Under new management

Managing today's distributed agency computer systems is no easy task. And

it is little help when a tight information technology labor market makes

hiring and retaining experienced employees challenging.

For many agencies, the solution has been to use systems management software,

which helps streamline many of the tasks involved in monitoring, managing

and fine-tuning complex, distributed computer systems.

Unfortunately, the systems management solution offers its own challenge:

namely, picking the right approach to get the biggest bang for the buck.

There are three basic approaches to systems management nowadays — the framework

method, the applications-centric approach and a hybrid approach.

In the framework method — used by Computer Associates International Inc.'s

Unicenter TNG and Tivoli Systems Inc.'s Tivoli Enterprise suite — a select

group of individual management applications are tailored for integration

with a central management system. This approach traditionally has been best

suited to large organizations that value the centralized, consistent management

console and tailored applications the solutions offer.

The applications-centric, or point- solution approach, involves less integration

but also less tailoring. Midsize or- ganizations frequently take this approach

if they want a fast return on their investment and a high degree of automation

out of the box.

Assuming the right application choices are made and integration goes smoothly,

a hybrid approach can result in a best-of-breed mixture of the two. Ultimately,

as the experience of the agencies profiled here shows, the choice often

rests on the user's specific configuration and training and productivity

goals.

Framework: Internal Revenue Service

Two years ago, the Internal Revenue Service had the classic ingredients

for the framework approach — a variety of products scattered across regions,

concerns about Year 2000 vulnerability, a need for newer systems and a lack

of on-site information systems personnel in remote locations.

Meanwhile, Tivoli, a subsidiary of IBM Corp., was introducing a three-tier

framework approach. The framework includes Tivoli Management Regions (TMRs)

at the top tier, gateways connecting TMRs in a middle tier and Tivoli Management

Agents (TMAs) at the third tier, or endpoints. IBM then gave the TMAs increased

automation features, such as self-updating, and began to integrate them

into third-party products. For example, 3Com Corp.'s network interface card

drivers come with a TMA. There are 180 third-party applications that plug

into the Tivoli framework.

Also, by the end of 1998, IBM began improving the security and storage

management of the framework and heightened its scalability. Tivoli now says

that by 2002, its framework will be able to manage up to 50 million devices.

"Frameworks evolved from a slow- to-implement, philosophically oriented

context for management toward a more automated, integrated solution set,"

said Dennis Drogseth, director of Enterprise Management Associates Inc.,

a Denver-based research firm specializing in network and systems management.

Tivoli also recognized user complaints about the lengthy time required

to configure the system and to realize a return on investment. "Systems

management customers are looking for quicker ROI than what has been touted

in the past," said Jim Russell, director of Tivoli's federal operations

in Vienna, Va.

Still, ROI time, as well as cost, depends not only on the size and nature

of the organization, but also on factors that aren't always predictable.

The IRS, for example, initially purchased 80,000 licenses for Tivoli framework

and associated software. Later, however, it added more desktops than it

realized and needed to increase the number of software licenses to 130,000.

Another surprise was the hardware required to set up the framework. "Frankly,

when we were sold the products, we did not know what the hardware investment

would be," said Tom Hoffmann, IRS senior technical manager and director

of information systems field operations in Dallas. "It was a shock to us.

At first, we thought we would have only one TMR, but we ended up with five."

However, Hoffmann says the benefits far outweigh the surprises. The

remote management software has solved day-to-day operational problems for

the IRS, which has 700 remote locations but only 100 locations with on-site

IS personnel. "Remote management is essential to our survival," Hoffmann

said. "It's the only way we can support what the technology has grown to."

The IRS trained 150 IT workers from across the country on the Tivoli administration

system. Because the Tivoli user interface is identical whether a user is

at a remote or central location, training is less of an issue, Hoffmann

said. Plus, the interface is identical for the Tivoli tool set regardless

of operating system, whether it's Unix or Windows NT, he added.

Application-Centric: Defense Department

The application-centric approach to systems management is focused and

deep, compared with the broader, framework-based model. For agencies with

a targeted, mission-critical application to manage, this is often the right

choice.

It could also be the right choice economically. "I see a general de-emphasis

on the significance of the framework approach," said Ray Paquet, vice president

and research director for network and systems management at Gartner Group

Inc., Boston. "You are not going to get the return on the framework. You

are going to get the return on the applications."

The U.S. Transportation Command's Global Transportation Network (GTN)

is a giant application that provides what's called in-transit visibility

(ITV). "That's a fancy way of saying "Where's my stuff?' " explained Martin

Mullican, chief of command, control, communications and computer systems

and operations and security for USTranscom, a joint Defense Department command.

USTranscom is responsible for 100 percent of all transportation requirements

within the DOD. "GTN is the crown jewel of what we do," Mullican said. "It's

the most important application. Because of our dependence on this one application,

we wanted to take an application-centric point of view."

From the start, Mullican spent time defining, planning and formalizing his

users' expectations in service-level agreements (SLAs), which spell out

the performance requirements products must meet for the vendor to get paid.

For example, he asked users what response time they needed on particular

database queries and then set the system to provide it.

For several reasons, Mullican used BMC Software Inc.'s Patrol suite to build

the mission to meet those kinds of user expectations. First, he said, Patrol

is ported to every relevant operating system in such a way that the agency's

Service Assurance Centers would remain intact regardless of which operating

system or database the staff decided to use.

BMC provides Service Assurance Centers, a combination of software and

services, to achieve systems availability, performance and recovery capabilities.

The Service Assurance Centers monitor and comply with the SLAs and provide

a comprehensive view of application service and a historical data store

of application health metrics.

Second, Mullican found Patrol to be highly scalable. "We are very much

linked in an e-business environment to our commercial transportation providers

such as Federal Express, so the scalable nature of the BMC product suite

was extremely important to us," he said.

BMC increased its scalability further when, in 1999, it acquired Boole &

Babbage Inc. The acquisition provided BMC with mainframe monitoring, increased

integration between Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Openview network management software

and BMC Patrol, storage management, and a series of network, server and

desktop management tools, said Dean Mericka, director of DOD and intelligence

programs for BMC, based in Herndon, VA.

—Gerber is a freelance writer based in Kingston, N.Y.

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