DBAs Move to the Fast Lane
Imagine how you'd feel if your best friend drove to visit you in a brand new, fully equipped Ferrari? It would difficult to be enthusiastic about the new car and even more difficult to witness its style, speed and maneuverability without being a bit envious. It would likely take only a few moments to decide that owning a similar car would now become your top priority so you too could be zooming across the country in the fast lane.
Today IT professionals find themselves in a similar situation; however, the prized item is not a Ferrari but rather mobile software for IT systems management. Ari Kaplan, president and chief executive officer of Expand Beyond, frequently witnesses this phenomenon at industry trade shows. "I'll notice a DBA using our PocketDBA software on a wireless handheld. Invariably someone will approach, look over the DBA's shoulder and ask what is happening. When the DBA explains that PocketDBA enables him to run SQL commands, manage his company's servers and fix backups without leaving the trade show, PocketDBA becomes the coveted item," notes Kaplan.
Expand Beyond, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, and founded by Kaplan and Dr. Tal Schwartz, is the market leader in wireless enterprise software. The company's products - PocketDBA and PocketAdmin - solve one of the most pressing business issues facing corporations today. Kaplan explains, "Whenever an issue develops with a database or server, an IT professional must be available to troubleshoot and fix the problem. Without our software, IT workers are disconnected from the enterprise during off hours. The individual would have to be physically present in the office in order to accomplish the task. With Expand Beyond software, that IT professional can take out a wireless handheld device and begin troubleshooting and fixing the problem within seconds or minutes - no subway delays, no traffic to battle."
Kaplan, named to Crain business magazine's prestigious "40 under 40" in November 2001, has a passion for technology that began - amazingly - when he was only six years old. Kaplan attended the Trenton Computer Festival at that young age, and he was hooked. "I sold my first program at that show when I was nine years old and gave my first presentation there when I was 13. The subject of my presentation was Electronic Audio Recognition Systems - also known as EARS. I had a roomful of IT workers show up, probably assuming they'd be hearing from an IBM executive. To their surprise, I was the presenter. Through the response of the audience, I learned at that early age that I had found my niche. I continued my technology path at the California Institute of Technology where I invented better statistical measures than baseball's traditional earned- run averages and saves." At the age of 19, Kaplan presented his findings to Caltech's board of trustees - one of whom happened to be the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. "He offered me a job on the spot," recalls Kaplan. Since then, approximately one-third of all Major League Baseball teams have turned to Kaplan for assistance in updating their statistical methodologies and database programming.
Kaplan's brother is responsible for introducing him to major league baseball. Kaplan recalls, "One day, my brother forced me to watch baseball, and I fell in love with the sport on the spot. I never dreamed that, number one, I'd play baseball in college and that, number two, I would have an influence on baseball at the major league level. With the accuracy of a statistician, Kaplan can provide a play-by-play recap of many of his favorite ball games - most notably the 1986 World Series game and the 1992 playoff game between the Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Kaplan's love of baseball is topped only by his enthusiasm for the productivity gains that can be attained by using his company's products and is rooted in his own experience as a database administrator. "I was a database administrator for more than a decade, and the same issues surfaced at every company. The DBA would be out of the office - for lunch, a weekend, a vacation or whatever - and a systems problem would occur, either as a result of human error or a technical glitch. The DBA would be paged and required to return to the office in order to get the systems running properly again. You can easily see the inefficiency of this approach - for both the DBA and the company," remarks Kaplan.
Not content with the status quo, Kaplan envisioned a systems management component that could be incorporated into the wireless revolution. "I was working at U.S. Robotics which, at the time, was making Palm Pilots. The day that I became privy to the fact that they were coming out with wireless handhelds, I saw the huge potential and the business need and started working on it. I began to contact potential business partners and to align a strong management team," says Kaplan.
"I brought in my long-time friend, Tal Schwartz, as co-founder. We met at Caltech when we were undergraduates. He is the perfect complement - a financial expert with experience in the development of business models and market strategies for numerous technology and e-commerce companies," emphasizes Kaplan. Schwartz received his Master's and Ph.D. degrees in Finance from Cornell for pioneering research on the term structure of corporate debt. Schwartz is currently the chief financial officer of Expand Beyond. "We incorporated Expand Beyond in 2000 and have been going strong every since," notes Kaplan.
Kaplan explains that system downtime and the productivity of IT professionals have a huge impact on a company's bottom line. "In the average company, whenever there's a system availability issue - even if it's just performing slowly or someone forgot to change something in the software - it costs the company approximately $8,000 per minute. Imagine the huge return on investment and the savings that can be realized by being able to use a handheld to manage your enterprise within seconds or minutes versus the hour or two it could otherwise take to get back to the office and then begin to fix the problem. The numbers increase dramatically in financial services industries where, according to industry estimates, lost revenue from system downtime can approach $100,000 per minute," Kaplan states.
