Agencies adopt management tools to monitor distributed systems

Agencies with large, diverse client/server environments are buying distributed systems management tools to help keep their mission-critical applications up and running.

Systems management tools have long been a fixture of mainframe-class computing. But until recent years, those tools have been lacking in the client/server arena. Today, however, a number of vendors—including the formerly mainframe-centric vendors—provide products for managing distributed systems.

The basic mission of systems management software is straightforward. This type of software "ensures the availability, reliability and integrity of data and applications with a minimum of staff," said Joe Quigg, vice president of Computer Associates International Inc.'s (CA) Federal Division in Reston, Va.

But the types of management products available are as diverse as the systems they seek to corral. Products are sold as stand-alone systems, suites and end-to-end solutions. And in addition to its core functions, systems management can encompass such subdisciplines as performance monitoring, software distribution, configuration management/version control, database management, report distribution and help desk functions.

The task of integrating these tools and the lack of standardization among them are frequently mentioned as problems in distributed systems management (see sidebar). Another issue in this young market segment is the gradual convergence of network and systems management technologies.

This type of integration is a good thing, said Army Capt. Henry Sienkiewicz, an enterprise integrator with the Defense Information Systems Agency, Fort Ritchie, Md. Networks and systems, he said, "are so highly intertwined, once you put blinders on one part of it, you don't see how things impact each other."

Building and integrating a distributed systems management capability can be time consuming. In large, complex environments, it is not unusual for the job of tailoring and integrating tools and fine tuning applications to take up to a year, said Wick Keating, vice president and director of the client/server laboratory at American Management Systems Inc.'s Center for Advanced Technology.

But despite these challenges, the distributed systems management market is expanding.

Waverly Deutsch, a senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., cited one industry estimate that pegged the worldwide network and systems management market at $6 billion to $7 billion in sales, growing to $12 billion by decade's end.

And IBM Corp.'s recent agreement to purchase Tivoli Systems Inc. for $743 million—a price 15 times the systems management company's annual revenue—also speaks of the market's growing importance.

Arriving on Contracts

Federal users looking for ways to control client/server computing can find tools offered on a number of contracts. The Army's Small Multiuser Computer II contract, the Defense Department's Defense Message System (DMS) and DOD's Supermini pact all offer systems management products from CA. BMC Software Inc.'s Patrol systems management software was recently added to the Army's Sustaining Base Information Services pact. Systems management technology is playing a role in the Internal Revenue Service's Tax Systems Modernization (TSM) and is currently supporting multiple initiatives at DISA.

Generally speaking, however, distributed systems management technology is not widely disseminated in the federal market, according to Linda Berdine, an automated operations consultant in Haymarket, Va. A key issue is integration, Berdine said.

Some products today "may join, but they're not really sharing a database," said Sandra Wallace, network and systems management specialist with Mitre Corp., a Bedford, Mass., firm that conducts research and development projects for the government. "Each product is doing its own database, which means you have information multiple times."

At Mitre, Wallace is undertaking a systems management pilot that involves monitoring 350 desktops and servers. Wallace's project will investigate the scalability of systems management tools and establish metrics usable for Mitre clients as well.

Mitre is using Microsoft Corp.'s Systems Management Server (SMS) to manage PCs, Apple Computer Inc. Macintoshes and Novell Inc. servers. To manage Unix devices, Mitre uses Digital Equipment Corp.'s AssetWorks, integrated into SMS, to extend SMS functionality to Unix workstations. The project also employs Digital/IBM Corp.'s NetView network management software, which runs on a Windows NT-based machine.

NT is becoming a popular management platform. Digital has a federal customer with 5,000 clients distributed across 32 sites, according to Hill Carter, senior consultant with Digital in Greenbelt, Md. The site is using Digital's PolyCenter NetView on NT along with AssetWorks for metering and report generation, he said.

In other projects, consultant Berdine is currently under contract to the National Institutes of Health, which wants to downsize some applications. She is using scheduling and report management tools from New Dimension (formerly 4D Software). The project makes use of a CA automated console as well.

The IRS is also using New Dimension tools, in this case to perform scheduling and production control across an environment with mainframes and Unix workstations. Typically, the tool runs "at the application level, determining which job runs when and under what conditions," said Darroll Buytenhuys, regional vice president of New Dimension.

