Server management woes continue

Although the server consolidation trend is slowly catching on, many companies still rely on distributed server environments for their networking needs. While distributed nets continue to grow, so too does the plethora of server management issues, a Toronto-based server management company recently discovered.

PlateSpin Inc., the makers of software lifecycle management software for server networks, commissioned a report which surveyed more that 1,300 IT professionals in hopes of understanding the points of pain when dealing with large server networks. Server Operations Management Research 2002 showed that, despite advancements in server hardware and application software technology, managing the infrastructure remains a challenge.

The study, conducted by a third-party independent research firm, revealed that software installation times for many common operating system and application combinations average eight hours per server. Server software deployments and migrations were rated as the most time-consuming and expertise-driven operations tasks.

Justin Shimoon, founder, president and CEO of SiteBrand Corp., agreed. The Ottawa-based ASP offers solutions for the marketing automation industry. SiteBrand operates approximately 10 servers within Canada and the United States and has found itself performing weekly patch updates to its software.

“Being that we are an ASP model and we are in the second year of our product (InSight), we continuously make changes to our solution,” Shimoon said. “One of the big points of pain for us was to distribute our software load across this distributed network fairly quickly.”

Shimoon also told ComputerWorld Canada that SiteBrand had a dedicated IT person on staff whose primary responsibility was managing the server prior to opting to implement PlateSpin’s server infrastructure management solution, the PlateSpin Operations Centre. Operations Centre is a software management system that enables IT departments to deploy and manage server software anywhere within a network using drag-and-drop functionality.

“It was just a bad use of time and not cost-effective,” he added. “The same person can now go into a browser and load up the application and pretty much drag and drop the software loads onto certain servers. What we had to do in theory was spend about a day per update and now we are spending a couple of hours. That was a big component for us.”

Getting a true sense of the challenges of its customers like SiteBrand was a key driver for the server management study, said Mark Verdun, PlateSpin’s president and CEO.

“A lot of this information doesn’t exist and isn’t readily available in a format that allows us as a software vendor to better understand what the pain points are, how important they are and then in what order of priority would I want to go about solving these problems,” Verdun said. “What we found was that a lot of the research out there is more general or macro-oriented with large-scale trends. They don’t tend to speak to the specific pain points of how do you better manage or achieve better efficiency with one server infrastructure.”

Verdun said the study confirmed PlateSpin’s original suspicions but that he was surprised to discover server challenges were taking place within the majority of the enterprises surveyed.

“While people are trying to consolidate and manage infrastructure in a more centralized fashion, the reality is that it is still very distributed,” he explained. “Remote management is a big problem. Software deployment, in terms of initial systems set up, as well as patches and maintenance, is a big problem and takes hours, and in some cases days to configure.”

Laurie McCabe, vice-president of Boston-based research firm Summit Strategies, said companies are spending a lot of money in order to manage these complex server environments and are doing so inefficiently. She said an estimated 25 to 52 cents of every data-centre dollar is spent on keeping these systems up and running and warned that businesses cannot keep adding servers and throwing people into data centres.

“The PlateSpin solution is an antidote to some of this pain,” McCabe said. “It definitely hones in on the fact that there are all these issues in managing the hardware and software in the data centre, and that companies are really spending a lot of money to manage these (networks).”

The PlateSpin study is available for free online from