CN is on track with server management

The Canadian National Railway Co. was in a bind. After running automation smoothly in a mainframe data centre environment, new trends had led to an influx of servers that had no management policies – essentially being managed by different system administrators.

Brian MacKenzie, computer systems officer for CN in Montreal, said the IT team was also managing many different platforms that they didn’t necessarily want to change. He said his team started to look at management policies and a management system in the late ’90s.

At this point, CN was also starting to implement an SAP solution and the company chose to run it on an HP/UX system. To manage that environment, CN is using HP’s OpenView Operations (OVO), a distributed solution that allows for monitoring of back-end infrastructures. MacKenzie said after the initial implementation, OVO was brought over to his team to manage, and he took the opportunity to deploy it on other systems.

“We wanted to look at the mainframe and what standards and guidelines we built on there, and see if we could adapt them on the midrange side,” MacKenzie said.

CN has now added more to its OpenView suite, enabling the company to monitor, report and provide a centralized systems management strategy for its distributed, multi-vendor IT environment.

A server issue can result in train delays, so the speedier the resolution, the better for CN. MacKenzie said the monitoring is working well for the company, allowing information to come from any of the 32 operational sites across North America to CN’s command centre in Montreal.

“From there we’re able to pinpoint a problem to the server (or) to the application.”

MacKenzie said CN is working towards identifying if there are issues within its telecommunications network using OpenView, but there’s still a lot of work to be done on that. “But when there’s a problem at the server level, we have drastically decreased the resolution time of the issue. There is still work to be done when you talk about service management and tying the business in.”

He advised other enterprises looking to this type of mass management software deployment to go slowly. “We took a system and we were able to prove it on a variety of platforms, From an AIX to Unix to NT,” MacKenzie said.

He noted that getting all the application support groups involved is a must.

Enterprises should also work to get all the different departments that will be affected by a new system involved. “They need to understand why the systems management strategy has come in,” he said.

George Vesnaver, regional business unit manager for software for Canada at HP Canada in Mississauga, Ont., said some departments can become so focused on implementing critical service pieces (in CN’s case, the SAP implementation) that the issue of keeping pieces in a distributed environment up and running is forgotten.

“There’s the operational side that can compete with the development folks. The development folks want to make it better and faster and the operational people tend to want to keep it stable with as little change as possible,” Vesnaver said.

The OpenView toolset has more than 50 products within it, but Vesnaver said HP rarely expects enterprises to cover their operations with just these tools, so they work inside the existing framework to cover critical areas. “Our tools are modular…. We have a building block architecture so it can be built up as needs be.”

CN will now use HP OpenView Internet Services to predict, diagnose and troubleshoot problem occurrences. The company is also piloting HP Software Self-Healing Services for OpenView, which MacKenzie said has been working out nicely for them.

CN recently upgraded to OVO 7.0, and the self-healing services have helped that transition go more smoothly by spotting possible bumps on the road.

In feedback to HP, CN’s IT team requested that any changes to the environment or issues that are recognized come back to it as “requests only,” versus already completed changes, through the self-healing services. “We have strict change control policies, so we need to know changes prior to implementation,” MacKenzie said.

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