IT Support News

Systems management tools

Rising to meet changing business needs 

By Mary Raitt Jordan

In the wake of the dot-com meltdown on Wall Street, those in the systems management software market say a phoenix is rising out of the ashes. Phenomenal business growth opportunities are being experienced by those who offer ailing or budget-stricken companies the solace of smarter, more cost-efficient software and services to stay on top of the critical networks vital to healthy e-business initiatives.

David Hochhauser, VP of marketing infrastructure solutions at Computer Associates (CA), says his sources peg the infrastructure management market at $30 billion this year, and that is expected to soar to $60 billion by 2005. To him, what is happening is that the industry is leaping into a new era of e-business. Companies are evolving beyond a simple Web page and are no longer just satisfied with getting a handle on databases. Now firms are digging in deep to integrate all aspects and procedures embedded in their business, from suppliers and beyond.

"It is hard to find boundaries of the enterprise. The circle is expanding outward," Hochhauser says. "Companies need managed services from business to business. It's leading to an explosive demand."

CA itself is firing its engines on many fronts in enterprise, security and storage management areas. Hochhauser says CA had a massive change in its offerings recently, re-architecting a family of solutions and now offering more than 30 choices in six areas to cater to individual needs. Hochhauser says another area drawing CA's interest is in the area of Web services. Conductivity and management of services in the Microsoft .NET and Java worlds will be developed. Questions will be in integrating core processes automatically, in real time.

Tom Hickman, senior product manager at Connected, agrees the growth is dynamic. His company has seven new investors and doubled both its customer base and the number of employees in one year. It just released Connected TLMs 6.0 with an enhanced PC migration function, in addition to its back-up/retrieval, system heal, auditing and remote assist capabilities.

Hochhauser says statistics point to almost all companies declaring business over the Internet is, or will be, a core area for growth in goods and services. Yet many still have to adapt to the new venue, and with growth comes pain.

Three major headaches businesses encounter hover around managing extended enterprises (including wireless and remote issues); soaring customer expectations with e-business; costs associated with keeping applications up and running 24x7; and dealing with shortened time frames for deployment, a.k.a. running on "Internet time." Mark Lowe, CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based New Moon Systems, adds there is also the standard concern to reduce help desk and PC support costs.

Sources say all of this is to be done with smaller budgets and staff, with the goal of saving more money by gaining efficiency. Hickman says the "irrational exuberance" in the prior software craze is being tempered. CFOs have erased discretionary spending for IT projects and any project usually has to have a model to prove it will save money in a calendar year.

"Just because companies cut back on IT spending doesn't mean the workload is getting any lighter," says Rick McNees, VP of marketing at Tempe, Ariz.-based iTRACS, an infrastructure management software provider. "Customers are watching cash management closely and doing some belt-tightening to be sure. There are staff cutbacks, leaving those who remain to work smarter and harder. The stress on IT is that people have to do more with less and there is continued demand."

iTRACS signed a deal with CA to integrate its solution with CA's Unicenter to provide a better systems management solution. McNees says 70 percent of LAN problems and technical outages are related to cabling. He additionally quotes a Gartner study, which he says points to 59 percent of networking problems being related to physical infrastructure issues. He says iTRACS gets down to the physical layer with cabling to probe and monitor any changes in connections to pinpoint a problem-very handy to deal with when there are thousands of ports in remote locations, or in huge environments like bank buildings. Any changes within the cables can be configured to a customer's request and escalated to appropriate action.

Customers have plenty of standard and evolving demands on systems management software. Sources say customers look for help in job scheduling, service level management requests, and keeping applications running seamlessly. There is also a distinct need for data protection.

Hickman says the Windows 2000 migration may have been for some the most difficult software deployment en masse, starting first with the servers. Now, he says, 50-66 percent of U.S. enterprises will make a big push in desktop/laptop migrations in the coming months.

Those migrations must happen quickly since the workforce predominantly relies on their PCs. Any downtime is a loss of productivity to the enterprise, and help desks are not always the speediest of solutions. More and more companies are turning to enhanced, automated software for saving time and making life easier.

According to Hickman, one pilot migration Connected did illustrated that a typical four-hour migration with one IT person could be reduced to 30 minutes. Further studies he reviewed pointed to a 30 to 50 percent savings by a migration taking place with sufficient software, compared to being done manually.

