Unicenter TNG aims for total enterprise management but falls just short

Government agencies are prime candidates for enterprise management tools, given that many of them have many heterogeneous systems distributed across the country and even around the world.

By carefully implementing enterprise management tools, agencies can reduce the cost of administering information technology infrastructure and increase service levels.

The key word here is "carefully."

In this second installment of our series on enterprise management sofware, we'll look at cost-effective ways to deploy Computer Associates International Inc.'s Unicenter TNG, a suite of tools for managing enterprise IT infrastructure.

The comprehensive approach that TNG takes towards enterprise management is far different than the first product we reviewed in our series, Intel Corp.'s LANDesk Management Suite 6.3 (FCW, Nov. 15, 1999), which is designed only to manage desktops, not network or other system infrastructure.

We checked out Unicenter TNG 2.1 at Computer Associates' Denver-based Virtual Enterprise Room, one of several interconnected facilities around the country that CA maintains for demonstrating TNG in a simulated enterprise environment. (While Version 2.2 began shipping during our testing, Version 2.1 contains most of the significant functionality in TNG.)

TNG is sold as a base package with options that handle specific management chores. The base package includes autodiscovery, which locates IT infrastructure on your network, as well as system monitoring utilities, which use software agents and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to monitor systems, workflow tools, security tools and performance management tools.

The optional packages for TNG handle tasks ranging from software delivery to asset management to remote control of devices and software. There is optional support for different applications, such as those from SAP America Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc., and different databases. While options for the applications and databases are nice, remote control and asset management are two add-ons that most organizations should implement first to show a quick return on investment. In our view, CA could make TNG more attractive "out of the box" by bundling these two options with the base product.

CA offers three interfaces to TNG: a 2-D interface, a 3-D interface and a World Wide Web interface. We looked at TNG mostly through the 2-D interface, which is likely to be the choice of those who have to use TNG every day. The 3-D interface is slick, but perhaps too much so: It starts with a spinning globe and enables the user to drill down through continents and then cities to buildings, floors and individual pieces of hardware, flying inside the devices to locate problems. It looks great, but setting it up to resemble your actual environment will take some effort.

Using the 2-D map of the simulated enterprise, we were able to see examples of TNG's capabilities, including the ability to monitor vast networks from a single console, drill down to problem components, detect and respond to events on the network, and execute commands remotely on systems on the network.

The thing to remember about TNG is that in its base configuration, it provides a framework for enterprise management and little else. What you do with that framework is up to you. In other words, TNG — like other enterprise management tools — requires significant upfront investment with a difficult-to-pin-down return on investment.

The upfront investment comes in the form of time spent planning the hows, whats and whys of what you want to manage. Shops that have infrastructure that facilitates deployment — centralized log-in scripts, modern hardware and software — and that can identify quick hits that give the most return, like remote control, should experience wildly successful enterprise management implementations.

To maximize the benefits of TNG, agencies and departments will want to carefully plan which elements to deploy. Some pieces of this puzzle are easier to put in place than others. Remote control, an option any TNG customer should select, is a slam-dunk. It's easily deployed and configured and provides an instant payback — reduced administrator visits to remote machines.

Software delivery may also make sense for your agency. At the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, for example, the TNG implementation included the software delivery option, which allows for centralized management of software installations across the depot's 1,300 desktops. While elements of Anniston's TNG deployment will certainly take a while to complete, software delivery provides a quick return, allowing one technician to configure and deploy numerous software packages to all of the systems on the network.

However, other options are more problematic. Managing printers, for example, is not so simple. TNG provides the framework that would allow you to monitor printers and print queues and respond either with messages to the appropriate administrator or with automated tasks when certain events occur on a printer. But the functionality isn't provided out of the box. It must be programmed by the TNG administrator.

CA's background is in systems management, and TNG in places shows its roots as a systems management tool. It has strong functionality for monitoring systems and alerting administrators or automatically responding to any number of events. Likewise, many of the options for TNG involve systems issues, such as user management or database and application management.

On the network side, TNG is weaker. It is capable of monitoring and alerting administrators to events such as network equipment crashes, but TNG – like the other enterprise-management products — is unable to manage such equipment. CA leaves this to the tools provided by network vendors. A true enterprise management tool should provide for the integrated management of network routers, hubs and switches. Alas, all the solutions we're aware of on the market require you to bolt together solutions from different vendors.

To be fair, TNG includes support for quality of service functionality in network hardware. QOS is an evolving collection of tools and standards for ensuring given levels of access to resources on the network by, for example, prioritizing network traffic associated with a certain application. Assuming QOS-compatible hardware and software is deployed across the enterprise, network traffic can be prioritized based on a number of factors. Since QOS is pretty much meaningless unless it can be applied across the enterprise, an enterprise management tool such as TNG is the logical place for QOS management to take place.

In short, Unicenter TNG is an enterprise management framework that can help IT administrators contain management costs and provide guaranteed service levels to their clients. It is strong on the systems, database and application management side but provides less network management functionality than most organizations require. TND, the next generation of TNG, will provide features including a fully object-oriented repository for enterprise management information as well as increased use of Neugents, CA's proactive artificial intelligence-based agents for predicting and managing problems before they happen.

Large agencies implementing enterprise management have to consider TNG as a possible solution. Smaller organizations might find value in TNG as well, especially because many of TNG's features are available as point solutions that can solve critical problems in managing IT infrastructure.

— Hammond is a free-lance writer based in Denver. He can be reached at ehammond@earthlink.net.

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