Another IRS tool is Novadigm Inc.'s Enterprise Desktop Manager, which the agency is using in its up-to-18,000-workstation Integrated Case Processing pilot, said John Mucha, a supervisory computer specialist in the IRS' information systems office. Integrated Case Processing is a component of TSM.

The Enterprise Desktop Manager, a software distribution and change management tool, covers a range of hardware and software, Mucha said. The product keeps track of an organization's hardware configurations and manages software upgrades. Potentially, the tool could be used in the full TSM rollout, with as many as 70,000 workstations.

As IRS software gets more and more complex, Mucha said, such tools "will save us from hiring a lot of office automation and LAN management staff."

Another asset management option is Tangram Enterprise Solutions Inc.'s Enterprise Asset Manager. Tangram supports Novell's NetWare, Apple, Unix and IBM's OS/2, as well as Microsoft's NT operating system, said Steve Kuekes, vice president for enterprise products at Tangram.

Industrial Strength

But DOD is in the forefront of distributed systems management implementation. One of the most ambitious projects is probably DISA's effort to provide Air Force Lt. Gen. Al Edmonds with a view of "the health and welfare of every piece of IT that he owns," according to DISA's Sienkiewicz.

The Defense Information Infrastructure Control Concept (DIICC) already embraces parts or all of the Global Command and Control System, the Integrated Digital Network, Secure IP Router Network, Non-Secure IP Router Network, DMS, portions of the Digital Telephone Switch Network and other systems, Sienkiewicz said. To date, DIICC's scope includes more than 900 communications nodes, parts of 15 DISA megacenters, the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration Asynchronous Transfer Mode network, the operational locations of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, four DMS prototype sites and other systems.

DIICC allows these information technology assets to be viewed from a single systems management console.

So far DIICC's emphasis has been on pulling together the management of the hardware.

Software management tools, meanwhile, are being deployed in a prototype Installation Transition Processing project.

This effort provides centralized management of security, performance, applications and databases as well as networks, Sienkiewicz said.

Tools already deployed in the DIICC include MAXM Systems Corp.'s MAX/Enterprise, which DISA uses as a "high-level integration tool," Sienkiewicz said.

Other tools include Hewlett-Packard Co.'s OpenView network manager, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s SunNet Manager, Candle Corp.'s OmegaView and IBM's NetView.

Management Integration

MAX/Enterprise is among the products seeking to combine network and systems management features. Designated an "availability management" tool, the product "automates responses to faults or nonperformance and either automates the resolution or notifies the experts," who can take appropriate steps, explained Pam Cassale, vice president of global marketing for MAXM.

MAXM goes beyond the open management platforms, according to Cassale, in covering, not only the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) environment but also the "other 50 to 80 percent of the enterprise," including frame relay, ATM, Systems Network Architecture, X.25 and some telephone switches.

MAXM provides, not so much a centralized management platform as a global view of the related technologies in a system, their problems and impacts on other systems, emphasized Bob Daniels, senior operations engineer at MAXM.

Meanwhile, Platinum Technology Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., markets the Platinum Open Enterprise Management System. With POEMS, Platinum offers enterprisewide integration of systems and network management, application development, database administration and data warehousing among other functions.

Performance Monitoring

Performance monitoring is one of the areas in which network and systems management data are most intertwined. Companies such as Landmark Systems Corp., BMC Software Inc., Candle, Boole & Babbage Inc. and MAXM place themselves in this area.

Landmark's PerformanceWorks tool assesses database CPU utilization, explained Bruce Lawhorn, product line manager for Landmark, Vienna, Va. But to decrease overhead on the application being monitored, the company developed a proprietary database.

Landmark, however, provides open interfaces as well, based on standards such as SNMP and Open Database Connectivity.

Candle also places itself in the performance and availability monitoring slot, said Kathy Ollivier, manager of federal operations at Candle. Known for its mainframe systems and availability management tools, the company began introducing distributed management products last summer.

Candle is in the process of negotiating with Government Technology Services Inc. to be added to its Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement contract.

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Adams is a free-lance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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