Tame that beast

A four-headed hydra lurking in the hallway would give most people sleepless nights. Such a creature - insatiable, unpredictable, and dangerous - is likened to the challenge of managing your organisation's IT infrastructure in this supplement's cover story.

It's fair to say that after years of being promised automated nirvana, IT managers are highly sceptical about the capacity of modern IT infrastructure to run itself. There is a way to go. Pressure points include system misconfigurations, growing network traffic, escalating storage demands, change management and security breaches, to name a few. Failure (or perceived failure) results in calls to help desk, system crashes and, ultimately, can have a catastrophic impact on the business. Consider the Australian Stock Exchange's never-fail imperative.

Much has advanced in recent years, but limitations with management tools and systems remain in areas of standards, interoperability, predictive analysis for early warning, usability and in the meshing of management tools with business realities (such as the ability to know what's really important).

Whiz-bang tools are unlikely to replace human expertise, but least the right choices can help alleviate some of the stress. Dennis Drogseth, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, says the moment of truth seems to come for many users when the software tools can successfully automate problem diagnostics 70 per cent of the time or better. At this performance level, benefits accrue in smoother running networks, better service levels, and reduced staff requirements. Below this level, according to Drogseth, and the administrative overhead of using the tools can outweigh the return on investment. Such automation is partly achieved through event correlation and root cause analysis tools, but as managers such as Cathy Bibby, National Foods' CIO, lament, the cost of the high-end gear can go beyond what's a realistic investment for a mid-sized Australian organisation.

Manageability - a constant strain, but try not to stress too much about it.

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