Are Enterprise Management Products Commodities?

Dougie Stevenson wrote a great post in his blog “Dougie’s Enterprise Management World” earlier this week titled “ENSM Products are Commodities?“. With his permisison, we are re-publishing it on our eG blog – enjoy:

On your quest to put in network and systems management capabilities, you have to figure in several explicit and implicit factors related to your end goals. What I mean is that while it’s easy to go to your Framework Vendor of choice, break out the Bill of Materials spreadsheet, and sit down with the Sales person and go through the elements you would need for your environment, it may be filled with hidden challenges. And some challenges may be harder to overcome than others once you have signed the check.

Don’t forget, these products don’t magically install and run themselves. They take care and feeding. Some more than others. And the more complex it is, the more complex it is to figure out when something goes awry.

Sounds so easy! After all, all of these products are commodities. And buying from a single vendor gives you a single point of support… and blame. In effect, a single “throat to choke”. NOTHING could be further from the truth!

Most of the big vendor’s product frameworks are aggregations and conglomerations of products that have been acquired, some overlapping, into what looks like a somewhat unified solution. In many cases, it is only after you buy the product framework that you discover stuff like there are different portals with different products and these portals don’t effectively integrate together. Or you may find the north bound interface of one product is a kludge to somewhat loosely fit the two products together. Or two products use competing Java versions.

Some vendors product suites have become more and more complex as new releases are GAed. In many cases, these new levels of complexity have a profound impact on your ability to install, administer, or diagnose issues as they arise.

First up – Where are your requirements? Do you know the numbers and types of elements in your environment? What about the applications? How do these apply to Service Level Agreements? Do you have varying levels of maintenance and support for the components in your environment?

Do you know who the users will be? Have you defined your support model? Which groups need access to what elements of information? Do you have or have you prepared a proposed workflow of how users, managers, and even customers are going to interact with the new capabilities?

Who is going to take care of the management systems and applications? Have you aligned your organization to be successful in deployment? Do you have the skill sets? Do you have adequate skills coverage?

Have you defined the event flow? What about performance reports needs and distributions? And ad hoc reporting needs? Have you defined any baseline thresholds?

Do you have SNMP access? What about ICMP? SSH? Have you considered the implications of management traffic across your security zones?

PRODUCT CHOICES

While there are a plethora of choices available to you, many do not want to go through the hassle of doing due diligence. But be forewarned, failure to do due diligence can wreak mayhem in you environment. I know, the big guns say that “our product works in your competitors” but does it really? You don’t know? As is your competition that undifferentiated from you? (May not be a good thing!)

When you go through product selection, you need to realize the support needed to administer the new management applications. Do you need specialists just to install it? What about training? Are you going to need other resources like Business Intelligence Analysts, Web Developers, Database Administrators, Script Developers, or even additional Analysts or Engineers.

Here are some signs you may experience:

If the product takes longer than a couple of days to install and integrate, here’s your sign.

If two or more products in your big vendor product suite need a significant amount of customization to work together, here’s your sign.

If the installation document for the product deviates from the actual installation, here’s your sign.

If you find out you actually have to install additional product as discovered during the installation, here’s your sign.

If you end up realizing that the recommended hardware specs are either overkill or under-speced, here’s your sign.

If you end up having to deal with libraries and utilities that are not included or resolved with the product installation, here’s your sign.

If you find yourself opening up support tickets in the middle of the installation, here’s your sign.

If you find that the product breaks your security model AFTER you do the installation, here’s your sign.

If it takes Vendor specific Engineering to install the product, here’s your sign.

If you cannot see value in the first day after the installation of a product, here’s your sign.

If you find that you need to restructure and build out your support team AFTER the installation, here’s your sign.

SYSTEMS MANAGEMENT

Systems Management brings whole new challenges to your environment. Some of the things you need to evaluate up front are:

  • Agent deployment – Level of Difficulty – OS Coverage – consistent data across agents. Manual, Automatic, or distribute able
  • Agent-less – Browser specific? Adequate coverage? Full transactions? Handles redirection?
  • Agent run time – Resource utilization – memory footprint – stability – Security.
  • Data collection – Pull or push model? Resiliency? Effect on run time resources?
  • External Restrictions – Java versions? Perl versions? Python versions?
  • Adequate application coverage?
  • Thresholds – Level of difficulty? Binary only or degrees of utilization/capacity/performance? Stateful? Dynamic thresholds? Northbound traps already defined or do you have to do your own?

SUMMARY

Enterprise Management does not have to be that difficult. There are products out there that work very well for what they do and are easy to deploy and maintain. For example, go do an OpenNMS installation. Even though OpenNMS runs on just about any platform (a testament to their developer community and product maturity), you go to their wiki page http://www.opennms.org/documentation/installguide.html , pick out your platform of choice, and follow the procedure. Most of the time, you are looking at maybe an hour. In an hour, you’re starting discovery and picking up inventory to monitor and manage.

Solarwinds isn’t too bad either. Nice, clean install on Windows.

Splunk is awesome and up in running in no time. http://www.splunk.com/

Hyperic HQ wasn’t a bad installation either. Pretty simple. However, it is time sensitive on the agents. Kind of thick (I think its the Struts), Java wise. http://www.hyperic.com/

eGInnovations is cake. One agent everywhere for OS and applications. Handles VMWare, Xen and others. And the UI is straight forward. A Ton of value across both system and application monitoring and performance. http://www.eginnovations.com/

Appliance based solutions take a bit more time in the planning phase up front but take the sting out of installation. Some of these include:

http://www.sevone.com/ (SevOne does offer a software download for evaluation)
http://www.sciencelogic.com/
http://www.loglogic.com/ (They also offer a virtual appliance download)

One solution I dig is Tavve ZoneRanger for solving those access issues like UDP/SNMP across firewalls, SSH access across a firewall, etc., without having to run through proxies upon proxies and still maintain consistent auditing and logging. It deploys as an appliance of virtual appliance. http://www.tavve.com/

Another aspect you may consider include hosted applications. ServiceNow is easy to deploy because it is a hosted solution. http://www.servicenow.com/