Expectations drive management vendors

As business managers demand better and more reliable service from their IS shops, IS professionals will in turn lean on network and systems management vendors to help them provide those services, according to one expert.

This “squeeze on IT” is just one challenge facing systems management vendors, as e-commerce and post-Y2K projects force them and users to rethink the role of systems management in the enterprise, explained Tom Bishop, chief technology officer with Houston-based Tivoli Systems Inc., a subsidiary of IBM Corp.

Bishop made the comments during a Tivoli information briefing in Toronto last month.

Systems management, Bishop predicted, will move away from managing systems to managing applications such as e-commerce or ERP suites, and more importantly, to keeping users of those systems happy.

That’s why Tivoli recently teamed up with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based measurement software vendor Mercury Interactive Corp. to design a tool that gauges an application’s performance based on user satisfaction. “The challenge is to put [customers] back in the middle where they belong,” Bishop said.

The Web poses another challenge – and opportunity, he said. “The challenge is, how do you take the reach of your management solutions, and extend it over the Internet?” he asked.

Managing over the Web will only be part of the end-to-end management users now expect, Bishop added. They can look forward to improved management for a wide variety of devices in the extended supply chain, as well as the capability to manage other system management tools, he said.

“This is an area where we’re making good progress, but we still have a lot of work to do. We need end-to-end management of the application stack, knowing what works, what doesn’t work, and why,” Bishop said.

And he admitted that Tivoli and its competitors have done a poor job of managing other management platforms. “This is an area where all of the management vendors have blown it…at the end of the day, it is prone to the same sort of problems that impact other applications,” he said.

In particular, Bishop said the proliferation of management functions in servers, microprocessors, operating systems, middleware and software mean that, on one hand, users have never had so much management capability, but at the same time they have no way to tie them together.

Herb VanHook, vice-president and director of service management strategies with analyst firm Meta Group Inc., added that today’s IS shops are expecting a lot more from their vendors.

“[IS shops] want the technology to embody a lot of the stuff they want to accomplish…and vendors like Tivoli will focus on this area more and more,” he said.

That means management tools will be less component-based and more end-to-end in scope. VanHook also predicted that predictive technology which alerts system administrators to potential problems will be of paramount importance. And the current vendor focus on internal management will evolve to include a much broader range of devices on the front and back end.

Management tools are also maturing into three-tier applications, made up of presentation, service and instrumentation layers, VanHook said. While he expects the presentation and instrument layers to become commoditized through intense competition, it is services that will provide the next battleground between vendors. “Services are the technology that turns data into information,” he said.

VanHook also talked about the emergence of automated service level agreements. “Old service level agreements focused on components, the new SLMs focus more on process metrics…the bottom-line is user satisfaction.”


What are the other vendors saying?

Other system management vendors agree with Tom Bishop on the general issues facing system management vendors, but disagree on the specifics and on what strategies will be required.

Steve Mann, vice-president of product strategy with Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc., maker of Unicenter TNG, agrees that the Web and the need for end-to-end management are driving the systems management industry.

“You can’t really deploy e-commerce without integrating your back office systems with your front office systems, and that’s another challenge that’s posed by deploying a Web presence, and it’s also a challenge that IS needs to face, because not only are they charged with maintaining internal systems but they’re maintaining…systems that aren’t even their own, like…extranet systems,” he said.

But as the tools evolve, Mann said it’s unlikely the interface piece will ever become a commodity. He points to the work and acquisitions CA is doing in the area of 3D and multimedia technology. “[3D interfaces] are supplemental or are a replacement to 2D interface technology as a way of providing more information to the administrator. So it gets them a way to get to that information faster, and in a more intuitive fashion.”

Houston-based BMC Software Inc. adheres to a strategy called Application Service Assurance, which focuses on providing software aimed at keeping mission critical applications up and running.

Wayne Morris, BMC’s vice-president of marketing, agrees that IS shops are under increasing pressure to provide competitive advantage and “dial-tone” availability.

Morris lays part of the blame for poor management on a faulty IS philosophy that “rewards…the guru that comes in and gets me back up at 2 a.m. What you (should) reward is behaviour that says, ‘I want to encapsulate your knowledge into an automated system that prevents that outage from ever occurring.'”

As for better integration, BMC is laying its hopes on the evolving Web-Based Enterprise Management initiative, or WBEM, spearheaded by the Desktop Management Task Force (with a membership that includes BMC, Intel Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Microsoft Corp.). WBEM employs Microsoft technology to provide a single data description for all enterprise data sources. Morris said WBEM, which he expects will bloom in the next 12 to 18 months, will help system administrators collect data more easily.

“So even though we might have different management tools that come with the OS or the database…at least what we’ll [have] is a common way of representing that information so that a management tool will be able to chew and provide information in a common way,” Morris said.