Managing your ICT assets efficiently

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1 April 2005 | 0

When talking about ICT Asset Management, most people think in terms of an organisation’s inventory of laptops, desktops, network devices and software. But in truth, a company’s IT assets are more than simply the sum of the parts — it is also the entity and value created by integrating the company’s WAN and LAN network with the applications, servers, switches and other devices necessary to make the infrastructure behave coherently.

And what about ‘managing’ those assets? It is more than just knowing what you have and where it is. Particularly in today’s business climate, managing your ICT assets includes ensuring that organisations obtain the most value from their current assets — before looking to upgrade them.

So how can an organisation ensure they are getting the most from their ICT infrastructure?

There is an old saying — what you can’t measure, you can’t manage. So the first thing you have to do is to measure what you already have, in terms of availability and performance. Turning this data into usable information will then give a picture of how well your infrastructure, end to end, is performing. Once you have this information you can start to manage your assets efficiently.

 

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Many Irish companies, including VHI, Vodafone, Ericsson and Esat BT manage their ICT infrastructure using specialist software tools and have documented significant savings and benefits by doing so. This article describes how integrating fault and performance management allows users ‘to sweat’ their ICT assets, improve the users experience and plan with confidence.

IT dependence

Businesses and organisations are growing increasingly dependent on IT for everything from e-commerce, to working with partners and supply-chains, to streamlining and automating internal business processes. Organisations are critically dependent on the networks, systems, and applications that power their business. Whereas management of the ICT infrastructure has always been viewed as important, it is now seen as strategic and absolutely essential to the business.

There has been a rapid emergence of business applications that are completely reliant on the Internet infrastructure. As these applications have become integral in transacting business between corporate enterprises, their customers and their partners, the requirements for fast response times, high performance and application availability have become critical business priorities.

These changes in the market have increased the complexity, difficulty and importance of fault, availability, and performance management of the services and the underlying applications and infrastructure required to deliver those services. Since the business critical operations and applications used by customers have now moved to the Internet infrastructure, there is low tolerance for poor service. Indeed, users’ levels of expectation are now higher than ever. Although the term may be a cliché, we truly do live in ‘Internet time’ where the competition is just a click away and instant gratification is expected. Customers are demanding higher than ever service levels for availability and performance of critical business services.

The job of the CIO is now more important than ever. CIOs must ensure smooth operation of the entire Internet infrastructure — networks, systems, applications, and always-on services. They must deliver always-on service, peak performance, and have an almost prophetic ability to detect and correct faults before services are impacted. And should they fail, the risks, exposure, and potential repercussions can be devastating.

Failure no option

In the not-so-distant past, much of the business activity was conducted through telephones and fax machines. When a company experienced an IT outage, it usually meant an annoyance as business continued — however the company’s partners and customers most likely didn’t even know an outage had occurred. It was almost as though a protective dome covered the business, where exposure points were few and well defined.

Now however, the dome is off. Today’s businesses use IT to interact with outside parties on a multitude of fronts — Websites enable consumers to purchase products and services, check on orders, or simply learn more about the company. Companies conduct business with partners and supply chains via business-to-business electronic transactions. Internal processes such as sales automation, customer relationship management, and even human resource facilities are commonly conducted electronically.

With so many points of exposure, when a business’s IT fails, that failure is immediately there for all the world to see. And the repercussions can be devastating — lost purchase orders and lost customer loyalty, angry clients, negative impact on business-to-business partners, inability to conduct business, and possibly even damage to the stock value. It might even feature on radio or TV!

With the risks of exposure so great, the CIO must ensure comprehensive management of all aspects of the Internet infrastructure to ensure the availability and performance of business-critical services.

Tightening Budgets

Despite the economic situation, many companies are actively investing in IT as a means of streamlining and automating processes, reducing overhead costs, and growing the business. Even in these tight economic times, many IT departments have kept their budgets intact as organisations recognise the strategic importance of IT and continue their investment in the future. However, even where budgets have not been cut, CIOs are under increased pressure to justify expenditures and demonstrate rapid return on investment. No longer is it acceptable to have projects that take years to implement and even longer for ROI to be realised.

With today’s difficult economy, pressures to justify expenditures and demonstrate rapid ROI, CIOs need systems that work straight out of the box, provide immediate value, are easy to deploy and use, and enable them to achieve immediate success in relieving IT pain points. With availability of the ICT infrastructure having such a crucial, direct impact on a business’s bottom line, CIOs need products that automate technology management to maximise availability and optimise performance. Further, these products must be modular and extensible. This allows the CIO to focus his limited budget on purchasing the components he’s got to have to solve immediate problems today, and the capability to grow as additional funds become available and as the IT department’s responsibilities continue to change and expand across networks, systems, applications, and always-on services.

One of the greatest challenges facing the CIO is to bring network and systems/applications departments together to work as one to quickly detect and resolve IT problems throughout their ICT infrastructure. Many companies divide up management tasks, with one group responsible for the networks, while responsibility for client and server systems and applications falls to another group or groups. Without an integrated system that crosses networks, systems and applications, management becomes fragmented and territorial. When a group can only see what is happening within their scope instead of having a complete view across the infrastructure, it is not at all uncommon or even unexpected that some level of finger pointing between the groups occurs.

The usual suspects

The first thing most users blame when their response time slows is — the network! Of course it may be the problem — but it may equally be any of the other items on which the user depends. Frustration can hit when network managers are powerless to see past their network boundaries and feel they constantly have to prove that various problems are not their fault. Meanwhile, systems administrators and application managers are trying to juggle a multitude of variables — many of which they have no way to control.

System administrators, for example, must manage a heterogeneous mish-mash of different hardware platforms, operating system types (Unix, Linux, Windows NT/2000), and software versions. Added to that is the end-user factor: desk-top users turning on and off their machines, installing software games and programs, and sometimes even installing their own hardware components like sound cards and graphics accelerators — introducing further complications outside of the administrator’s control.

When it comes to managing critical business applications, it is not enough to just make sure an application is up; managers must have an understanding of both the performance of the application as it is running on the server, and an understanding of the performance associated with using the application. End-users quickly lose patience when they are trying to use an application and response time is erratic and slow. And application managers don’t always have the tools they need to see where the problem lies.

An example helps illustrate the point: Frustrated users complain to the help desk: they can’t get any work done — response time is erratic and slow. IT managers in the systems/applications management group check that the application is running on the server, and that the server seems to be running properly. Without the ability to see the complete view, they cannot determine whether the source of delay lies within the client, the network, or the server. They most likely conclude that the problem is with the network.

Different concerns:

Understandably, network managers and systems/application managers have different sets of concerns. The table below shows five fundamental concerns all IT managers face. While the questions may be worded the same for both groups, what the question applies to is quite different depending on the audience.

Because the groups have different sets of concerns, they typically also have different sets of tools they use in their jobs. With tightening economic conditions, network managers and systems/application managers often find themselves fighting each other for budget to buy the tools their group needs.

For the CIO, whose responsibility includes both groups, the ideal solution is an integrated product that provides modular components that address the needs of each group, yet combines the separate components into an integrated whole. Such an end-to-end product offering enables the CIO to exploit product investment across both groups and provides the added incentive of only having to deal with a single supplier.

The author is managing director of Data Edge, a company which supplies asset-management software systems.

15/05/2003

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