It's IT Tool Time Again

John Richardson

As the way IT organizations manage IT evolves, the need for new management tools becomes apparent.

We all know now that consolidation is driving complexity in operations management and that an IT service catalog can improve customer satisfaction through increased visibility and service level agreements.

This discussion, however, naturally leads to the need for IT management tools. The growth in IT asset utilization means that we have much more going on per system. Performance management is critical when we're achieving over 60 percent utilization on servers, and avoiding downtime is far more important when a single physical server is hosting multiple production applications.

In addition, deploying a service catalog means that you need to be able to measure the levels of service you are providing, then clearly report on them to your internal customers, and provide a chargeback framework for use of services.

These initiatives point to the need for more visibility within IT to show business users how you are supporting the business, managing costs, and providing a high level of service. You also need monitoring to ensure you maintain these service levels and reports that help show your executive team how you're achieving your goals.

However, many IT shops struggle with tool selection, implementation expertise, and the ongoing management of the reporting and monitoring tools. Over the years, these tools have frequently fallen into the category of 'shelfware'-software that was purchased but never fully implemented. To successfully deploy management tools, we need at least some of the following:

Knowledge of the alerting requirement - What are the items we need to monitor and what thresholds should generate yellow or red alerts? Effective monitoring requires that we filter out the noise that each asset generates and concentrate only on the most important messages. Getting just the right amount of alerting in each category requires both skill and patience.

Knowledge of the performance management requirement - Setting thresholds to identify performance levels again requires a detailed knowledge of which of the thousands of measurements are worth tracking, and how often we should be escalating potentially critical situations.

Knowledge of the monitoring tools-Today's tools offer broad options for customization and scripting to create automated responses to common situations, but the skill set for leveraging this can be difficult to find and expensive.

Process-Once the above is under control, we still need to be able to align the many dials and buttons available to user business requirements. The technical people who can master the intricacies of monitoring often find user requirements dull and/or frustrating.

As we look at these requirements, it's easy to see why previous tool deployments might have failed to meet expectations. The level of expertise and attention to detail required to implement and manage such tools is specific and can be costly.  Not every IT department has someone in-house who has both the knowledge required and the time to manage monitoring and reporting.

A new way of addressing this need has emerged recently: cloud-delivered monitoring and reporting services. These services can focus on a particular need, such as performance monitoring for virtual servers or storage capacity reporting across multiple platforms. By combining high-powered management expertise with the benefits of tools, this approach offers a new value proposition to IT shops.
Benefits of this approach include:

Reduced capital expenditure-Because the monitoring and reporting services are delivered from the cloud, you don't need to buy a physical server, database instance, and maintain it all, saving your resources for use on more strategic IT projects.

No implementation/maintenance risk-The classic problems of installing and maintaining sophisticated tools are no longer yours-they fall to the provider. This reduces the risk potential for failure and can also increase the speed at which you begin to realize the benefits of the new management platform.

Bundled skills-Providers bundle not only the skills of how to maintain and tune the monitoring and reporting service, but they can provide practical advice on managing your infrastructure using the data they collect. This combination of technical skill and operational savvy can hugely benefit your business.

So Is it tool time? If you've recently made changes to your infrastructure-such as storage or server consolidation, or implementing a new IT service catalog, then you can make a pretty strong case for buying new infrastructure management tools.

Whether you choose to upgrade and implement these tools yourself or outsource to the cloud, it is clear that if implemented and deployed properly, accurate and detailed reporting and monitoring tools will help increase visibility into your IT environment for better operations management while showcasing the value of your services to the business.

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