Computing architectures have never been so complex. Emerging concepts such as web services and utility computing promise to revolutionise the way organisations build and integrate systems, but bring with them one crucial caveat: how to manage this fast-changing network of systems.
For the suppliers of systems management software, this is a highly lucrative opportunity. As IT becomes more service-centric, and more tightly integrated with business processes, the software that ensures these systems stay up and running will be one of the most fundamental investments an organisation can make.
Judging by a number of recent product announcements, the major systems management vendors have jumped on this trend. In the space of a few weeks, Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced it was realigning its software and server products around a concept known as ‘Adaptive Enterprise’; Computer Associates (CA) launched six new systems management products under the ‘managing on-demand’ banner; and Veritas, at its annual user conference, unveiled its new strategic direction centred on the ‘adaptive organisation’.
Analysts appear to support these moves, too. “This area will definitely grow as we move towards more adaptive computing architectures,” says Audrey Rasmussen, vice president of research at analyst group Enterprise Management Associates. “Systems will get more complex, and organisations will look for more and more automation of management tasks in order to relieve staff.”
Jean-Pierre Garbani, an analyst at Forrester Research, goes further. Over the next 12 to 18 months, says Garbani, autonomic and utility computing will be the main driver behind the development of systems management products: “Not on the basis of the models themselves, which are today relatively limited and immature, but because these organic computing models require a solid systems management foundation.”
But in order to get to the point where their products can manage these evolving architectures, systems management suppliers have had to either acquire or develop functions quite different from those that have traditionally been associated with systems management – moving away from an emphasis on managing individual systems and applications – to monitoring whole business processes.
This has sparked a wave of acquisitions among the core systems management vendors, who are now focusing their energies on building or buying suites of technologies that will allow them to manage IT as a component of a wider business process, rather than along system- or application-specific lines.
In April, for example, BMC acquired Belgian software company IT Masters, whose product enables organisations to define business processes, identify the technology components that support them, and determine the impact on that organisation’s business if any component underperforms. More recently, IBM acquired Think Dynamics, a Canadian software company whose software can dynamically provision server power to areas where it is most needed based on business rules.
George Bathurst, UK service management strategy manager for HP, condemns this rush to flesh out service or business management suites as opportunistic. “Our view is that every [systems management] product we develop should be number one or number two in its market,” he says. “If not, we’ll let someone else focus on it. Some companies such as IBM and CA try to be everything to everybody, and that’s reflected in their acquisition strategies.”
Bathurst does have a point. For many customers, the thought of buying into a systems management software suite will carry with it bad memories of investments they made during the 1990s in systems management ‘frameworks’, which proved cumbersome and expensive to deploy, and tended to lock customers in to a single vendor.
Rasmussen at Enterprise Management Associates dispels these fears. “Even though the suites are there, the users aren’t buying them,” she says. “Lots of the suites are now set up so you can buy one component and it will integrate with the rest of the suite should you choose to buy more later. You don’t have to swallow the whole pill any more – you can pick chunks off it.”
Back to basics
In reality, many organisations are simply trying to keep core systems up and running before they even think about tackling the bigger picture. “Most spending today on systems management is on targeted monitoring – basic issues such as avoiding major service disruptions,” says Tom Kemp, co-founder of systems management software vendor NetIQ.
Furthermore, many organisations have a mixture of systems management tools already in place, and are reluctant to discard these investments when IT budgets are so tight. The key now, according to Siki Giunta, CEO of management software Managed Objects, is tying these existing investments together. “If you look at the Global 2000 companies, all of them have invested in at least one product for systems management and network management,” she says. “They’re now starting to look at how these tools fit together and relate to business processes.”
From the suppliers’ perspective, this requires them to make their product interfaces as open as possible if they are going to form any part of ongoing systems management investments. To different degrees, most vendors have published application programming interfaces (APIs) to third-party products, so that an organisation whose management is largely based on HP OpenView, for example, can collate management reports from other systems management suppliers.
Another way to do this is to ensure their software is compliant with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which defines best practice for service management in IT. ITIL is also the basis for the recently launched UK standard BS15000, for which the first accreditations will be given out in Summer 2003.
Axios Systems, a UK-based service management software vendor, claims it has built its flagship product, assyst, along ITIL lines, and that many of the established vendors are now rushing to build in ITIL compliance into their products to generate more sales. “We pioneered this,” says product marketing manager Linda Murray, “And now [our competitors] are just jumping on the bandwagon.”
Getting to grips with emerging, process-focused systems is one thing, but managing web services – which will completely alter the way organisations develop and deploy new applications – is next on the agenda.
To date, very few vendors have built systems management capabilities that will be able to handle the complexity of web services. “Lots of vendors are taking a wait and see approach in terms of support for web services,” says Audrey Rasmussen of Enterprise Management Associates. “They recognise the opportunity, but turning that recognition into features in a product is a little slower.”
Web services and utility computing promise to make organisations more agile, responsive and efficient – but without effective management, none of this is possible.