A textbook midsize candidate

If there's a typical prospective buyer that vendors have to sell to at midsize federal organizations, he's probably a lot like Bill Swartz, Sandia National Laboratories' manager of infrastructure computing services.

Sandia has a network of about 250 servers "and I don't know how many network boxes," Swartz said. Comprehensive management tools would have to work in an environment that is split between Microsoft Corp. Windows NT and Unix, while also addressing the application layers of the network.

Swartz has regularly reviewed tools that were allegedly able to cover multiple needs, but so far he hasn't been impressed. "They are terribly complex to set up, and you need an extensive knowledge base to use them, and it's a big learning curve," he said. "We just don't have the resources for that."

To cope, Sandia has bought a lot of tools that deal with single issues and has developed a raft of "homegrown" tools that address particular problems, such as CPU saturation on servers, that commercially available tools don't deal with.

"It's been hard to find a toolset that truly deals with everything we have, and sometimes it's just easier, if you have a good scriptwriter, to roll your own," he said.

But if reasonably priced tools exist that can handle the gamut of Swartz's needs, he says he's open to the pitch. Right now, his level of knowledge of the Sandia network is limited to "what is live and dead. We are just hacking away at the tree with a hatchet because none of the tools we do have [are] meeting all of our needs."

Even if such comprehensive tools were available, he sees trouble convincing the leaders of still-stovepiped Sandia departments to accept monitoring tools designed to cover all of the organization's systems and applications. Nevertheless, he said, such tools are needed, particularly given the push toward enterprise architectures.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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