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May 14, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:36pm

OUT OF THE BOILER ROOM

By CBR Staff Writer

From Computer Business Review, a sister publication.

Bob LaBant, chief operating officer of systems management tools vendor Candle, is stripping off his overalls. Until recently, he says, his company was in the plumbing business: Candle’s roots are in the boiler room, working out which pipe is connected to which pipe. Now, he says, a shift in the company’s focus has Candle’s executives climbing back into business suits. We’re coming out of the boiler room into the sunlight, he says, we need to move differently, think differently. Systems management has typically been perceived as an unglamorous area of the software market, the domain of ‘back room boys’ whose chief concern is with keeping the technology infrastructure up and running. But now the back room boys are moving in to the board room and discussing the business processes of the enterprise. But the growing complexity of distributed computing architectures is causing companies to reconsider the way they approach systems management.

By Jessica Twentyman

Because of the number of disparate applications and platforms involved, interoperability and interdependencies have become major issues for IS managers. If a problem arises with a specific business application, the systems administrator could be forced to monitor every level of the architecture – such as operating systems, databases, routers and hubs – in order to locate and identify the source of the problem. This can put strain on time and resources; There are just too many moving parts, says Martin Neath, senior vice president of product development and support at Tivoli Systems, the systems management software company bought last year by IBM for $743 million. The answer, say analysts, is to look at systems management from a business process or application perspective. The goal is to tie systems management reporting to the application level, rather than segmenting it into network, system, database and so on, they argue. Systems are only as good as the business objectives they meet … The business person wants to know why payroll processing is down today, not which router has failed, points out Yogesh Gupta, vice president for the Unicenter systems management framework at Computer Associates. By tying systems management in with applications, it is easier to get business answers to business questions, he says. The Meta Group forecasts that, by 1999, the majority of IT organizations within the world’s 2000 largest companies will align systems management with functional processes rather than technology domains to deliver IT services to lines of business.

Single entity

As a result, systems management vendors are developing open, cross-platform software which allows systems administrators to treat each mission-critical business application as a single entity. IBM/Tivoli and CA are the leaders in the area of systems management frameworks. Tivoli’s TME and CA Unicenter TNG have shifted emphasis away from systems infrastructures to business applications. Both allow users to build logical views that show the cluster of systems involved in a specific application. In the event of an application failure, the system administrator is able to click on an icon representing that application and subsequently drill down to locate the trouble spot. Without this logical view, systems managers must examine multiple levels of the IT infrastructure – such as hard drive space availability or CPU utilization – and draw a conclusion about the nature of the problem based on their understanding of how such components relate to the performance of a business process. In spite of a similar philosophy, the approach of the two companies is very different. Tivoli provides a framework and a range of proprietary programs which run on the master infrastructure. It also has agreements with third-party players, such as Compuware and Candle, which provide Tivoli-certified solutions that can operate within this framework. With CA Unicenter TNG, systems management tools are supplied as part of the package. Debate over the merits and drawbacks of each approach is ongoing. Analysts praise Tivoli’s best-of-breed approach, which offers users the flexibility to choose the most appropriate tools for their business, but point out the difficulties of achieving adequate integration between so-called ‘point’ solutions. CA Unicenter TNG, they say, offers the advantage of a single solution, but users may be reluctant to find themselves locked into a single- vendor product. However, the situation is becoming more complicated as CA steps up its efforts to open up Unicenter to third-party development by publishing the application programming interfaces (APIs). The third leading vendor in this area, Hewlett-Packard, has a similar approach with its systems management platform, OpenView. In March, it launched the HP OpenView IT service Management Initiative, an overhaul of its formerly disparate programs for systems managment, network management, outsourcing and consulting. In addition to the systems management platform vendors, a number of point solution providers are tailoring their products to support ‘business process views’. Data management specialist BMC Software is at the forefront of this movement. There is no point in managing your network and systems well if your applications are all over the floor, says Andy Smith of BMC. The company is working with applications software vendors to cooperatively link their applications to its systems management product, Patrol. It already offers Knowledge Modules – libraries of management knowledge which reside on the local Patrol repository – for SAP R/3, Oracle Financials and Lotus Notes, and also for non- standard, in-house applications. Negotiations with leading software vendors, Baan and PeopleSoft, are in progress, according to Kirril Tatarinov, vice president of R&D at BMC. Candle, which made its name in mainframe performance monitoring, marked its 20th birthday last year with a shift in emphasis to focus on the business process and application life cycle. The strategy, says CEOAubrey Chernick, reflects the new realities of commerce, competitiveness and information technologies.

