|This article is taken from the March
2000 edition of NEWS/400.uk.
Richard Gerrard looks at PackCenter - the
operations management suite of tools from Sopra.
Many organisations are struggling with management of their computer systems because they
are either not using the right tools or are using tools that are far more complex than
they need to be. The solution is to increase the effectiveness of the operations
management task by making it simpler through the use of integrated software tools that are
each designed to solve specific problems.
Complexity is a problem that has been building up in organisations for many years. As new
technology becomes available it is adopted for specific solutions, leaving existing
technology in place where it is still meeting business needs. As organisations adopt open
systems in new areas, they continue to use proven proprietary mid-range solutions, such as
DEC Vax and the AS/400. Whereas the analysts are forecasting usage of Windows NT/2000 to
grow dramatically, they are predicting that it will be used alongside existing platforms,
rather than replacing them. Most organisations, therefore, operate in an increasingly
heterogeneous environment with four to six different platforms. These different platforms
must also integrate with each other to allow data to be shared. Information needs to pass
freely between back-end systems running on different platforms, as well as being available
to users on their desktop PCs. To make matters worse, most organisations run their systems
across multiple sites, involving parallel systems that need to be supported remotely.
Whereas some organisations are still downsizing, others have already started to
consolidate and recentralise.
The arrival of electronic commerce is making the availability of websites and their
associated back-end transaction process critical. Organisations are now effectively
exposing their systems to the outside world! Information technology has now become a
critical part of the strategy and business process of every organisation. However, there
is a major skills shortage, especially of experienced staff. Organisations therefore need
to utilise their staff on value-added activities, yet many are involved in time-consuming
manual work involved in managing systems.
The ultimate goal of most organisations is to bring together all their diverse systems
into a single central management function, allowing the platforms to be co-ordinated, the
work automated and the use of resources optimised. This involves a long list of different
requirements, such as event notification, back-up, job scheduling, application management,
storage management, desktop/server management, Internet management, help desk, network
database and security.
There are three strategies for meeting these requirements, involving the use of
frameworks, best-of-breed solutions or a combination of both. A framework involves putting
a large piece of overlying infrastructure software over the entire system. These products
can provide as many as 80 different functions, as well as allowing third party products to
be integrated into them.
The problem with the framework
approach is that trying to meet all an organisation's operations management needs with one
product is too difficult and too complex to implement. Whereas this strategy provides
integration and central control, individual tasks that may be critical may not be handled
in the most effective manner. Most organisations would benefit more from a specific
solution for a specific problem. "Having a framework doesn't always make you good at
backing up or scheduling," warns a PackCenter account manager. "Experience is
showing that frameworks are more likely to fail than succeed."
In fact, GartnerGroup has recently forecast that operations
management frameworks will disappear by the end of 2000, because 75% of projects fail. It
says that frameworks will disintegrate into products based on solving limited sets of
specific management problems. A best of breed solution involves selecting the best piece
of software available for each task, irrespective of the vendor. This provides technical
excellence, but trying to integrate the different products is a major problem. This
strategy lacks a central management, control and optimisation capability. The third
solution takes the technical excellence of best-of-breed products, but selects software
that can be easily integrated to provide central management. It allows organisations to
select highly functional software to address a specific problem area, but also gives them
the capability to integrate it with existing software and future components from the same
Instead of trying to implement a global solution for every operations management process
in every part of the company, this approach enables organisations to focus on critical
parts of the process that require the most resources. By adopting a focused solution that
can be implemented very quickly, organisations can generate rapid returns. Implementing
some of the operations management processes listed above will give only a small gain.
Organisations should therefore choose those that give the biggest return in terms of
freeing up scarce skilled resources. If routine non-value-added work can be automated with
effective software, skilled people will have more time for work that has a greater impact
in supporting the business. For many organisations, the most attractive areas to address
are scheduling, back-up, performance analysis and real-time alerts.
Job scheduling using PackCenter Sys-Auto
Job scheduling requires a fixed sequence of work to complete operational procedures. These
include many tasks that have to be completed in a particular order ready for the next
day's business, many of which are dependent on previous jobs being completed on time.
All these tasks can be automated, freeing up staff for more productive work. This can be
conducted during the day, thereby saving the additional overtime and shift costs
associated with overnight working.
Back-up using PackCenter
Many organisations have hundreds of computers distributed over different sites whose data
must be regularly backed up. This is another manually intensive operation. Although tape
libraries can manage multiple tape units, selecting them and putting them in the drives,
it is important to rotate the tapes in a set sequence of re-use, which requires strict
records to be kept.
Finding data to restore corrupted files requires keeping very accurate records, otherwise
recovery becomes a nightmare. According to Decision Micro, 70% of organisations that do
not have a reliable backup tool may never be able to recover their data. Backing up data
is a serious job that has to be done properly, but it is labour intensive and automation
can lead to a big saving in staff resources, as well as providing a higher level of
protection of data and more rapid restoration of lost data.
Performance analysis using PackCenter Sys-View
Performance analysis is an activity that is often done poorly or not at all, so many
servers may not be running efficiently. However, it is so manpower intensive to monitor
them manually that special software has to be used. Unfortunately, many companies never
get round to implementing such a package, taking a reactive approach and ‘waiting until
it breaks'. A performance monitor can pro-actively monitor the network and all the
servers, recording a large amount of data, such as disk performance and processor load.
This information allows the organisation to know what has happened and to make forecasts
and enabling tactical and capacity planning.
Alert management using PackCenter Sys-Alert
Whereas performance monitoring provides historical data and helps with forecasting, alerts
are used to let systems management staff know what is happening now, before staff or
customers tell them. A series of thresholds are set, with several hundred being available.
The system is constantly monitored and when a threshold is reached an alert is triggered.
This might warn about such areas as the central processor becoming overloaded,
insufficient memory, lack of hard disk space, slow response times or overfilled swap
When one of these critical components reaches its threshold, it is an indication that a
problem may occur very quickly unless action is taken. In real-time, the alert will
collect the information on the problem and inform the person on duty. This can be by an
alert screen on their PC, an electronic mail message, a fixed or mobile telephone call
with voice synthesis, notification to a mobile telephone using its short message system or
a pager. The system requires an acknowledgement, otherwise it will seek another operator
or escalate the problem. The software is also time aware, applying different rules during
work hours, meal breaks, outside working hours, shifts, etc. In extreme cases it will even
inform everybody listed as available!
An alert won't give up because it requires somebody to take ownership before it lets it
go. It gets the message through regardless and will find somebody to fix the problem.
Whereas all four of the above PackCenter solutions can be used entirely independently,
they also integrate with each other and with central console software. This provides a
simple easy-to-use graphical overview of the system, from which management, co-ordination
and optimisation tasks can be carried out. If a problem occurs, it allows an operator to
click on a machine's icon and take control of it. The set of independent yet complementary
PackCenter operations management tools can be implemented very quickly and provide
significant automation and increased service.
Richard Gerrard is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Intec.