Achieving End-to-End Management

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - Once upon a time, the network world stood distinctly separate from software and computer system administration. E-commerce has changed that in one swift stroke, requiring a new breed of business-savvy IT managers with responsibility for just about everything running end-to-end throughout an infrastructure.

As emerging e-commerce technology changes the face, functionality, and business requirements of the operating system, CTOs are trying to determine what best answers their organization's needs: the enterprisewide scalability and support of the "giant" platform-management vendors, or focused point products from lesser-known network management vendors.

An increasingly diverse vendor market is reflecting e-commerce's push of immediate availability and performance now being tied to correcting specific networking problems, says Caryn Gilooly, an analyst at Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"Companies that were networking companies are now calling themselves e-business infrastructure management companies," Gilooly says. "People don't want the monolith [solution] anymore, but they don't want the point products either.

They want bundles to meet their specific e-business model needs."

Recent acquisitions, such as MissionCritical's purchase of traditional networking vendor Ganymede Software Inc., and performance management company Concord Communications' purchase of FirstSense, signals a move toward a "package" strong mentality by less visible vendors to address customers' changing needs.

Perhaps the most crucial of the evolving business needs is maintaining a 24-hour, 7-day a week presence on the Web.

Prudential Corporation Technology Services has discovered that operating an IT department in the Internet Age is a far cry from the old days of managing only a few e-mail or file-system servers behind company doors.

"Our users used to be our employees, [but] now that's extended to our customers. They can see every outage we take [and] we can't afford that," says Art Garcia, vice president and systems engineer at Prudential, in Roseland, New Jersey.

Prudential uses the Tivoli framework as its enterprise system for distributed and mainframe environments. It also incorporates Hewlett-Packard Co. OpenView for centralized viewing capabilities.

Garcia hopes to implement a product that can conduct automated root-cause analysis along the path of a transaction for customer account management. He admitted that integration issues are a big concern when dealing with a large framework-based infrastructure.

However, worrying about the long-term effects of bringing products into a framework may be unnecessary, says Ray Paquet, vice president of Systems and Network Management at Gartner, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Integration may be the single most overused and misunderstood word in the IT world," Paquet says. "Integration should not be viewed as a technology problem; it's a process problem. IT has to become more business savvy."

Paquet says too many CTOs and their companies worry about "cannibalizing their young," and therefore get locked into five-year plans which offer little return if and when technology's maturation rate renders a system obsolete.

With that in mind, many system administrators have begun to step away from the ambiguity and ongoing developmental issues a large framework can bring, says Mike Calnes, a network design engineer at Williams Communications, in Houston.

Brian Burba, Concord's vice president of product marketing, admits his company can't compete with the software distribution clout of many of the high-profile vendors, but he says it doesn't really have to.

"The platforms were somewhat hamstrung by efforts to make their basic capabilities of mapping scaled," Burba says. "We want to make sure you can jump in to our tool and get data out even if you started with something else. We're more practical."

"I think it's much easier to go with the smaller tools, primarily because the frameworks require much more development," agrees Concord customer and Unix platform user Calnes. "Validating what the solution provides goes way beyond what it's going to cost because there's more complexity in the back end of e-commerce."

Point solutions that offer the immediate capability of carrying out the most fundamental event management on Web servers and applications are gaining momentum. However, the sheer numbers of the installed base that rely on frameworks should not be underestimated.

Computer Associates, for example, is trying to make its software more attractive to the e-commerce enterprise by installing individual pieces of its flagship platform management product Unicenter TNG for customers, says Alan Anderson, CA vice president of Desktop and Server Management.

Anderson says the "out-of-the-box" customer experience to install and manage Unicenter TNG has improved dramatically over the last few years.

"There were a lot of stories a couple of years back where only 35 or 50 percent of implementations were pulled off," Anderson says. "This is going well, now."

Management of new technology such as that of handheld and palm devices can be easily plugged in to existing desktops as normal software distribution of the extended infrastructure, Anderson added.

Stephen Swanson, Technical Operations Manager for the Colorado Department of Human Services, in Denver, says his agency has used Unicenter TNG for over three years.

Swanson says the centralized framework's flexibility features and "best practices" support services by CA -- which has involved a few on-site visits for implementation assistance by the company -- have been crucial.

"We have to be very innovative [in] how we provide support for increased technology on the desktop, new software, and increased user demands," Swanson says. "We want to use technology to support technology."

The future of solving network management interoperability issues could lie within a company's very e-business infrastructure. CTOs and other company decision-makers should be on the lookout for technology that is capable of drawing a direct correlation between the actions of an IT staff and a working business plan, and vice versa.

"If you could correlate peaks and spikes and understand what dollars were pushed through which transactions, the IT staff will begin to do business-impact analysis," says analyst Steve Foote, CEO of Enswers.com, in Boston.

HP OpenView -- a favorite among network administrators because of its management platform "building block" attributes, including installation ease and extensibility -- offers HP OpenView VantagePoint to address the enterprise dilemma.

HP OpenView VantagePoint, which runs on Unix or Microsoft Windows NT/2000, is a suite of business-centric IT management products designed to translate business services through three models of intelligence: Instant Intelligence, Active Intelligence, and Business Driven Intelligence. The models examine visibility, problem notification and solving, and business rules, respectively.

However, a plethora of information is only useful if it can be correctly applied to a company's overall business plan. E-business models are no different.

E-commerce may not show any signs of slowing down, but CTOs still should not feel pressured to succeed now at the sacrifice of an unpredictable future, particularly when it comes to the backbone of their operation. Keeping a watchful eye on the changes in the industry and possessing enough flexibility to implement new features or technologies should lead to a stable management system, both in and out of the digital landscape.

E-mail Brian Fonseca (brian_fonseca@infoworld.com) regarding this article.

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