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Unlock Systems' Potential

Software lets businesses tame their unruly systems and networks

Ever since businesses began installing computer systems and networks, managing that technology has been difficult and costly. IT departments spend billions of dollars each year on management products, but every year business-technology managers continue to say that systems and network management is a big challenge.

Big companies with deep pockets can deploy the large and expensive management frameworks offered by major vendors such as Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM's Tivoli. They promise to monitor and manage just about every piece of equipment. But for many businesses, these frameworks aren't an option. Instead, they look for individual products from smaller vendors that manage and automate specific tasks and help businesses save time, money, and resources.

It's a large and growing market. Businesses worldwide spent about $7 billion on systems-management software last year, according to market research firm IDC. That figure will grow to $9.7 billion in 2007, up 38% from last year, IDC says.

These products are growing in importance as more businesses seek to rationalize and consolidate their technology infrastructures so they can do more with fewer people and less money. Some products promise to automate and eliminate many of the tedious chores involved in running IT shops. Others offer businesses views of systems and perspectives on customers that were never available before.

Entuity's software took engineering company Fluor a week to set up, CIO Barnard says.
Fluor Corp., a $10 billion-a-year construction and engineering firm, is trying to reduce the cost of its technology infrastructure. In the long run, Fluor plans to outsource to IBM Global Services. But before it makes that move, the company is using software from Entuity Ltd. to better understand its infrastructure. After Entuity's software was in place for a week, "we identified server utilization, and then we could begin forming the plan with IBM," CIO Ray Barnard says.

Fluor had servers from just about every major hardware vendor, and it used a lot of them. Ultimately, the company plans to consolidate 1,400 servers, which are working at only 18% of capacity, down to 175.

Like many companies, Fluor bought and deployed servers on a per-project basis. Its global IT staff managed and maintained them, project by project. "We made sure we had servers on the ground," Barnard says. "But we could never measure the utilization." In addition, "when it was time to move into the Internet world, we didn't have a workable strategy because we didn't have a single view of the enterprise," he says.

Fluor used Entuity's software, which starts at $50,000 and increases based on the number of objects being managed, to get a handle on its infrastructure. Then it set up a single console using Tivoli SMS to gain a comprehensive view of its systems and networks around the world.

Tools such as Entuity's automate many of the time-consuming tasks that business-technology managers face, and more such tools are on the way, says technology analyst Richard Ptak of Ptak & Associates. "There is an enormous amount of work going on around server management," he says. "Vendors are providing reassignment of servers, reallocation of infrastructure based on workloads, and response to failures of servers in automated fashion." But it will take a while before software will let servers automatically respond to changes in the business based on policies or goals. "That's the goal," he says, "but it's five years away."

As businesses in the 1990s threw money at technology and built up large infrastructures, the demand for automated tools has grown, Entuity CEO Gerry O'Connell says. "Now people are looking to save hard dollars, and we can identify stranded assets in these bloated infrastructures," he says. "It's not just the asset, it's the running of the assets."

Smith & Associates Inc. is testing a management appliance from startup Vieo Inc., says Bob Ackerley, president of the $400 million-a-year electronic-component and medical-equipment distributor. "Two potential advantages are network management running on the appliance, so there's no server overhead, and the adaptive application infrastructure management," he says. Smith & Associates has been using BMC Software Inc.'s Patrol management software, which Ackerley says is complex, requires a lot of staff attention, and doesn't provide the automation he wants.

Smith & Associates is using Vieo to manage server capacity, Ackerley says
Ackerley says he expects the Vieo product to help his company manage server capacity. In tests, the appliance monitored server loads and moved work onto underutilized servers without manual intervention. "If it helps improve network management and eliminates downtime from overloads, then there's a huge cost benefit," he says. "And Vieo could reduce the number of new servers, and it will take fewer bodies in the data center to monitor our network."

Using a management appliance, which has direct connections to servers, routers, and PCs, offers a variety of advantages for monitoring application performance, says Vieo CEO and president Bob Fabbio. "With management software alone on a server, customers must deploy fat agents on all the resources, and that could take months and even years," he says. Each Vieo appliance connects to as many as 200 devices. "We have dedicated processing inside the appliance, insulated from the apps. Changes are downloaded to the appliance," Fabbio says. "Our intent is to deliver app quality of service."

