Fact: Today’s businesses must be available 24/7 with fewer people having to manage more complex systems and processes.
IT departments receive a constant bombardment of information from a diverse variety of operating systems, business applications and critical processes and support a complex array of servers and devices running across their entire network.
With tight resources and the need to keep costs in check, more and more is expected of IT operational staff to handle this information efficiently. They need to ensure a swift response with appropriate actions, that essential data is received at the right time, prove service levels are maintained, that contingency and high availability strategies are fully operational and that vital business activities run smoothly and without disruption.
To monitor every application and system requires the eyes of a hawk and the arms of an octopus!
One solution is to have a holistic view of your enterprise from a single screen that must be portable, such as a smartphone or tablet. Who wants to pull out a laptop in the middle of a ball game to see why business applications are performing slowly or why your CEO cannot access their email?
But the total solution is more involved than that. What kind of safety net processes can you put in place so you can combat “Information Overload”, yet not miss a single thing, drop the ball or cause a negative impact on the business and more importantly, how do you go about it?
In thisguide, I will investigate how to handle the daily deluge of information as well as my 5 recommended strategies and solutions you can deploy to become an IT superhero in your organization.
The Problem With History Is That It Is Always In The Past
How many times has somebody, maybe even you, started a sentence with “I remember when...” and “When I worked at...”? You know that what you are about to hear is a story based upon experience of how the person involved was a superhero in a particular IT computing related firefighting story and how they have enjoyed the glory since it happened a few years ago, many years ago, but most realistically, a couple of decades ago.
What the story reveals is that being a superhero in the working environment is a great feeling; it shows commitment, enjoyment, passion and fulfillment.
Do you recognize those phrases as words you would use to describe yourself in your current role? Are you a superhero or do you now find it is so difficult to understand all the aspects of what you are meant to be supporting that it is impossible to be that hero anymore?
Let’s say you are an IBM i operations specialist and an expert in your field. Well today you must also be a Windows specialist, perhaps due to company acquisitions and mergers, or downsizing and employee layoffs and you may now need to understand AIX, or Linux, and you must manage and monitor networking equipment, firewalls, routers, switches, cabling. The list is endless.
Probably the most important point I need to emphasize to achieve superhero status is that you need to ensure the business is running correctly as well. Specifically, that the essential applications your business uses to function must also be readily available and perform quickly enough for your users. You need to also ensure that if anything does go wrong that you can recover from it promptly and efficiently.
In my opinion, the real cause of the problem is “Information Overload.”
We know we have an awful lot to handle, the truth is too much, but having identified the problem, here are 5 questions you really need to think about:
- How do you manage an ever increasing number of systems and clients with fewer people?
- How can you become a subject matter expert on every operating system and application/ERP system?
- How can you manage all your network alerts and thresholds?
- How can you keep control of your backups, virus definitions, patches, updates, new features?
- How can you keep track of multiple consoles or interfaces to manage numerous IT environments?
Well, you can grow eight arms like an octopus, swap your eyes for the eyes of a hawk, never sleep, never miss anything, keep up–to-date on all new technologies and you too can become that IT superhero that history foretold was your destiny.
Of course there is another solution; Smart Automation
Use industrial-strength, proven, specialist monitoring and automation software to fully automate the routine tasks, such as checking disk space, memory utilization, and processor utilization and also continuously verify that:
- Your critical business applications, systems and processes are available
- Response times are acceptable to the business
- Thresholds are not being breached or are about to be reached which could impact the business
More importantly, identify solutions that will tap you on the shoulder and instantly notify you that there is an issue; you also need to know you can drill-down and see what caused the problem. Then, wherever possible, automate what your appropriate response or sequence of actions would be to remedy the situation.
Deploy Strategies to Take Control of Information Overload
1. Automation, Automation and Automation
My wife says I am lazy. I say I am an automation evangelist. If I can automate something I will. If I don’t know how to automate something I will ask somebody who does know.
The point is, once you correctly automate a process you can repeat it consistently. Consistently is the important word in this context. If a single person is responsible for checking a process then you can’t guarantee consistency; they may be on the telephone, they may be in a traffic jam or they simply may be elsewhere.
If you use an automation tool instead - you can guarantee that the process you’ve defined, or a procedure which is contained within templates, can be repeated again and again without human intervention.
Let’s take an example of ensuring that my ERP system or my High Availability software is active;
- I know I need to ensure that the jobs, subsystems and processes associated with each application are running at the required times.
- I know that the performance response times must be equal or better than those stated in Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
- I know that messages and alerts with different severities will be generated from each application or system and these will need dealing with in different ways.
- Maybe I need to take an action if an alert appears only once but a different action or sequence of actions, if an alert appears more than once within a certain time frame.
- Additionally, I may need to perform different actions for the same message depending on the time of day or the day of the week.
Here’s the important point; multiply this scenario several hundred times for all my applications and systems and I am set to fail unless I automate the monitoring and operations.
