Two Slices From the Same Pie

Managing Networks and Managing Application<@VM>What is Application Management?<@VM>What is Network Management?<@VM>Out of the Box<@VM>Getting Proactive

By Heather Hayes

Managing networks and managing applications, once seen as two separate tasks, now are being tackled as related parts of the same problem.

The change in approach is forging a new way of thinking about information technology management and services that is yielding impressive savings in trouble-shooting time and operations costs.

"You're seeing the health of your infrastructure as a whole rather than two separate pieces," said Trent Waterhouse, director of product marketing for Aprisma Management Technologies, a Durham, N.H.-based provider of a service management tool suite known as Spectrum. "As you grow, your infrastructure or the bandwidth demands on it start to increase. You're able to see the impact across all the pieces of the infrastructure, not just one section of it."

The trend towards this one-view, synergistic approach to enterprise management, in addition to saving time and money, promises to improve the tracking of end-to-end performance, which will aid the growth of service level agreements within government agencies.

What's more, the new trend is growing rapidly, as evidenced by recent moves by various management firms to acquire the complementary proficiencies they need to provide a suite of tools that can provide an integrated network, application and systems management capability, according to Gerald Murphy, vice president of global networking strategies at Meta Group, a IT research group in Stamford, Conn.

For example, Concord Communications, a Marlboro, Mass., firm that has historically stuck to making software that monitors networks, recently acquired Empire Technologies Inc., which specializes in products that monitor applications and servers in real time, and FirstSense, a provider of application and service response applications.

Meanwhile, NetScout Systems Inc., a network and application management firm in Westford, Mass., acquired NextPoint Networks, a developer of performance and service level solutions.

Other companies making similar moves into this new arena, one that promises IT personnel a better sense of how network, system and application performance are interrelated, include BMC Software Inc., Houston; Micromuse Inc., San Francisco; NetIQ Corp., San Jose, Calif.; Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif.; Tivoli Systems Inc., Austin, Texas.; and Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y.

"Larger companies are definitely looking for that company or companies that offer some complementary domain of this experience, and all of them are trying to provide those different pieces in an integrated fashion," said Murphy. "The reality is that today, no one company has an integrated solution, because they're still pretty much point solutions that work separately. But they're all moving in that direction."

Why is this marriage of management tools taking place now? Experts note that a number of factors are coming together at the same time to drive this growing junction.

Not surprisingly, the one that tops the list is the increasingly critical nature of networks to daily operations. Most IT personnel today strive for zero downtime, but Waterhouse noted that even the new nature of network problems is adding to the need for better ways to manage nodes and servers.

"It used to be in days gone by, things were always breaking," he said. "But with modern design techniques and modern fault-tolerant architectures, we're not seeing things breaking as much as we're seeing them slow down."

And the impact of such a slowdown can be just as devastating, he said, especially for mission-critical applications, such as a battlefield ground simulation, or e-government applications, such as citizens using the Social Security Administration homepage to obtain information about their benefits.

Recent studies from GartnerGroup Inc., an IT research firm in Stamford, Conn., concluded that users will wait only about eight seconds for a Web site to pop up. If it doesn't, they assume it's broken and move on.

On top of just wanting to keep things running smoothly, organizations' IT operations also are looking for ways to better use networks to make supply chains and other critical operations faster.

"People are starting to realize that, depending on how you write it, the application is going to have a major impact on how it works in your network infrastructure," said Murphy. "It's no longer just an issue of adding bandwidth to solve the problem."

In short, applications are becoming increasingly critical, especially as organizations begin to make their businesses accessible to customers and other business partners through the Web.

"You have to look at and understand how all this stuff works together," Murphy said.

Another driver is the government's increasing flirtation with seat management and application service providers, as well as traditional outsourcing.

A consolidated management platform that offers visibility into the full spectrum of services provides a significant advantage for managing service level agreements, said Jon Marcy, business development manager for Verizon Federal Network Systems, a provider of integrated networks solutions in Washington.

"SLAs have a lot of interdependencies," he said. "The application is dependent on the computer, which is in turn dependent on the network. When you're responsible for end-to-end service, you've got to be able to get that consolidated view."

Integrating different management functions offers some pretty dramatic benefits as well. For starters, there are potentially large cost savings. The GartnerGroup recently estimated the one-view approach to network and systems management can save an organization up to $96 per PC per year in operational costs.

Then there's the decrease in troubleshooting time. The average IT shop spends 65 percent of its time maintaining the status quo, according to Infonetics Research, a market research and consulting firm in San Jose, Calif., that covers the networking and telecommunications industries. With a single view of the enterprise, IT workers can pinpoint potential problems more quickly and avoid the typical finger-pointing that goes on when two separate departments are involved.

One of Aprisma's clients, a large automobile manufacturer, has been able to reduce its average trouble-shooting time from four hours to five minutes through the integration of network and system management data, Waterhouse said.

"Those kinds of time and cost savings are pretty hard for an organization to pass on, especially when it costs relatively little to implement this type of solution," he said.

Another major benefit is improved service.

Dean Mericka, a regional manager for BMC Software, noted that individual components of an infrastructure by themselves can measure high numbers for availability and performance. But oftentimes the sum of the whole does not equal ? and is often considerably less than ? the sum of the parts. With an integrated approach, that problem is solved.

