SmartAdvice: Evaluate The Range Of Infrastructure-Monitoring Options

Best-of-breed systems are a good choice for large companies, but don't overlook open-source tools, The Advisory Council says. Also, demand for IT skills is driven by a number of factors, including new technologies, government regulation, and merger-and-acquisition activity.
Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]

Question A: What should we consider when evaluating enterprise application and server-monitoring technologies?

Our advice: The tools available for enterprise infrastructure monitoring vary widely in functionality, cost, and stability. Offerings range from homegrown programs put into the public domain (low functionality, economical, and less stable) to full-fledged, best-of-breed products (full functionality with many optional modules, premium priced, and very stable). Four products dominate this category: IBM Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard OpenView, Computer Associates Unicenter, and BMC Patrol. These four products are very mature, are exceptionally feature rich, offer many optional modules, and are premium priced. Most large companies have heterogeneous infrastructure environments consisting of hundreds if not thousands of applications, mainframes, Unix servers, and Intel-based servers. This scale of infrastructure will greatly benefit from, and can most easily cost justify, any of the top four best-of-breed solutions.

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Many options exist beyond the top four, but each has fewer features, a narrower breadth of server and operating-system platforms covered, few application-specific features, and consequently a smaller customer base with often less long-term product stability. A careful evaluation of not only a product, but also the vendor, is required before building an IT capability around a product with less-clear futures. Additionally, understanding your current and future IT architecture is essential to finding the best, most cost-effective monitoring solution. Don't put in place a system that works today but not with your future architecture. Monitoring systems typically have relatively long life cycles.

The functionally simpler, usually less-costly monitoring options includes:

  • Quest Foglight
  • Micromuse NetCool
  • Heroix eQ
  • EMC Smarts
  • NetIQ AppManager Suite

Each of these solutions is generally less functional and less costly than the top four, but in some instances a premium is charged for some leading new feature or features. An example of this is Quest Foglight, which sells for less than OpenView and Tivoli but in many more configurations than Patrol. This is because of Foglight's comprehensive features; although not as tried and true as the top four, in Foglight, Quest is offering the most formidable competitor.

A final option, and one I highly recommend evaluating for monitoring solutions, is the open-source alternative. The top emerging open-source monitoring system is GroundWork Open Source Solutions' offering, GroundWork Monitor. It leverages many tried-and-true open-source tools previously used by IT groups in an ad hoc manner. A popular open-source offering among Linux users and some Solaris users is Nagios. This software is used by GroundWork, and thus a subset of functionality, but it's worth considering on its own because of the large number of Linux-based implementations. A combination of Microsoft Operations Manager and Nagios is likely to be an economical, effective solution for many midsize companies.

-- Peter Sorrentino

Question B: What IT skills will be most in demand this year?

Our advice: Demand for specific IT skills is being driven by a mix of factors: new technologies and their applications, government regulation, increased merger-and-acquisition activity, retention of talent connected to legacy systems and critical technology and business initiatives, stricter requirements for specialized experience, new types of IT jobs combining multiple skills, and backlash following offshoring disappointments.

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