Editor’s note: Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. Sanity Check is a regular weekly feature in LTW.
_______________________________________________________________________________________In today’s networked environments information is like air, everywhere.

Everything in the data center reports information on its status, the network reports its health (or lack of health); the databases report their on backups; and the operating systems report ‘system logs’ with verbosity.

Every piece of hardware and software that has a heartbeat also has a monitor and a reporting mechanism; it’s overwhelming to review so much information occasionally, much less regularly or religiously.

So where does the average “Jane-system-administrator” go to find the truth about the environment she’s tasked with administering?

It’s been my experience that the typical systems administrator has to monitor, review and ‘translate’ information from no less than four different tools. The operating system tool, the application tool, the database tool and the network tool.

Not a big deal if you are only tasked to keep up with one or two such ‘systems’. But let’s face it, there are no one-to-one or two-to-one relationships between systems and administrators.

Sys Admins are typically tasked with tens (or hundreds) of systems at a time. Now multiply four different reporting tools by the number of systems to administer, and you see the math is exponential.

Search for Truth

Most system administrators I talk with have the same problem, too much information and not enough ‘knowledge or truth’ about the information.

The ‘framework’ or ‘monitor of monitors’ they currently utilize are not intuitive enough to make ‘knowledge out of information’; so instead they simply represent the information in an ‘easier to read’ format.

The ‘information overload’ problem hasn’t been solved; it’s only been relocated to a better neighborhood. Ask your systems administrator a simple question about the status of a database or network segment and you are likely to wait one to two days for an answer. (It’s not because they don’t want to respond, it’s because they have to wade through volumes of information in order to find the answer.)

Business decisions need to be made based upon the ‘system information’ and everyone feels the frustration of waiting for the ‘report’.With so much information available, why is the average business starving for truth about its own health? Mainly because the innovation in ‘framework’ and ‘monitoring’ tools has been dragging behind other technical innovations.

The world-class vendors who offer the ‘monitor of monitor’ tools have been doing business as usual for the past 15 years, with little or no innovation toward ‘how to do’ what they do. The platform specific modules, the intense consulting and the exorbitant price tag of framework tools has been very profitable for the vendors offering these ‘solutions’ — so why ‘fix what isn’t broken’; from their point of view.

Watch out HP, Tivoli, Computer Associates and BMC, there are new innovative products available now at a fraction of the price from young hungry vendors. Companies who have ‘started from the ground up’ to create monitoring tools that are extremely intelligent and easy to deploy and use. These ‘start-up’ companies are gaining market share quietly, without all the marketing blitz and glitter, and without charging outrageous ‘consulting’ fees to implement their solutions.

The Fortune 500 are seriously entertaining these small firms and their tools because they offer very cost-effective solutions and are usually very willing to please when it comes to customization, integration and support after the sale.

The old adage of, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” isn’t enough to keep these small unknown vendors out of the mix anymore.

Permission or Forgiveness?

System Administrators are overworked, underpaid and at the end of their collective ropes when it comes to ‘making due’ with what tools they have in the monitoring space. They have started exploring the tools available via the internet and they’ve started integrating these tools into the mainstream of their data centers.

Most of the time system administrators have not been given the ‘nod’ to integrate these tools, they have ‘just done it’ and worried about the ramifications later. ( As we all know, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.)

Sys admins become very ‘resourceful’ when pushed to the wall to make things work — this is a good thing except when the ‘solution’ becomes worse than the problem — too many tools to monitor again.

Take heart, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Do a ‘google search’ on Network Monitoring and there are literally hundreds of vendors and products to choose from — outside of the ‘Big Four’ mentioned above. Some of these tools work across platforms without any special ‘modules’ or add-ons or expensive consultants to install.

My recommendation is to determine your overall need for a tool, what it is going to solve for you, and then look for the most complete toolkit. Rather than implementing five or ten of these individual tools to solve different problems, look for the one that meets most of your needs across as many areas as possible. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of different tools giving you a lot of information and none of them providing the ‘knowledge’ you are seeking — again!

Check out the new products by these vendors first, www.sciencelogic.com , www.nagios.com and www.ipswitch.com . You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the ‘completeness’ of their offerings and even happier to see their ‘pricing’. These new (relative to the Big Four) vendors are eager to do business, have great products and are every bit as ‘reliable’ as Big Blue (they just don’t have the marketing dollars to grab your attention like IBM, HP or Computer Associates.)
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Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. She can be reached via email at terrigrauer@hotmail.com