When deciding on which automation solution to deploy you need to be aware that the more advanced solutions include templates which are pre-configured to monitor for the most common business applications, ERP and financial packages such as, JD Edwards, Infor, System 21,Lawson M3, Misys Equation, Midas Plus, as well as supporting the most common High Availability packages.
Ensure the templates can be easily customized to suit different application environments. For example, you may be running an in-house written application instead of one of the third party applications mentioned above and have unique requirements that need to be monitored.
2. Break down your automation project into bite-sized chunks
You have reached an important first stage when you have installed systems management tools which can monitor and automate the most common scenarios in your organization, but also act as an early warning system for the unexpected.
The next step is to identify the “quick fixes” and “easy wins” first and then chart your progress. Start by creating a base line of everything you should be monitoring. By example, for any manual tasks such as check lists that are completed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, try to attribute cost wherever possible (hourly staff rate) so that you have a useful indicator for management in proving return on investment when you fully deploy an automated solution.
Remember Rome wasn’t built in day. You are embarking on a continuous improvement program which should reap significant business benefits as you progress your project against each milestone or target.
3. Use templates for common and specialized monitoring requirements
If you are going to spend your valuable time automating the monitoring and associated actions for each task, then put that process into a template so it can be deployed to multiple systems.
Templates can be grouped by function or application. Multiple templates can then be applied to existing systems – or each newly installed system.
Some examples of how templates can be applied:
- Create processor, disk space, and memory monitoring rules as a ‘Standard Performance Template’. Apply it to every system.
- Create an additional template for disk thresholds and disk arm utilization, memory paging faults, and processor bound processes and save it as an ‘Advanced Performance Template’. Apply this template to your database servers.
- Create Exchange Server templates to ensure services are started, outbound queues are active, log files are cleared and database size increases. Apply this alongside the performance templates to your email servers.
- Create AIX templates based on the above criteria, plus Linux and IBM i templates and so on.
Or better still, use a product that has point and click technology and best practice example templates included in the package, so you are already one step ahead.
4. Monitor by exception
It seems so obvious when you say it out loud but ask the question to yourself. “Do you monitor by exception?” Do you check each day that all your backups have completed normally?
If you answered yes to that question then you do not monitor by exception. I do not check that my backups have completed each day as I do not care. I only care about the backups that have not completed.
I use my automation tools to check if my backups have completed normally and if they have not I automate an action which sends a message to my cellphone and I also have the alert displayed on an Enterprise Management Console, such as Halcyon’s, so I have full visibility.
It sounds simple but it means I do not see lots of ‘noise’. I do not see 150 alerts telling me everything is good and 4 alerts telling me something is bad. I only see the 4 alerts I need to action.
5. Finally, embrace mobile computing smart technology so that information comes to you rather than you having to look for it
You no longer have the luxury of just sitting at your desk looking at consoles and screens; you have meetings to attend and reports to write. You have to prove what value you add to the business just by being employed. You need to use your automated operations software to come and find you and tap you on your shoulder to say; “Hey you need to look at this and do something about it before something goes wrong.”
You need to embrace a solution that provides automation ‘on the go’. These days, smartphones, tablets and mobile consoles are a necessity, not a nice to have. Look for modern system management solutions that have developed specialist ‘apps’ which enable you to receive alerts on your preferred mobile device.
What's the Alternative?
So that all sounds like common sense, right? Why don’t I just write my own automated scripts and routines?
I frequently talk with client’s who ask me that very question. You can write your own scripts and routines based on what you know.
But what about what you don’t know?
How can you monitor for something that you don’t know may happen? That is why you need a professional monitoring and automated operations product, that nurtures best practices and is also maintained and updated with new features and monitoring requirements before they become an issue.
You should look for an automated solution that preferably uses ‘point and click’ technology on all platforms and does not use scripts, unless you need to for legacy reasons.
What about operating system updates and file structures changes?
I have seen so many in-house written utilities that just break when changes outside of the author’s control have been made. Such as upgrading to a newer release of the operating system or simply applying an update. Additionally, I have seen many clients using utilities where the original author is no longer working at the company – or worse. Using an automated system management solution takes those concerns away.
Maybe new technologies are introduced as the result of a company merger, acquisition or a technology refresh. How do you know what needs to be monitored and how do you suddenly become a subject matter expert?
Looking from the outside, I personally would not want to put my own job at risk by being responsible for writing my own utilities, which if they should fail could be detrimental to both the business and my employment status. So my recommendation would be to adopt best practices.
There are sophisticated solutions on the market that already provide a set of best practice monitoring templates, for critical applications such as JD Edwards. SAP, Infor, System 21, Lawson M3, Misys Equation and Midas Plus. These will allow you to get started in a matter of hours rather than weeks.
To manage the information overload thrust upon you in today’s working environment, keep your business systems running, and to keep everybody happy you need to rely on a robust, automation solution to automate everything you possibly can. It will tap you on the shoulder if you need to do something or if there is something you need to be aware of and will let you regain control of your business systems.