IT budget crunches prevent the hiring of additional IT professionals - the typical DBA works one day on the weekend and a couple hours of overtime each day - but the databases are still growing and the systems are getting more complex and larger. Employees are being asked to do more with fewer resources. It's very difficult," says Kaplan. "We've been told that when some DBAs are on call, they're not allowed to be more than one hour from their offices. That just doesn't make sense when there's software like ours available. At Expand Beyond, we develop affordable products that enable enterprises to wirelessly manage their entire information technology infrastructure - from databases to servers to networks - using handheld devices. Our customers span all vertical industries, and we have resellers worldwide and enterprise initiatives underway with some of the nation's leading technology companies including AppWorx and Computer Associates International. As a result, companies that deploy our software achieve 24x7 control over their mission- critical systems and see greatly improved IT job satisfaction."
Expand Beyond's PocketDBA enables database administrators to control enterprise-level systems from anywhere in the world, easily view vital performance statistics and issue any command or run any database query. PocketDBA supports Oracle 8i and 9i, and will support IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server this fall. PocketAdmin provides system administrators with full SSH (secured shell) terminal capability and cursor control from any Pocket PC or Palm OS wireless handheld device. Literally any server command is possible including editing files, running customer scripts, viewing log files and managing system processes. The ability to respond instantly to system issues enables increased uptime, productivity and cost savings across the enterprise.
Understandably, questions always arise about the security of accessing mission-critical systems via wireless devices. According to Kaplan, "Ensuring that all communication performed is fully secure has always been a top priority for the company. Expand Beyond solutions integrate the same industry accepted security technologies that are deployed over wired networks. These technologies include: password-based database authentication, SSL, RSA SecurID, VPN and SSH. The Expand Beyond server software installs behind an organization's existing security perimeter and securely communicates with the handheld devices. No system information resides on the handheld device, thereby eliminating the security risk posed by lost or stolen handhelds."
At the OracleWorld conference recently held in Copenhagen, Oracle announced their intended entry into mobile management applications designed specifically for the Oracle environment. Kaplan, who has developed many Oracle databases working for Oracle Corp. and has written several books on the topic, attended a presentation discussing Oracle's intended wireless Enterprise Manager "EM2GO" service for PDA devices. The product is currently in the prototype stage. Commenting on this, Kaplan says, "Expand Beyond is pleased that Oracle Corp. is entering the wireless database management market. We are celebrating our company's two-year anniversary, and Oracle's announcement of EM2GO truly validates Expand Beyond's work in the wireless IT systems management space. We began with access to Oracle databases, largely due to my background and visibility; and our release of PocketDBA on both IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server this fall, in conjunction with our powerful server and firewall administration functionality, will provide our customers and partners with a complete solution."
With a well-defined strategy for the future, Kaplan is confident that Expand Beyond has the capability to scale to meet increased demand. "We've built the company from ground up to be able to provide and support multiple products and to ensure customer satisfaction. We're not about creating software and pushing it out. We listen and understand what our customers need - that's how we've structured the company. We expect explosive growth, and we have a very efficient model to accommodate that growth. While we have a direct sales force, the majority of our sales are through our channels and our partnerships."
Juggling is one of Kaplan's hobbies, and just as he juggles multicolored objects, he effectively juggles the internal and external challenges of leading a software company in the 21st century. "I have an open door, and when I'm not doing an interview with DM Review, anyone can come in and talk to me about any issue. We have a great team and a very dynamic corporate culture. We all know that in order to be successful, our products must provide true value. What's important isn't just running the company, but also understanding our customers' current as well as future needs for mobile IT systems management," emphasizes Kaplan.
Of course, no one can provide a more compelling argument for Expand Beyond software than Kaplan. "To manage your IT infrastructure - something in which you've already invested millions of dollars - Expand Beyond is the only choice. Our software enables you to extend your current investment to have your IT professionals do their jobs 24x7 - wherever they may be. It's turnkey software that provides a great return on your investment. It installs very quickly - in minutes - so that return on investment can be realized immediately, and it also greatly reduces your total cost of ownership. Our software improves the efficiency of your IT department in a way that we haven't seen in nearly a decade," emphasizes Kaplan.
"Every company in the world has the same problem. When their IT workers leave the office they are disconnected from the enterprise and unable to troubleshoot system issues," continues Kaplan. "IT workers, who are on-call 24x7, need the ability to take action when paged. PocketDBA and PocketAdmin are not just emergency solutions - they enable IT workers to perform routine maintenance and proactive monitoring from wherever they happen to be. These solutions not only increase an IT worker's quality of life, but have the potential to save their companies millions of dollars. There are numerous benefits that can be realized immediately with our low-cost, turnkey software."
While you still may be dreaming about the day you can own that powerful Ferrari, there is no need to dream about the efficiency and flexibility of wireless enterprise management. With Expand Beyond, you can move to the wireless fast lane today.
by Jean Schauer
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