BMC completes the picture

Acquisition adds network performance to management tools

No software application is an island. And when one starts to act up, there's a good chance that the problem lies not with the software, but with the server that runs it or the network that connects it to users throughout the organization.

BMC Software Inc., Houston, has long offered its federal customers a way to monitor two parts of that triad — the software and the server hardware — through its popular suite of Patrol software products. Now, thanks to its recent acquisition of French software developer Perform SA, BMC is adding the missing network component to its management solution.

The resulting capability for end-to-end infrastructure viewing may be of interest to the growing number of agency information technology shops that provide computer services to other internal departments for a fee. The new BMC software can help those shops maintain and track service levels across their enterprises, a key part of making this new service provision model work.

"A lot of our customers are being held accountable to service-level agreements," said Craig Harper, director of BMC Software's federal operations, noting that the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Reserve have taken this approach. "Our new software will help them understand the performance of an application, from the server all the way to the end user."

The two new BMC network management products are called Patrol Visualis 1.1 and Patrol Integration for DashBoard. BMC acquired both products when it bought Perform for $23 million in February. IT managers can use Visualis to create complete maps of their IT infrastructure that illustrate how network traffic flows across time between various components, Harper said. DashBoard reports specific details about how those flows relate to network performance.

Compared with traditional network management products, which focus on fault management, BMC is positioning its new products to provide more insight into the composition of network traffic and relate it to application performance, according to Glenn O'Donnell, program director with META Group Inc., a market research firm in Stamford, Conn.

"It gives them the capability to do some root-cause identification when there's a problem," he said.

Indeed, the Army's Joint Battle Center in Suffolk, Va., uses a prerelease version of the new BMC software for just that purpose. "It lets us watch the variables that can affect performance," said Tony Brown, a network engineer at the Army center. "Application performance is related to hardware resources. And hardware is affected when the network bogs down. This helps you troubleshoot any kind of bottlenecks that cause your application not to perform like it should."

Overall, Brown said the new BMC software is easy to set up and use, but that some aspects of his network present problems for the software. For example, he said the satellite links that the center uses often have slightly slower response times than terrestrial network lines. But he said BMC is working on that and other problems the center has identified.

Besides letting IT shops manage service levels to end users, O'Donnell said the new software might help them wring greater productivity from existing IT systems by providing "a better understanding of how they're using their infrastructure and getting the best performance out of it."

Better application performance is also particularly important for agencies starting to offer services to citizens online. "Under the hood of e-government is the same technology infrastructure as before," Harper said. "But now you're giving citizens access to these systems on a 24-by-7 basis. This has really taxed the infrastructure, so you need tremendous insight into how the application is performing."

The cost of Patrol Visualis 1.1 starts at $40,000. Patrol Integration for DashBoard starts at $8,000.


Digging deeper

A key feature of the new BMC Visualis network management software is

its support for layer 2 and 3 discovery, according to Glenn O'Donnell, META

Group Inc. program director.

Layer 3 handles the basic identification of which devices are connected

to a network.

Layer 2 takes it a step further and provides more detailed information

about how those devices are actually configured. That information can be

used to help identify and solve network performance problems.


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