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New technologies are key to providing full end-to-end management of applications, and the use of intelligent agents is at the forefront of R&D. BMC uses intelligent agents which are posted on all management servers and places sensors in the software to set off alarms when pre-set thresholds are contravened. Currently, a systems administrator must respond to these alerts and correct the fault manually. For the future, BMC is promising intelligent agents which will detect and correct faults themselves. CA is also looking into ‘self-learning technology’, already used in help desk software, which can point out problems and suggest corrective measures based on previous experience. Collaborative research projects with several US universities are already underway, with a view to incorporating this technology into CA Unicenter in early 1998. Yogesh Gupta of CA affirms that self- healing systems are the way to go, but analysts believe that this aim is unrealistic in the short-term. Self-healing is perfectly natural in the light of the cost of systems management, says Cappelli of Ovum, but it is very much in the future. Today, says Ray Fielding of consultancy OSI, Intelligent agents are only as intelligent as the person that programs them. There is also much interest in developing ways to provide systems management over the internet or a corporate intranet. BMC offers a web-based reporting product called Patrol Watch, and Cabletron has added a web-based view of alarms and reports to its Spectrum platform. CA-Unicenter, says Gupta, allows users to report systems failures to their IS departments through its Advanced Help Desk component, and will offer full web-based management by the end of 1997. However, security remains a major issue, with many IS managers reluctant to extend control and management systems to the web. The prospect of unauthorized access to a systems management command center is too horrifying and web-based technology is still considered by many to be too immature to support mission-critical applications. The leading business application providers, however, are putting increasing emphasis on producing easily-managed products. To some extent, this shift is being driven by users. The cost of implementation has brought home the importance to users of running the installed application smoothly, says Susan Kahles, director of marketing for the fast expanding systems management software supplier, Platinum Software. As a result, the leaders in this sector – such as SAP, Baan and PeopleSoft – are collaborating with systems management vendors to achieve improved levels of integration. According to Tom Scholtz, program director in services and systems management strategies at market analysts Meta Group, SAP is currently ahead of the pack in forming partnerships with the leading systems management tools vendors. Fielding of OSI agrees that application software companies are becoming more aware of management issues, but warns that vendors have never regarded systems management as their remit, and are so far proving slow to adapt to the new trend. Their software was never built with applications management in mind, he says, so persuading them to build links [with systems management packages] will be a long path. As yet, few vendors provide application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow third-party management tools to look inside the code of an application and assess performance. Analysts argue that the biggest shift in attitude towards the management of mission-critical applications must come from within organizations themselves. The main obstacle between where we are now and the nirvana of business-oriented views is not technological capability but the ability of the IS organization to adapt itself to a new way of thinking, claims Saverio Merlo of Boole & Babbage, another supplier of systems management tools. One consequence of this is that organizations may need to develop closer alliances between business managers and the IS department. Operational decisions about a company’s technology infrastructure will continue to be made by IS managers, says Gupta of CA, but business managers will need to become more involved in outlining their departmental requirements. In addition, IS personnel will need a far greater understanding of their corporation, and the fundamental business processes that run the enterprise. The IS manager who deals solely with technical issues is now an endangered species, say analysts. There is real value to be gained for IS executives, say analysts. IS departments have traditionally been considered ‘loss-making’ units, and viewed separately from the rest of the enterprise. By closely linking systems management with business applications, the IS manager is presented with the opportunity to clearly define the benefits that the IS department affords business as a whole. The major benefit of linking systems management with the business processes of an enterprise, according to analysts, is that it allows the corporation to quantify and evaluate the return on investment it is receiving from its computing architecture. With a large framework, it is often hard to see the return on investment, agrees Tatarinov of BMC, Solutions for specific business applications make it easier for managers to demonstrate to the corporation that they’ve succeeded in making the business run. Ian Meakin, product marketing manager with Compuware agrees that the very value of IT has to be put squarely on the bottom line … we’re seeing the pinning down of IT.

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