Seams Can Show When Moving to an Open System

Seams Can Show Seams Can Show Open System

By Jon William Toigo



Like many other areas in the information technology sector, the market for open systems management products has been bullish for many years and continues to grow rapidly.

Yet some agencies have found that switching from mainframe computing systems to open system platforms does not always lead to the Promised Land.

Over the years, open systems computing platforms, which are basically networks of mini-computers running Unix, OpenVMS, Windows NT Server or several other server operating systems, have been proffered by vendors as a much cheaper substitute for mainframe computing platforms.

Given the substantial difference in hardware acquisition costs, this argument found receptive ears in government and business alike. The result has been a mass migration to open systems computing.

However, making that move also led to the unnerving realization that these distributed platforms lacked the management capabilities taken for granted in the mainframe world. Without effective systems and applications management, "soft costs" for operating open systems computing environments over time often exceed the costs of traditional data center operations. Management deficiencies also called into question the reliability of distributed platforms and the integrity of the applications they support.

Responding to these perceived deficits, software vendors began creating single-function management tools and multifunction management frameworks to enhance the reliability and integrity of open systems platforms.

By 1998, systems management software had become a $9.7 billion market worldwide, said R. Paul Mason, vice president of infrastructure software research for International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

That boom continues. With U.S. organizations accounting for nearly 89 percent of software acquisitions, revenue from open systems management products is expected to exceed $18 billion by 2002.

According to Mason, the demand for improved systems management continues to be driven by "the need to keep business-critical applications running at peak efficiency and with high availability." Topping IDC's list of vendors of systems management products is Computer Associates International Inc. of Islandia, N.Y., with a 28 percent market share; and IBM Corp., of Armonk, N.Y., with 17 percent.

Mason said his research included "all software required to manage server and PC operations, including help-desk software, backup and restore, remote configuration and performance management." Excluded were revenues to vendors from the sale of network management software products.

Two agencies within the federal government, one an Army base and the other a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, have each made a successful switch to open systems management, according to officials at the agencies. But the road to success has not always been smooth.

While IT companies vie for market share, Linda Hogan cares most about results. Hogan is chief of enterprise computing support within the Enterprise Management Center at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Md. The Enterprise Management Center is part of the Directorate of Information Management of the Army Garrison at Aberdeen, which provides technology support for the post's 50-plus tenants, which include the Test and Evaluation Command, Ordnance Center and School, Aberdeen Test Center and the Soldier and Biological Defense Command.

As such, there is a large list of users for computer support. Aberdeen Proving Ground is the Army's oldest active proving ground, established in 1917. More than 7,600 civilians work there, and more than 4,500 military personnel are assigned there. In addition, nearly 3,000 contractor and private business employees are on the site.

According to Hogan, the Enterprise Management Center is responsible for managing more than 2,500 desktop systems in addition to more than 50 Microsoft NT, Novell NetWare and Unix servers running a broad range of critical applications for the workers at Aberdeen. The center is also responsible for mainframe operations support at the proving ground.

All had not been rosy at the post in recent years when it came to systems operations. Occasional interruptions in normal operations sometimes led to arguments and finger-pointing between systems and network managers and, more importantly to Hogan, disgruntled end users. By 1997, it was obvious that Aberdeen needed a hands-on systems management capability that provided centralized monitoring and required fewer IT staff, "a long-term issue government-wide," she said.

So officials at the Enterprise Management Center decided to act. Aberdeen considered IBM's Tivoli Systems TME/10 management framework, as well as the OpenView framework from the Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif. But the post eventually settled on Computer Associates' UnicenterTNG.

"We spent a long time looking at Tivoli. HP OpenView didn't provide all of the platform support we were looking for," Hogan said.

The Directorate of Information Management then hired an independent consultant to provide a product comparison. IBM's Tivoli and CA's UnicenterTNG were evenly matched, said Hogan, but CA won out. "The real factor was CA's pricing and support staff," she said.

In September 1998, Aberdeen purchased CA's UnicenterTNG on the General Services Administration schedule as part of a $400,000 project that included special services from the computer support company.

In late December, deployment of UnicenterTNG began. The first phase focused on the centralized management of client end stations, when Aberdeen rolled out UnicenterTNG monitoring agents, the Advanced Help Desk and the Asset Management Option to track hardware and software installed on the desktop. In addition, monitoring capabilities were installed on NT and Novell servers.

The first phase was an immediate success, according to Hogan, and continues to be so.

"Just a few days ago, we detected trouble with a printer in the garrison colonel's office. An administrator using the CA UnicenterTNG console was able to identify the printer and its location and have the problem fixed before the colonel even knew it existed," she said.

