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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Managing Your Heterogeneous Environment - Part the First

What is a heterogeneous environment? Well, what it's not is a the place where a really smart straight guy lives. What I'm getting at is really every IT shop. You may say "Hey, we only run Windows" or "Dude, we're purely SUSE here" but stop for a moment and consider those switches, routers, and UPS' in your IT shop. Are they Microsoft? Novell? Yeah, didn't think so.

So what we've established at this time is that we all work in heterogeneous IT environments. And quite likely, certain aspects of them are managed. Probably quite well (I'm not making the assumption that you can't do your job). But what's the big picture? Are you viewing things as storage, servers, networks, applications, et al and each a world unto itself? This is quite likely the situation.

So back tracking again, we've got our IT shop made up of bits and pieces from various vendors, all working together to deliver some sort of service to our end-users. Now we want to manage the whole shooting match. Get all the system stats, performance data, and alarms into one consistent view.

Well, if you go to any of the tier one vendors, they'll tell you this is simple. "Buy our product, some consulting hours, and you're done." You're done alright. You can have the consultants come in and roll out a great solution, that works for the first few weeks. What you really need in place first to underpin this architecture and provide long-term valuable metrics on your heterogeneous IT environment is a baseline, strategy, and process. Tools can come later, and with the toolsets on the market today, can be largely interchangeable & interconnecting. That's not in any way to dismiss the amount of work it takes to set up the tools correctly in the first place, that IS a lot of work.

What I want to stress here is that managing a mixed IT environment; managing all of your systems components; having that BIG picture of IT service delivery needs a good baseline/audit of what's in place today, a top-down strategy going forward, and processes that work with your people & business practises.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

HP Software Partner Enablement Galaxy

Another week on the road, after spending some "quality" time in New Orleans at HP Software Partner Enablement Galaxy last week I've come away with a few thoughts to share here. It's good to have a little time to reflect on it since I've been on the road most of October and my thoughts were largely focused on just getting back home.

To give a little background, HP Software PEG was a "by invitation" event where just over 100 consultants who are HP Software partners gathered to learn more about the current state of HP Enterprise Systems Management Software, and get some specific skills ramp-up on one of five product sets of which advanced & condensed "boot camp" style training was being offered.

Partners in attendance were from "the Americas" but primarily from the US. I met about 8 other Canadians, and a small handful of folks from Central/South America.

So, now to the meat of my thoughts... After the first day I was worried this was going to be more sales oriented than technical training. The first half of the day was spent with some "rah rah" speeches about selling software and the HP Software roadmap in very general terms in a general session. After the morning's session, we broke into our various classrooms. Personally, I choose to take the Business Availability Centre basic/intermediate level training. Again, the second half of day one ended up being an overview of the various components that make up the HP "BAC" suite, and some fairly high-level information. We each were given an HP laptop to work off of for the week, pre-set with VMWare Player and a couple of VMs. As the week progressed we got way more hands on and the teacher/subject matter became more interesting and challenging. The real challenge, however, was practical hands-on learning.

As it turns out, BAC depends on 3 core servers (Gateway, Data Processing, DB) which can run on two separate servers, but are reasonably resource intensive. The once we got to distributing the probes for various types of data gathering and synthetic transactions, we ran into some serious configuration and performance problems running those on the VMs on the laptops. That really slowed the learning curve.

Also, there were no formal printed course materials for us to take. After complaining about this at the end of day one, we were quickly provided the following morning with hardcopies of the various Power-Point slide decks, but without any accompanying notes other than those we'd take ourselves. So, to walk away from the bootcamp without demo or eval software or course materials has made it a big challenge to try and keep up the learning curve since I've returned to the office. Plus, trying to knowledge share to other folks on my team is also a challenge.

I'm planning on summarizing some high-level info on BAC for a presentation at my local Vivit chapter this Friday, but beyond that it's getting to be a bit of a challenge to leverage the week of heads-down learning into expanded corporate skill sets.

The technical challenges with the laptop based VMs I suggested at the time could be dealt with by having HP actually ship a rack of 1U servers for each classroom, and have the class break into small groups who work together implementing a BAC solution. Add to that some sort of training materials and demo software we can take with us back to our offices and then we've got a great solution.

So, was the week in New Orleans worth my time? This time I'd say yes. But if I go again in Feb where-ever they are planning on hosting the sessions, I'm hoping that they address some of the issues myself and fellow students flagged in the course reviews to ensure that we can have more productivity during and after the classes.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Software from HP, New Orleans from Jason

I won't even try and affect a cajun accent for this post, but here I am on my last day in New Orleans, at the HP Partner Galaxy event. I just spent five days heads down and in high-gear learning mode absorbing everything I can about the new release of HP's Business Availability Centre and learning about the other new product releases out this month.

