Tech pros' favorite tools increase IT efficiency

Each year we ask IT pros what they love, and this year several management tools ranked among the favorites.

Content is core to the work of Densho, an organization whose mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were held in internment camps during World War II.

In the past, Densho needed a complex storage environment to house its 30TB of production data, says Geoff Froh, deputy director and CIO at the nonprofit organization based in Seattle.

"The two-tier infrastructure was composed of high-performance SAN hardware and high-capacity consumer-grade NAS appliances. The SAN was expensive, difficult to manage and not scalable. The NAS gear was unreliable and lacked the IOPS to handle our workload," Froh recalls.

Densho turned to storage start-up Qumulo, which aims to help enterprises store their data more efficiently and with greater visibility into how content is being used. Froh raved about the scalability, easy manageability, and baked-in analytics of the Qumulo Core and Q0626 hybrid storage appliance.

"The Q0626, powered by the Qumulo Core software platform, has allowed us to consolidate all of our data to a single point of control. We now have the capability to incrementally scale out our storage into the tens of petabytes without interrupting user services," Froh says. "The hybrid flash/SSD/HDD hardware provides rock-solid, enterprise performance, and the Qumulo is managed through a simple web interface that makes administration and provisioning incredibly easy. The hours every month we spent tending to our storage and troubleshooting problems are now dedicated to more productive work."

Built-in analytics really set apart Qumulo's technology, Froh says. "We have instant visibility into not just the physical operation of the system; but into the data itself. With the web UI, I can view real-time usage per-directory, per-file and per-client, which has allowed us to analyze production trends and even diagnose issues with our workflow and tools that were not obvious from the user end," Froh says. "In addition, all of the analytics are accessible through a REST API making it possible to consume the metadata in our own applications and to build custom web visualizations."

Each year we ask IT pros what they love, and this year several tools that improve the usability and management of enterprise IT systems ranked among the favorites.

Rich Russo singled out Paessler's PRTG Network Monitor. "It's the all seeing eye-in-the-sky over our entire network," says Russo, who is senior engineer of infrastructure at insurance and risk management advisor Crystal & Company.

"We run a lean IT department so there is never a shortage of issues. If we had to additionally check in on systems for things like hard drive space, CPU utilization or bandwidth spikes, we'd never get anything done," Russo says. "PRTG checks more systems than all of us put together could in a day, with ease. When you combine that with email notifications for red flags, it's the perfect tool. We know about issues before the users do and can start remediating before they even call."

For Wade Warren, a favorite time saver is PagerDuty, an alarm aggregation and dispatching service that integrates with a company's existing infrastructure, application, and network performance management monitoring systems.

"PagerDuty has allowed me to seamlessly build a global staff into a cohesive team to provide rapid response to problems in our production environment, which is serving a user base of nearly 140 million people around the globe," says Warren, vice president of technical operations at wiki hosting service Wikia. "It integrates with all our internal and external monitoring systems and provides visibility into the health of our infrastructure from an executive level, including all the detail needed for our technical staff to drill into problems right away, reducing our time to repair."

On the facilities front, Stuart Walker, facilities technical services manager at Mentor Graphics, has grown to depend on FieldView Infrastructure Software, which he's been using for five years.

"The [FieldView] tool is a monitoring and reporting solution that spans the IT and facilities universe, so it's easy to integrate multiple vendor equipment and multiple protocols with a global reach," Walker says. "We use it to monitor and alert our data centers and critical infrastructure around the world. It only gets better with age. The tools helps me sleep at night knowing that any issue will be detected and alerted. Then for the day job, it's helping us identify waste and inefficiencies."

Todd Kokoszka raved about Microsoft Azure. Kokoszka is vice president of technology at PI Worldwide, which helps companies make data-driven decisions related to hiring, developing, and deploying employees. Azure reduces PI Worldwide's reliance on infrastructure personnel, decreases the time it takes to provision and configure new servers, and integrates smoothly with its NET development, Kokoszka says.

"We are doing a complete rebuilding of our accessPI application, which is our client-facing SaaS offering that delivers behavioral science insights into an organization's employees, candidates and job positions," Kokoszka says. "Azure provides us a way to use continuous deployment while reducing the need to daisy chain a variety of build, deployment, and testing tools."

Employee monitoring software impressed Jim Beck, owner of Beck Tech Support, which offers tech support to small business and consumers.

"Our clients need the same support of larger firms but do not have the same financial depth to afford that support. That's where we come in," Beck says. "We constantly monitor new tools and solutions and offer the best of them to our clients. ActivTrak has been a boon to several of our clients by allowing them to monitor what their employees are doing without being intrusive."

Thanks to ActivTrak, one of Beck's clients found an employee trying to poach clients; another discovered an attorney was inappropriately trying to affect a settlement amount; and a film production company identified an assistant who was leaking script and shooting information. "ActivTrak puts the control in the hands of the employer and keeps the price affordable or free," Beck says.

August Azzarello, IS quality assurance engineer at The Container Store, wrote in about his favorite: AppDynamics Application Intelligence Platform, a management platform that's designed to help companies see what's going on in their application environments and take action when application performance is affecting the business.

"AppDynamics helps give us clear insight into our infrastructure(s), in both production and test environments. This allows us to more efficiently focus on performance and stability by notifying us of problem spots. More and more, we are realizing the power of AppDynamics, not only from a true production monitoring platform, but in development and test processes," Azzarello says. "Simple implementation of alerting, instant increased knowledge of our infrastructure and application performance, and visual dashboards for every type of audience make it a complete solution."

Similarly, Jan Swaelens shared his experience with Dynatrace application performance management.

"I am especially fond of Dynatrace because it gives us a crystal clear view of what is happening to not only our application but the complete landscape of our deployments -- and in addition to that a view of what the actual (real) user perceives at his end (which is the ultimate point of a commercial application -- making the end user happy and productive)," says Swaelens, software architect and member of the solution management team at Sofico, which develops software for car leasing, fleet management and mobility companies.

Sofico has been using Dynatrace for three years. "During that period of time it helped us to identify several problems in our application(s) which we would have never known about otherwise, for example complex sync issues causing slowdowns and certain excessive SQL executions which overloaded the database for no good reason," Swaelens says.

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