Analyst's Corner

The Case for Integrated Systems Management

Efficient and cost-effective systems management must also do more.

By David Baum

January/February 2011

Oracle Magazine spoke with Tim Grieser, program vice president of enterprise system management software at International Data Corporation (IDC), about managing enterprise information systems in an era of outsourcing, virtualization, and cloud computing.

Oracle Magazine: What is driving IT organizations to adopt integrated systems management solutions?

Grieser: Reducing the cost of operations is the #1 concern of today’s IT managers. Improving customer satisfaction levels is a close second.

IT departments face a dichotomy between trying to simplify operations while continually improving service levels. Systems management software can increase the efficiency of the IT staff and also reduce operational costs. Traditionally, IT departments have relied on a variety of tools from multiple vendors to manage various parts of the IT infrastructure. Third-party tools are not intrinsically integrated, which means IT must manually integrate them or hire a service organization to do it for them. It’s not easy to monitor the entire infrastructure when you have to start with different components, interfaces, management agents, philosophies, and so forth and then pool it all into a common framework or manually combine the information. Having a preintegrated toolset with common interfaces and common views saves the IT organization the time and expense of making the tools work together.

Oracle Magazine: What are the key goals and challenges in enterprisewide systems monitoring?

Grieser: It’s important to have an end-to-end picture of the IT infrastructure in order to make sure that end users are receiving the overall services they need. But doing this reliably becomes more difficult as information systems and IT functions get distributed, virtualized, and outsourced.

In a virtualized environment, an application or business process can span many different servers, some of which may be hosted by third parties. This is especially the case when you have a multitier or composite application in which the database is on one server, the applications are somewhere else, the Web server is somewhere else, and so on. Even if each tier appears to be functioning well, there is no guarantee that users will receive adequate service levels when their transactions cross tiers. You need to be able to monitor and manage service levels from end to end.

Oracle Magazine: How do you measure the results of integrated systems management?

Grieser: You need to be able to see business metrics in addition to IT metrics so you can relate what’s going on in the infrastructure to the actual response time users experience. That means having a set of systems management tools that monitors the entire IT environment from the disk drive all the way up to the user interface, sometimes called “application-to-disk management.” The objective is to understand not just the technical transactions that are going on but also the service levels that people are getting. Isolated IT metrics don’t really tell you much about the overall health of an application or the business impact of certain problems. If the IT staff can’t judge performance and troubleshoot problems at the business level, then they won’t have the correct business context for addressing issues and prioritizing their management activities. For example, a line-of-business owner is concerned with fulfilling orders on time, while IT is concerned about technical metrics such as application uptime and server utilization.

Oracle Magazine: Why is it important to integrate systems management and customer support functions?

Grieser: When system administrators resolve application issues, IT operations staff may need to route service requests to their IT vendors. Many of today’s systems management tools don’t supply basic information such as version numbers, configuration settings, and applied patches. Thus it takes longer to resolve problems because you have to wait for the vendor to gather those specs. Some vendors provide automated channels for providing software patches and updates, and the information is accessible from within the enterprise systems management console. It’s much easier to resolve problems if you can integrate the systems management and support functions in this way.

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