Craig S. Mullins 

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December 1998

 
Computing News&Review
 
Managing and Improving the IT Infrastructure
By Craig S. Mullins
 
In the past decade information technology has evolved from mainframe-only computing to complex, highly distributed computer systems that span every desktop and department — across multiple regions, countries, and even continents. Distributed computing provides many benefits, including the flexibility to select any number of platforms, domains, tools, and network configurations. But along with these benefits come significant challenges, such as the inherent complexities of distributed environments and the lack of compatibility and integration between software tools and platforms. Just maintaining the current enterprise environment has stretched the budgets and resources of most IT organizations.
 
Implementing, managing, and maintaining a complex IT infrastructure spread throughout the globe is a daunting task. For the purposes of this article consider the IT infrastructure to be all of the physical things required to enable the IT shop to function. At the highest level this is your applications, databases, desktops, networks, and servers. These things, operating together, create your IT infrastructure. Now, stop and think for minute: How do you manage these things? Is there a blueprint for tying them together? Who knows how it all fits together? When you change one thing, does it impact another?
 
A Lack of Integration
Actually, it's quite a bowl of spaghetti we've created, isn't it? Most IT organizations have chosen among numerous, limited, freestanding management options to manage the enterprise. The DBAs use multiple tools to manage the databases, and even those tools are not integrated. One tool reorganizes the database, another manages the database structures, and yet another one monitors the database kernel and the SQL issued against it. And the system administrators use a different toolset for managing the performance of the operating systems than the DBAs use to monitor the databases.
 
Down the hall, the security group uses several different tools for creating and managing login ids: one for AIX, another for Windows NT, still another on the mainframe, and, oh yes, the DBAs still manage database security.
 
And when you need to get a job scheduled to run, there are those folks in the operations center who need that form filled out before it can be run on the mainframe. Those AIX folks just use cron and the NT folks haven't got a clue.
 
When new software needs to be rolled out what do you do? The days of taking a diskette from office to office or cube to cube are over. No, today we just email a directive with an attachment. Or, maybe we just point folks to a location on the network or over the web to download the change and let them manage it. And how do we inform the help desk of changes to the environment so those folks can be better prepared to handle problems? Usually, an independent problem resolution tool is deployed.
 
Although each of these point solutions answered a specific need, all have different interfaces, different development cycles, different management techniques, and no way to clearly view all activities from a central console. Then along came the framework.
 
With the advent of framework technology, managers had to choose between frameworks and point products. In the case of frameworks, they also had to sacrifice tool functionality in order to get an integrated solution. Additionally, no one vendor provided all of the tools that plug into the framework. No, you plugged away for a year or two to get the framework up and running without any (or limited) tool functionality. And then you were handed a list of compatible tools from multiple vendors. Well, lo' and behold, each tool integrates to the framework differently, at different levels, and still providing only limited integration.
 
The Mini-Suite Approach
The problem is as old as the hills. So old in fact, that there is a sort of proverb about it: "the right hand should know what the left hand is doing." So, what is the answer? What users need is a no-compromise approach to managing and improving the IT infrastructure. One that eliminates the tradeoffs described above and provides truly integrated, robust tools for managing all of the key components of your enterprise: your applications, databases, desktops, networks, and servers.
 
The tool must be able to manage all of the key components of your IT infrastructure, but should also provide the following features:
  • Uses a set of common services to share data and communicate about critical system events.
  • Uses a common user interface that can be personalized based upon the responsibilities of an operator, administrator, or analyst.
  • Works in a heterogeneous environment with multiple operating systems, networking protocols, and relational database management systems.
  • Can stand alone, without a framework, but is designed to be easily deployed within frameworks such as Tivoli TME and HP OpenView.
It is also critical that the solution uses a component-based approach that allows users to purchase and implement the tool(s) needed to solve their immediate critical problems, while at the same time maintaining future flexibility. This enables managers to buy tools incrementally as needed to solve today's business problems. Then, as their needs change, additional tools can be purchased and automatically integrated with existing tools.
 
Often times, this is referred to as the mini-suite approach. It is the best way to implement enterprise management for your IT infrastructure because it gives you what you need, when you need it, while being flexible for the future.
 
Summary
Effective IT and service level management is an essential element for organizations to gain a competitive edge into the next millennium. But while the need for improved productivity has increased, so has the need for cost reduction. Therefore, automation and end user proficiency are primary goals of most IT shops. The mini-suite approach to enterprise management can help achieve these goals and ensure the success of your IT initiatives.
 
We all realize that computers support the complex work of skilled people by taking care of the minute details automatically. Whether the mission is building new applications or managing routine, but complex operations, users need solutions that automate processes and optimize the performance of system resources. Enterprise management products are required to automate operations, ensure availability, and streamline development, allowing computers — and people — to do what they do best. And the mini-suite approach delivers the best bang for your limited buck.
 
From Computing News&Review,
December 1998.
 
1999 Mullins Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.
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