Hogan also cited the results of a recent A-76 study that favored Aberdeen's Enterprise Management Center over competitive external providers of technology management services. A-76 is an Office of Management and Budget document that dictates how agencies should look at non-core functions, such as IT, and decide whether it is better to keep the function in house or outsource it to the private sector.

Said Hogan: "We won the bid. We provide the best service for the money. UnicenterTNG helped us win."

The next phase of the systems management project begins next month. It will roll out UnicenterTNG to a dozen "Unix stovepipe systems, stand-alone systems implemented by the Army and others to do specific tasks," according to Hogan, so that their management can be integrated into the UnicenterTNG monitoring console.

Also, the product will be used to monitor and schedule crossplatform data transfers in certain mainframe applications.

The Aberdeen center now is working to exploit the "business process views" capability of the UnicenterTNG product, Hogan said.

Business process views enable administrators to define a subset of managed system resources used to support a specific business application or process. The subset is then provided in an easy-to-monitor graphical display or view that can be accessed readily by operators or end users, providing a snapshot of business process status.

"We want to use business process views to manage the service-level agreements we have with our customers," Hogan said.

International Data Corp.'s Mason believes that service-level monitoring is an increasingly important driver of the systems management software market. Organizations use service-level agreements to set the expectations of end users with respect to their performances.

"This has led to the development of a broad range of applications for performance management software tools that measure and track certain metrics" to enable strategic activities, such as capacity planning, Mason said.

IDC sees the performance management segment of the overall systems management software market as the second largest, behind server configuration and change management. In 1997, revenue from distributed performance management software sales topped $818 million. By 2003, this number will climb to more than $2.1 billion, representing a 16.1 percent annual growth rate. To John Rucker, deputy assistant chief information officer with the Veterans Health Administration in Martinsburg, W.Va., performance measurement is key to an ongoing strategy to consolidate servers distributed across approximately 150 computer rooms associated with 170 VHA hospital facilities nationwide.

Systems management has been a part of VHA's computing strategy since its inception, Rucker said. VHA early on adopted distributed computing, choosing to deploy Digital Equipment Corp.'s PDP minicomputers rather than mainframes to host hospital administration applications in the late 1970s. Over the years, VHA migrated to Digital VAX systems, then to Alpha minis in the late 1980s.

"We also deployed clustered Intel 80486 servers in 50 smaller hospitals," Rucker said.

In the early 1990s, VHA standardized on Alpha minicomputers, now owned by Compaq Computer Corp. of Houston, and "used the OpenVMS operating system for its clustering capabilities in larger hospitals and Microsoft NT Server with fail-over capability in smaller hospitals," he said.

By 1996, VHA settled on Hewlett-Packard's OpenView as the systems management framework of choice. It replaced Digital's PolyCenter management product, which had been sold to Computer Associates. Today, according to Rucker, the OpenView management console provides an integration point for other management tools that include Microsoft's Systems Management Server, used to manage the configuration of NT servers, and Santa Clara, Calif.-based NetIQ Corp.'s AppManager Suite, used to manage applications and databases.

The most recent addition to the management tool set is the performance management product, ViewPoint, from Datametrics Systems, a part of Zitel Corp., Fremont, Calif. VHA purchased the product and implementation services under an annual $19 million maintenance agreement awarded to Compaq.

ViewPoint was recommended by Compaq subcontractor InterSystems Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., according to Howard Winrow, InterSystems' federal account manager.

"It was our response to a request from the customer support team at VHA in 1998. The recommendation was based in part on the compatibility of ViewPoint with our cache database engine and application development environment and the support of the product for applications running on both NT and OpenVMS platforms," he said.

Andreas Dickaow, a product manager with InterSystems, said the choice was fortuitous. ViewPoint "collectors" track performance metrics on both applications and operating systems of a server host, he said, and "provide excellent performance with very low overhead. This data can be analyzed with ViewPoint's analysis tool to monitor live or historical performance. Historical data can be used for planning."

The planning function has proven to be of enormous value to VHA since ViewPoint was rolled out. Implementation began in March, but in midsummer, Compaq announced that it would not support future versions of Windows NT on its Alpha systems. The announcement sent the VHA "scrambling for alternatives," said Rucker.

VHA either had to re-host all NT-based systems from Alpha to Intel platforms, an extremely costly option, or consolidate smaller NT systems onto a smaller number of Alphas running OpenVMS, Rucker said. It selected the latter strategy.

"We originally acquired ViewPoint to get at a normalized method for looking at the performance of our VISTA hospital information systems, which serve about 125,000 end users. The [Department of Veterans Affairs] is divided into 22 regions with six to 10 hospitals in each region. Our plan was to set up a ViewPoint collector in each region and to get trends on application performance," Rucker said.

Now, he added, the product will provide important information to facilitate server consolidation.

That migration from NT to OpenVMS is expected to begin in March 2000, according to Dickaow.

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