Fixes flustering net growth

It appears as though you can almost read between the worry lines on many a network administrator’s face that the thoughts of network management are to blame for those premature wrinkles.

Judging from the standing-room-only attendance at last month’s What Keeps You Up At Night? seminar on Network Analysis, Monitoring and Troubleshooting, there is definitely a reason for those perturbed expressions.

According to presenter Dan McLean, director of outsourcing and utility research for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, infrastructure management is the most challenging aspect of IT. On top of that, McLean disclosed that a whopping amount of average enterprise’s efforts go not toward establishing new business initiatives, but are actually soaked up in the day-to-day operations to keep things up and running.

“Generally, for most organizations, 65 per cent of their time is spent just on fixing things that are broken or in terms of doing things like distributed upgrades or routine maintenance,” McLean said. “That is an operational issue and an issue around management.”

Perhaps one reason for the high percentage of time spent on operational chores in Canada, McLean submitted, is related to the fact that said Canadians prefer to manage IT in-house rather than outsource daily duties to a third party. He said that in the U.S. there seems to be a greater understanding of the role and value of outsourcing.

“It is not really a recommendation as it is saying that outsourcing and IT services in general play a role and can help companies in areas where they are struggling with technology or they are utilizing a lot of resources,” he said. “They might want to utilize those resources for something that is much higher in value.

McLean added, however, that companies looking to outsource or manage in-house should be clear on where the responsibilities lie and have clear service level agreements to provide guarantees in case things go wrong.

“This is a discussion we have had here in terms of whether we do in-house or outsource,” said Carol Cartwright, network programmer/analyst, network and telecommunications service for Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. “There are arguments on both sides. Outsourcing provides a niche. It can give you added support when you don’t have the resources in-house. It comes with that expertise but it comes with a price. While you are outsourcing you are not developing your expertise in-house. It has to be a blend of the two.”

McLean said that with outsourcing comes the notion of IT management being offered as a utility to organizations. McLean explained that the IT utility is an engagement whereby the service provider owns the equipment and charges the business a fee for utilization of that infrastructure.

“Why do companies do it? One reason is, if I am a company that needs to have a serious retro-fit or upgrade to my computing environment, what [the utility model] offers is a way of doing that without having to make huge capital investments. That is the big attraction.

“The other issue is the complexity of problems themselves. If it is a technology that I don’t really understand and don’t want to invest a whole lot of dollars in hiring people who understand it, I would look to the utility as a means of getting something that is state-of-the-art and using it in my business.”

McLean noted that what businesses generally tend to do wrong when assessing the value of infrastructure management is look at it from a traditional view of total cost of ownership by assessing the purchase and implementation costs and then assessing the operational costs. McLean said that doing it this way ignores the business value of IT.

“I think that you have to assess how important your computing infrastructure is and what level of performance and reliability you need and work from there,” he offered. “That will tell you what kind of investment you need to make in terms of tools, products, processes and people.”