Under new management
- By Cheryl Gerber
- Sep 25, 2000
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
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
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.