The Importance of Automating Systems Management
Automated systems management is the only way that companies today, faced with the pressures of 100% availability and seamless continuity, can successfully ensure that their computer systems are performing at their optimum level to meet the demands of the business. The most vital asset of any company is its data. Locked away electronically and dependant on the smooth operation of the company’s IT infrastructure and computer systems, dependable systems management is a necessity to ensure that key data is always available.
With computers and applications spread throughout most organisations, systems managers are under constant pressure to provide high levels of service and reliability. As the complexity of our networks has grown, with extensive interconnectivity and global operations, the problem has been compounded. Too often systems managers are still managing in the dark and are unable to take a holistic view of the network and the computer systems they oversee. To deliver maximum value, IT managers and businesses need a solution that can be rapidly deployed across the entire organisation and one that can provide greater productivity to users by ensuring that data, key business applications and processes are available 100% of the time and the risk of unscheduled downtime is significantly lowered.
Effective systems management is also about adopting significant levels of automation (including regular housekeeping tasks) and setting up early warning systems so that you are notified of serious events. This doesn’t happen overnight; looking after your systems to this degree is a continuous improvement process and one that needs fine-tuning as the demands of the business change.. With the constant pressure on today’s IT staff, it is very easy for some of the routine, repetitive but essential tasks to get overlooked. Through automation, the constant monitoring and management of disk space, performance, system messages, system events and job queues can be easily achieved and this is a simple and cost-effective way to free up staff time.
Not only that, but automating many of the repetitive system administration tasks means that expensive and scarce IT human resources can be better deployed in other areas; such as researching new technologies, examining ways to improve business processes and workflow, and planning the future IT requirements of the organisation.
Proactive monitoring and management of computer systems is so easy to do yet it is often only implemented after a major breakdown or crisis has already occurred.
Astute IT directors are using automated management solutions as part of their everyday systems and operating a policy of management by exception by introducing “smart monitoring”. Most of the time 80% of all computer systems will be functioning appropriately; “smart monitoring” identifies the other 20% and gives an early warning to system administrators if the status changes or conditions outside the expected occur. Many managed service companies are successfully using smart monitoring to take on more business without expanding their headcount and, in addition, are reducing the overall cost of their managing their systems.
In today’s pressurised and competitive environment automated systems management is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity for minimising risk and ensuring the continuing viability of any business, regardless of its size.
Ten Top Tips for Peace of Mind
- Ensure that your systems are operating within acceptable limits – check that disk space is not approaching capacity, memory is not being overused or processors aren’t too busy – any of these problems can cause system degradation. It’s also important to have spare capacity for when bursts of processing or data manipulation are required. Also make sure that network devices, including routers, switches and hubs are not only visible but also functioning correctly.
- Check that all your vital systems are up and running and available. Depending on your type of business these will include your email server, web server and your day-to-day operational systems – finance, sales, marketing and production. For a business that depends on internet sales, having a reliable, available and working website is essential, together with all the back end systems that ensure all orders are processed, paid for and despatched. If your operation covers multiple sites, check that the communication links between sites are working and that remote sites are in both voice and data contact.
- Implement good security practices and review them frequently. Check regularly for security breaches and ensure that virus patches are up to date. A virus infection can spread fast and cause many days of lost working time. Consider internal as well as external threats, by regularly reviewing passwords and access controls.
- Make sure that you have monitoring processes and procedures in place; automated systems management tools will provide most of the services you need. However, if you don’t yet have them, ensure that manual processes exist and are followed. And don’t forget to review them periodically to ensure they are still in step with business needs.
- Ensure that your communications systems are available and working. With many telephone systems starting to be integrated into an IP network, it’s essential to ensure that they are functioning correctly.
- Implement and test your backup and restore procedures. In the event of an accident or disaster it may be necessary to revert to a previous version of your data. Backups need to be taken at least daily and a copy held off-site. As part of your disaster recovery testing, check that backup media can be read and restored from. This simple weekly check can give added peace of mind.
- Regularly check the error reporting logs. Error reporting logs can give early warning of a potential failure – for example disk read errors may pre-warn of an ailing disk drive. An error status report can also indicate when that part of the system has stopped functioning, for example scheduled tasks, tape drives or a printer.
- Environmental monitoring is just as essential as equipment monitoring. A faulty air conditioning unit can be as damaging to your business as the failure of a main server. Keep comms rooms, cabinets and computer areas clean and tidy with easy visual and physical access to equipment. Check power supplies aren’t being overloaded and regularly test power backup devices.
- Ensure events have happened to schedule. Check the status of scheduled jobs to guarantee that they have been carried out and that thresholds aren’t being reached or backlogs created in output queues – for example, print jobs or tape backups.
- Employ an integrated monitoring system to give you a holistic view of the IT systems and infrastructure. A central monitoring point gives an instant view of the status of all important devices including servers, printers, hubs, routers and switches. With automated alerts and reporting, it will help to ensure maximum availability and performance from all your IT resources.