Some management software can handle multiple tasks. Navigant International Inc., a business travel-management company, several years ago bought a PC application-management tool from Altiris Inc. that's now used to improve security. Security wasn't the primary reason Navigant bought the Client Management Solution, CIO Neville Teagarden says. "We didn't have as many threats two years ago," he says. "We use Altiris to cost effectively farm out the constant application changes."

He also uses the software, which starts at $80 per seat, to manage patches and registry changes. His only alternative would be outsourcing, Teagarden says. "I'd pay a lot more money for that or have a lot more IT staff," he says. "Even then, I don't know if we could do it without the automated tool."

Altiris offers a server-provisioning tool, which is being used by HP in its rapid deployment service, to eliminate the need to manually install software and boot a server. "With our software, nobody goes to the machine," says Poul Nielsen, Altiris' VP of product strategy. That can produce substantial savings, he says: "If the administrator had to do the work manually, usually some stuff is lost, the administrator usually has to take the machine away, and users are down for that time."

Reducing the amount of time a business-technology manager has to spend visiting and working with a server is the goal of many of these software tools. Canadian Pacific Railway Co. is using software from Tripwire Inc. to let managers do the job from a management console, IS manager Val King says. Tripwire captures all alerts in one device and tracks any changes to the information on servers. "Instead of losing several hours to reboot a server we couldn't reach, why not find something that catches changes and replace the changes with the original work?" King says.

In the past, Canadian Pacific Railway might have taken half a day to restore all its Web servers if a problem occurred or a change was needed. "Now we program Tripwire to make changes, and it could be different for each server, and we're up in maybe 45 minutes," King says. "It's nice to have one tool for managing all the devices."

Tripwire Manager is priced at $6,995, and Tripwire for servers is $595 per server. Together, they monitor a system's content, applications, databases, and operating system, looking for changes that could affect reliability. Many of the problems Tripwire finds are caused by users, says Wyatt Starnes, the company's president and CEO. Typically, administrators log on to a server, gain entry, change the configuration, write something on a piece of paper, and hope everything is OK, he says. Tripwire confirms that any change is approved and appropriate, and if it's not, the software rolls back the server to its original form until a proper change is made. "Our customers define expected behavioral state, and we ship templates for [server] setup and tune them for customers' requirements," Starnes says.

Sometimes, business-technology managers turn to specific tools even if they have more comprehensive management suites available. The Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., had a Tivoli management product, but it provided too much information and made it difficult to maintain an ID for each PC, says Kim Kovacs, senior PC and LAN administrator at the center. "We weren't doing much automation at all," she says.

Kovacs turned to a software from ScriptLogic Corp., priced at $400 for 10 seats and $1,500 for 100 seats, to maintain those IDs and automatically roll out Active Directory and Exchange to 350 servers. "The biggest problem it solves is maintaining virus updates and deploying patches," Kovacs says. "I write one script and the patch goes out." She usually sends out a group of patches every three or four months but is able to quickly send out a patch when something fast and destructive like the Slammer worm hits.

Automated software tools can eliminate much of the manual work involved in managing PCs, says Brian Styles, ScriptLogic's chief technology officer and founder. "Three years ago, it was visit each desktop and hit setup, but people have woken up from those days," he says. "Companies want the tools that will help them reduce costs of the infrastructure. The amount of time the tools buy for network administrators is priceless."

Other companies are also working to save IT managers time and money managing their infrastructures. Opsware Inc., for example, combines software and services in an attempt to automate the management of data centers, including resource management and provisioning. Opsware, which started out offering managed hosting services, created its own automated data-center management software. Opsware CTO Tim Howes says its products let an administrator manage 100 servers instead of 20.

Mercury Interactive Corp., which started out as a testing vendor, moved into systems management with SiteScope, which can be used to write scripts to monitor servers, send off alerts, and remotely fix problems. Site-

Scope starts with a business problem, such as a user not getting E-mail messages, and then drills down into the infrastructure to find the cause.

These products are helping business-technology managers manage increasingly complex technology infrastructures with fewer resources. The tools available today let them automatically discover what devices, operating systems, and applications are present and determine the relationships between them. Other tools can help them test and automatically install software patches, change access rights, and find problems quickly, says analyst Jasmine Noel of Jnoel Associates.

But while systems are getting better, Noel warns that they will never automate everything. "The system managing itself has been a goal forever, and I don't think it's achievable," she says. "Computers just aren't as smart as us."

Illustration by Tadeusz Majewski

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