"Root-cause analysis is a fun, intellectual process. But the quickest, easiest way to get a system back up and running will mean the most to our customers. Who cares what broke? It's more important to get it fixed immediately. The user can often initiate the solution themselves. We take the diagnosis phase out of the loop for them," says Hickman.

Buying what you need

Since some companies suffer from resource constraints more than others, software providers have adapted by offering modularized stand-alone offerings so people can buy what they need as they can afford it.

Often the ROI is fairly quick, sources say. CA had one customer that achieved an ROI in 55 days. Companies say managing a system centrally contains much of the cost since help doesn't have to be dispatched to far-flung locations and satellite offices.

Chanchal Samanta, CTO at Cambridge, Mass-based Availant, a provider of availability management software and services, says in systems management people are funding solutions that are not exactly meeting their needs. Many buy blind.

"There are a lot of players, it can be expensive to buy, improvements can be marginal, and in some cases it can make the support people work harder," says Samanta.

Samanta says Availant's customers wanted something easy to use and effective at meeting SLAs. Availant offered an automated solution right out of the box. The product can observe the system internally and apply proactive corrective action and notification.

In July, Availant announced the completion of a joint software engineering effort with IBM for the development of the latest release of High Availability Cluster Multi-Processing (HACMP)
for AIX. Since 1990, Availant and IBM have been engaged in a technology partnership for design and development of HACMP for AIX, IBM's high-availability clustering software.

Dalle Allaire, director of strategic communication, SilverBack Technologies

Cost is truly a consideration for some, says Dale Allaire, director of strategic communication at SilverBack Technologies, a Billerica, Mass-based management software and service provider that integrates network, systems and application monitoring software into its solution, InfoCare. SilverBack is also a founding member of the MSP Association, an international industry consortium formed to define, shape and promote the emerging managed network services sector to aid in accelerating the adoption of MSPs.

Allaire says InfoCare helps mid-sized enterprises manage IT computing environments, avoid downtime, and provide service by delivering information on faults, assets, performance and security across networks, systems and applications. "It's a software solution with a service component," says Allaire.

The problem, according to Allaire, is that some customers do not have the resources, or skill sets, to get the job done. Quoting a META Group study, he says for every $1 spent in software there is an estimated $3.50 spent in deployment costs.

Silverback's software and tools are in an appliance that is placed in the data center. It can assess information to front-line network managers, planners and executive management via a Web-based portal.

"Companies need a proactive alert system that knows things are about to keel over before they do," says Allaire. "From our data center we are a big eye, an umbilical cord to feed and update."

Bob Thaler, director of product marketing at Nashua-N.H.-based Open Software Associates, a player in the software management and distribution space, says customers should not necessarily have to buy new software and hardware to solve problems. He says OSA's netDeploy Global can lay applications on top of existing ones. He says an ROI in one case occurred in 13 days and the customer was saving money in 30 days. That can happen by OSA's asset tracking, reporting and management capabilities. It assesses what applications are being used and how frequently-even by remote and mobile users.

"One software application might cost $39 and there may be 1,000 users, but a big chunk of the budget is licensing and penalties. Companies should pay for what they need to be current and useful, but cut extraneous costs," says Thaler.

To New Moon's Lowe, if costs can be reduced, money is then made more available to customers to funding special projects. Even though overall IT budgets are about the same as last year (or a little more), roughly 80 percent sustain IT operations and 20 percent go to special projects, according to Lowe.

To that end, New Moon released New Moon Canaveral iQ, an application management platform that allows enterprises and service providers to distribute and manage Windows-based applications. Canaveral can tackle and track costly and time-consuming issues like upgrades, software licensing agreements and piracy issues, among other things.

The University of Calgary, which spends upward of $1 million a year in software, was one beta tester to reap the rewards of Canaveral. Through its use, Dean Berschl from the school was able to deploy and manage application services from a centralized IT infrastructure to reduce costs and maintenance by streamlining administrative operations.

Berschl says via Canaveral, software can now be distributed to its 55,000 full and part-time students anywhere, even on their home computers. Money at the school was tight, he said, and adding more machines to the existing 1,500 was not an option. Students were forced to wait an hour or more to use them. Now students can log in and get what they need in terms of software, and the school can meet its educational objective without a large capital outlay.




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