When organizations fuse these management products together, they can look at the availability and performance of these service level components in their entirety, not just as individual parts.

"That's because that's how the customers and users look at it," Mericka said. "A commander in the field doesn't care if it's a router problem or a server problem. He just knows that the application is experiencing problems."

Mericka said the integrated approach also helps deal with the confusion and stress that comes when IT personnel wear multiple hats, one minute acting as a network manager, the next as an applications guru, the next as a database expert. By looking at the infrastructure through a single console, the complexities and training requirements tend to become much simpler.

For all of its benefits, implementing a consolidated management solution and getting the most out of it requires some nimble footwork on the part of systems integrators.

"The integrator is really key in this environment," said Mericka.

"Although the technology issues are not that challenging, companies in this space need integrators who have expertise with all the products that are out there, and the objectivity to select the most appropriate technologies and pull everything into one single best-of-breed solution, he said.

For example, Logicon/Data Corp., an integrator partner of BMC Software, has constructed a solution comprised of HP OpenView, BMC Patrol, and Remedy technology and is now selling it as a single, seamless solution.

Still, technology is the least of an integrator's worries. Dealing with the cultural fallout of a drastically new way of doing business represents the biggest challenge to an integrator, Waterhouse said.

As this technology delivers the ability to unify the network operations and applications, integrators need to give each group involved their own individual view and individual control. At that point, a significant question needs to be asked: Which one stands at the top of the management hierarchy now?

"In the past, these were two peer organizations. Now you've got to figure out who takes the lead, and that can be a real problem if it's not handled deftly," Waterhouse said.

To guard against skepticism, resentment and outright rebellion, he suggested implementing a practical guideline: The group responsible for interacting with the users the most becomes the one responsible for the overall IT service experience and usually benefits most from a unified view across the infrastructure.

"Often, we're seeing the systems and applications people having the most interaction with customers and the most clout, so they're tending to take the lead. But it is an issue regardless, and you have to work with people to make sure their concerns are addressed," he said.Application management is the process
of distributing, managing and maintaining software programs, from Microsoft Office to mission-critical applications. Network management is the process of managing connections that exist between computers. This includes installation, administration and maintenance of the network operating system, cables, servers, routers and wide-area networks, as well as printers and other peripherals.By Heather Hayes

With government agencies increasingly targeting network management as a prime candidate for offsite outsourcing, integrators and firms in the business need to be prepared for what are clearly unique demands.

"Our studies are showing that schools are now graduating 180,000 less people per year than is needed for information technology," said Gerald Murphy, vice president of global networking strategies for the Meta Group, an IT research firm in Stamford, Conn. "So as networks get more and more complicated, we have fewer and fewer skilled people to run them. It's a real problem."

The solution is to outsource IT functions to organizations that can use bulk business to leverage personnel, bandwidth and other resources. The challenge with government agencies, said Mac Oxford, vice president of strategic development for Litton PRC Inc., a systems integrator in McLean, Va., is dealing with their historic lack of trust when it comes to relinquishing control of the network.

Oxford said new network management tools and the growing availability of more secure ways to transmit data outside the firewall, such as virtual private networks, are paving the way to more acceptance of offsite management. The keys to success, he said, are understanding, patience, a good handle on the customer's security regulations and needs, and developing a strong sense of trust between the customer and vendor.

Murphy said that the new trend will require a departure from traditional skill sets for integrators, IT consultants and in-house personnel.

"You're going from being a guru at installing and configuring a set of management applications to someone who has to understand what the business requirements are and be able to translate those into technical requirements that a service provider can use to ensure they deliver the appropriate metrics necessary," he said. "So they're becoming more requirement deliverers, project managers and contract negotiators."By Heather Hayes

Federal agencies, in desperate need of tools that can almost immediately help their information technology staffs manage infrastructure more effectively and efficiently, are quickly catching onto the idea of integrating solutions for network and applications management.

In fact, the military already is keen on the idea, with the Air Force and the Office of Naval Intelligence showing interest in the trend as a way to improve performance.

Such awareness became even more heightened this past September; the Defense Department's Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration awarded a "Gold Nugget" award to BMC Software for a solution based on various products from its Patrol family, which fuses network and server application management.

The Gold Nugget is a recognition of systems that are low cost, low risk, meet an immediate warfighter need and can be delivered within six months.

The BMC solution "gives us an ability to be proactive rather than reactive in the monitoring of our networks," said Col. James Dowis, director of Joint Project Office at the interoperability demonstration. "I've been a deputy communications group commander with a network operations center under me, and if I'd had this solution out in the field, it would have solved a lot of our headaches."

The biggest benefit is the ability to see sniff out problems with application servers and other components before they affect network performance. "It allows us to be more automated and keep the flow of information to the warfighter constant," Dowis said.

Because representatives of each military service participate in the interoperability demonstration, an exercise held every two years to find more effective technologies for the warfighter, Dowis said he expects the consolidated management approach to take off within the Department of Defense.

Network downtime can be virtually eliminated through the marriage of network and application management tools, he said. Thus, the approach "will rapidly improve the military's ability to make informed and timely decisions," he said.

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