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June - 2008 - issue > Technology
IT - Enabling businesses the best way
Praveen Cherian
Friday, May 30, 2008
Gone are the days when only software companies relied on IT; IT is the backbone of virtually every business today. Today, IT supports all business verticals and more often than not, the business critical systems. Operations could come to a standstill if networks are down. This paper talks about current IT Infrastructure Management priorities, followed by an overview of contemporary approaches for managing IT infrastructure. An alternative approach is also introduced and its advantages are discussed.

Infrastructure Management Priorities
The most important operational priorities for an IT organization include maximizing IT availability, eliminating security threats, ensuring business continuity, and disaster recovery - so that IT optimally supports business operations.

For IT availability, it is important for IT specialists and administrators to understand the impact of IT issues on business operations – so that IT issues that affect businesses the most are resolved first. To ensure high end user satisfaction, it is important to provide a centralized SLA (Service Level Agreement) driven process to manage and resolve end user reported requests or issues and incidents based on automatically detected events. From a compliance perspective, it is important to eliminate the risk of unlicensed software and operating system usage. IT Assets must also be tracked and managed to ensure optimal usage and eliminate any wastage. Data security also needs attention, specifically in terms of preventing data theft, intrusions, virus attacks, and denial of service attacks. Managing business continuity in face of disasters is vital to any business. With increasing awareness and acceptance of ITIL based best practices, progressive IT organizations have started implementing some or all of these best practices.

Traditionally, CIOs have encountered difficulty in demonstrating measurable ROI on IT investments. The India domestic IT industry faces severe lack of technical expertise to manage one or more of the following: voice, data networks, high end UNIX servers, complex middleware applications, ERP systems, data warehouses, etc. Attrition of technical staff also leads to severe disruptions in operations. With increasing business growth and demands combined with operational inefficiencies, most IT organizations spend about 80 percent of time in a reactive mode. Very little time is planned or is available to design and execute a strategy for increasing efficiency of IT operations.

Issues with Traditional Approaches
IT organizations have used a couple of well-known approaches in managing their IT infrastructures. The first approach involves using third party tools to automate IT operations. This involves significant upfront capital expenditure, needs approval of the senior management, and justification. Identifying the correct tool is sometimes laborious and time consuming. The implementation and deployment of such tools take many months. Custom integration and reporting involves additional professional services cost and time. Many tools tend to be complex and require highly trained experts or administrators to use, manage, and maintain the tool sets.

Furthermore, maintenance costs are high, which rises usually at 15-20 percent of the base price every year. Bringing together the different tools (even if they are from the same vendor) and harmonizing them is a challenge and it leads to increased costs and implementation time. Without a strong process and automation focus, the overall tool usage and satisfaction declines after the initial 6-12 months; and it becomes difficult to justify continued investments in license and maintenance renewal. Tools tend not to be used if the chief sponsors and, or, trained administrators move to a different role or leave the organization.

Outsourcing the IT Operations
The other approach involves complete or partial outsourcing of IT infrastructure operations. This approach has its own characteristics. Outsourcing is typically a CEO or CXO mandated initiative for the entire infrastructure. Such contracts are designed for multiple years and have significant people and process issues which in general lead to high operational complexity. In many cases, it takes many months or even years to identify the right outsourcing partner. Challenges include change in IT organization processes and staff to accommodate a third party vendor. The IT organization continues to have challenges in terms of measuring SLA compliance of outsourced services. Some outsourcing is also done from a staff augmentation perspective, while the need for a unified view of all IT operations continue to exist. In this case, the total IT ownership still resides with the CIO or senior IT managers. Remote Infrastructure Management is always an option – but costs can be high, data security issues need to be addressed, and additional bandwidth needs to be included in service cost.

Automated IT Infrastructure Management Services – A Hybrid Approach
Faced with increasing costs, rising attrition levels, and ever more complex IT infrastructure, CIOs and IT Managers need to align with a new approach to ensure efficient IT infrastructure management based on the ITIL best practices. Let us consider an alternative approach: the Automated IT Infrastructure Management Services. Automation is implemented within the IT organization’s offices. There are no additional costs for bandwidth, and security issues are non-existent.

Automation forms the chief corner stone of this approach. Automation must support integrated IT Monitoring, an ITIL-centric Service Desk, IT hardware and software inventory management, and IP traffic analysis. Automation must provide for out of the box reports, dashboards, and alerts across all these functions. Such an integrated approach will allow the IT team to focus on finding and resolving IT infrastructure issues faster and proactively through a unified view of IT impact on business operations.

It helps the CIOs in two ways if the automation solution is available as a subscription. First, upfront high capital expenditure is eliminated. The second advantage is that the CIO can choose to terminate the service if it does not meet or align with organizational objectives. This enables the CIO to have more control as a customer. It also prevents the vendor from supplying expensive software tools without worrying about alignment and usage in the customer’s environment. The ability to renew the contract every year ensures flexibility of paying by usage.

The automation service must be very easy to install, use, and configure. This prevents the need for the IT team to hire tool experts. The service should also provide periodic functional upgrades and periodic optimizations at no cost during the subscription period. This way, the vendor of the automation service ensures continual and efficient operation of the service.

A consolidated single view, with integrated portal access to information about IT operation health including IT outages, SLA violations, alerts, escalations, and end user satisfaction helps provide a global and quick understanding of the health of the IT processes and operations. Proactive monitoring must be provided by this approach with instant alerts and escalations. Analysis including real time and historical reporting and dashboards are valuable for capacity planning and root cause analysis. Finally, this automation must provide strong access control and security based permissions for data access.

In addition to automation, it is important that the IT organization uses operational health and capacity data to create solutions and strategies to address business needs. Most IT organizations do not systematically mine operational data warehouses. The IT infrastructure management service must include an advisory service that provides data driven advice and recommendations that are essential to optimize IT operations, to avoid wastage, and to invest in the right areas for optimal business alignment to ensure high ROI. Such advisories could be based on consultative engagements which involve key stakeholders from the CIO’s team and are data driven.

This approach ensures proactive handling of IT issues. It provides an ability to start and operationalize the service (including automation) in a matter of days rather than weeks. The automation service element may ideally include end-to-end integrated monitoring for networks, servers and systems, databases, applications, and middleware; IP traffic analysis and application profiling; a centralized SLA driven IT Helpdesk with support for flexible routing, email and web based call logging, incident, problem, and change management; and IT hardware and software inventory management including software license compliance.

In Conclusion
The CIOs and IT managers need to choose IT infrastructure management approaches that are aligned with the organization’s overall business. In many cases, outright outsourcing of IT is not possible or advisable. Clearly, buying expensive software tools with high upfront investments may not make sense, especially if the tools require recruitment of experts to use and operate and tool experts are difficult to hire or retain. In such circumstances, using an annuity, subscription based integrated IT infrastructure management automation service may make the most sense. Periodic subscriptions allow for better financial management. Automation can help reduce manpower costs for routine monitoring and maintenance. With periodic optimizations and optional IT advisory services, CIOs and senior IT managers can focus on long term strategic issues and have a proactive attitude towards IT issues.

The author is the CEO, Network Solutions (An IBM Company)
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