Top line management comes with a price
1 April 2005 | 0
Systems management software covers a broad parish. At the top end you have big-ticket software suites such as HP Openview, IBM Tivoli, BMC Patrol and CA Unicenter. These can monitor and manage all aspects of your IT infrastructure such as software licensing, management of your LAN and WAN and optimising your use of hardware.
The promise is that you will have increased availability of your network, servers and software, be able to procure hardware and bandwidth exactly when it is needed, consolidate servers, reduce personnel costs by automating routine tasks, and reduce training costs by administering multiple environments from a single console. ‘It’s all about being able to do more with less by re-using the technology you have in place to derive more benefit,’ says Brian Cowley, Tivoli Architect for Ireland.
It sounds like something every IT manager would want but unsurprisingly such alchemy comes with a big price tag. Mid-market offerings have sprung up in responsetools like Concord’s e-Healthwhereas others such as Crannog Software’s NetWatch concentrate on specific pieces of the puzzle such as network management. These may not have the all-pervasive tools that the big guys offer but for most IT managers they provide the necessary insight and early warning that they need to get the most out of their infrastructure.
So how do you know if you should be in the market for systems management software. Brendan O’Reilly, Country Manager with BMC says it is typically for those who run ‘critical and complex IT or those who have an awful lot of it’. Most organisation’s IT infrastructures have become more complex and inter-related in recent years. The promise of systems-management companies is that their tools not only identify that you have a problem but can show you which piece of your complex jigsaw is solving the problem. In terms of size, O’Reilly has a rough rule of thumb’If you have more than 100 servers it gets very difficult to manage it manually because it gets unwieldy.’
Manage as you grow
A properly implemented systems management suite will not only alert you to problems when they happen but will also proactively monitor key aspects of system health so you can respond to problems before they escalate. They can also be configured to respond automatically to basic housekeeping tasks such as low disk space by deleting all temporary files on a server and generating a trouble ticket for your helpdesk so that it can be followed up later.
The software companies have woken up to the fact that there is a huge mid-market out there that doesn’t necessarily have hundreds of thousands of euro to spend on a total suite. BMC offers Patrol Express, an agentless version of its Patrol suite which doesn’t require as much administration and support and can be purchased on a subscription basis. CA offers its FlexSelect pricing structure which allows companies to lease the software for short periods.
‘The systems-management sale has changed,’ says Mark Sexton, Tivoli Sales Manager. ‘It used to be one big sale of a large bundle. Now people are buying on a point basis but all the elements can be linked together as they grow using Tivoli Enterprise Console.’ He points out that Tivoli has products for the three main areas of systems managementstorage, security and automationand customers can pick and choose products from each area without taking the whole stack. ‘We don’t promote a big bang approach,’ says Sexton.
Tivoli is not the only big player to adopt this incremental approach. Matt Brennan, Country Manager with CA, suggests that the breadth of technology available in product suites like Unicenter gives them the edge. ‘Nobody wants the big-bang approach any more to implementing software but they want the big-bang vision,’ he says. ‘Integration of the technology is the problem for system management. It’s not just about implementationour time to utilisation is shorter. The software is no good to you unless it is giving you some sort of results.’
Paul Glynn, sales director with Crannog Software believes the approach from the big companies is actually too complex which is why systems management has always been the next big thing without ever achieving wide-scale adoption. ‘People want simplicity,’ he says. ‘They want a quick overviewsomething they can react to.’ He believes this is particularly true in the Irish market where IT managers are expected to be masters of all technology and not just a specialised space.
Crannog’s productsNetFlow Monitor and NetWatchare probe-less tools which provide a simple overview of the network with the ability to drill down for further information. Hyperlinks can then be provided into other applications such as Cisco Works, Compaq’s Inisght Manager or 3Com’s Transcend to provide detail on a particular piece of network hardware. The simplicity of the tools mean they can be made available to non-IT staff so they can see if a problem is being caused by the networkthus reducing unnecessary support calls.
Invariably these days any discussion of systems management also involves a discussion of service level agreements (SLAs). As outsourcing becomes more prevalent in Ireland and IT departments are required to enter into SLAs with the business units of their organisation, systems-management tools gives IT managers access to the data they need to monitor both internal and external SLAs. ‘If an IT manager has the data to show who is bombarding a circuit then they can charge it back to that department,’ says Glynn.
The software providers have responded to this trend in service orientation by tailoring the way they provide their products to fit the new model. BMC’s O’Reilly, points to the company’s concept of Business Service Management which looks at the impact of problems on services rather than the systems that are supporting those services. ‘It’s an additional dimension to systems management,’ he says. . ‘You get a new view that says sales are being impacted and you can drill down and see that the CRM application isn’t working properly. Drill down further and you can identify that there’s a problem with the ‘Add a New Customer’ function which is being caused by a problem with the database.’ The impact on the helpdesk is that rather than solving problems in sequence they can easily prioritise problems by seeing their impact on the business.