest product set, designed to automate data-center management operations completely enough to make up for staff shortages due to layoffs or hiring freezes. The core function is compliance-management software that can enforce policy-based usage rules across both physical and virtual servers, networks and storage. \n4.\tEMC Ionix for Service Management focuses on ITIL service management, integrating CMDBs and workflow automation functions, to help service desks fix errors with as little human intervention as possible. \nEMC doesn't have nearly the customer-service or consulting staff to compete directly with IBM or HP, and it does have the drawback of having to support its own hardware more closely than it can someone else's, so Ionix offerings will probably never be as "open" as a pure software company could make them, Laliberte says. \nDrogseth says in his opinion, EMC is still weaker than HP, CA, IBM and BMC at applications performance and management and is too limited in overall performance-management capabilities. \nBut the level of integration among the various pieces\u2014SMARTS event automation with nLayers application discovery and mapping, nLayers discovery with Voyance change management and compliance, Infra with reporting capabilities of all the other application suites\u2014is consistent and well-designed enough to qualify as a platform, not a set of applications, Drogseth says. \nThat set of technologies, which includes agent-less asset and configuration discovery, automated help-desk workflow and automated root-cause fault analysis, helped Keller's team build a prototype Vista gadget that shows red, yellow or red, depending on the health of the systems for which that particular team member is responsible. \nIf the indicator turns yellow, IT staff can click on the gadget and dive into the detail to see where the problem lies and what is its source, helped out by automated trouble-ticketing and diagnostics, Keller says. \n"We have all this rich data on how the network's running, data from a change-management perspective. As we push into virtualization we'll have visibility into that, all on one dial, first on Sharepoint, then as a Vista gadget," Keller says. "We moved away from EMC's storage because the NetApp management software was easier for us to manage, but we're thrilled so far with the results from Ionix and with the technical expertise from EMC consulting. We're putting together a really good story on how a small enterprise can put together a cost-effective data-center management suite." Key EMC Acquisitions That Make Up Ionix\n\n1. VMware server virtualization, 2004\n2. SMARTS event automation and real-time network systems management software, 2005\n3. nLayers, application discovery and mapping, 2006\n4. Voyance, network configuration and automated change management, compliance and activation, 2007 \n5. Infra IT Service Management software for help desk and automated data-center operations, 2008\n6. Verid, information security and authentication, 2008\n7. ConfigureSoft, server configuration, change and compliance management, automate visibility and control across physical and virtual data centers, 2009 Do you Tweet? Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.