I'm pretty well rounded on HP's previous offering in this area, OVIS (OpenView Internet Services) but now that all changes up with the Mercury acquisition of last year. Now they've got a really interesting package to handle complete business end-user experience monitoring and management.

The toolset is complex to get your head around initially, but the good news is that it comes in components and you only need to buy & install what you need. What you will need though, if you don't have someone on staff to handle ESM applications, is consulting time to get this done right the first time.

I'll post again soon with more details and opinions, right now I've got to catch my flights back to LAX, and then Vancouver!

Happy ESMing everyone, and so long to New Orleans.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

ITIL Version 3 - Beat the Rush?

I've been asked recently "What should I do about ITIL version 3?" My first answer is "What did you do about ITIL version 2?" If you've already started down the service improvement path based on version 2 then I would strongly advise not trying to hold any of that work up while researching the delta between 2 and 3. If you have never really considered any kind of ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) work before now then it's probably best if you start with some foundations (or, more formally, "ITIL Foundations") learning and take things from there. Not a lot of education vendors are offering ITIL V3 Foundations courses, the bulk of them are V2 based, but if you're at the point of just getting started either is of enormous benefit.

If you have the time, check into vendors offering a delta course; there are several decent ones available. Better yet, check in with your local itSMF chapter and see what's cooking there. Many of them partner with education providers in your area for member discounts on ITIL v3 upgrade courses, or put on local branch meetings featuring speakers on that topic.

So, "what should I do about ITIL v3" is best answered by taking a look at where you are on the ITIL path today, and where you are planning on being in the next two months. It also matters how much you already know about ITIL. To break into a few simple scenarios...

1. If you are ITIL savvy, and your organization is already underway with an ITIL-oriented service improvement strategy, you should be educated on the changes in v3 and how they can assist with the work underway. Beware the urge to stop any active work; because in my opinion none of the changes are so dramatic that you should rethink any major initiatives.

2. If you are new to ITIL & the concepts therein, and your organization has service improvement initiatives underway, then don't worry about v3 right now - if you have an opportunity to learn more about it, great, take advantage of that. But otherwise don't panic!

3. Assuming you are ITIL savvy but there are no organizational ITIL-oriented initiatives underway, then definitely invest some time in researching and learning about the changes in v3. It is likely they will help in the planning for any initiatives that may be upcoming.

4. Lastly, if you are "ITIL-ignorant" and the organization has no ITSM work planned or afoot, start with an education on ITIL Foundations. If it is inclusive of V3, great, but if it's only V2 based that is not an issue to be concerned about at this time. Get your feet under you first!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Agents or Not?

Well, it's been a long time coming but let's get this blog going. The first topic up for discussion in itmanagecast is whether an Enterprise Systems Management (ESM) platform should be agent based, agentless, or some combination of the two.

This discussion came up a lot two years ago when Microsoft was heavily marketing against HP in the area of application and system management. As a systems management professional I was frequently asked about my opinions of the two competing products. Unfortunately, I was often asked for my opinion on this topic within the framework of an over-simplified question - agent-based monitoring (i.e. HP OVOW) vs. agentless monitoring (i.e. MS MOM).

People frequently felt that a solution had to be one or the other - the use of some sort of (semi-)proprietary agent technology or a mechanism that polls WMI data from windows hosts. This discussion becomes even more complex when SNMP is added to the discussion. SNMP agents by definition would be agent-based management. SNMP is in fact the classic agent-based enterprise mangement technology - and is frequently frowned upon by Windows sysadmins, where it is used most commonly by network sysadmins and UNIX/LINUX folks.

So does this become the usual MS vs. the world religious debate? Too often, yes. Is that really the question? No. MS based ESM solutions as well as non-MS can be either agent-based or agentless. So lets take the OS and associated doctrine out of the equation.

At the end of the day, all things being equal, the question comes down to whether you should ultimately have to choose one technology or the other. Ideally you do not have to choose but can leverage both. Agents can then be used in situations where you need the ability to have systems "self-manage" when there is the risk of disconnection between the managed nodes and management server. Agentless can be advantageous in situations where there is limited overhead available on the managed node.

So, the great and useful answer is "it depends." What technology you choose should be based on what you need, not what someone likes better. Really, that's the point. Don't have a decision made by emotional basis, or someone's opinion on whether agents are good or bad - make the decision based on what works for your organizations business and technical needs.

Monday, January 15, 2007

ITManageCast Premiere Post

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening.
Thank-you for stopping by the ITManageCast Blog and checking out our first posting. ITManageCast is a podcast that focusses on IT systems and network management, ITIL, and other related topics to managing, monitoring, and maintaining your IT infrastructure.

I'm the host of ITManageCast, and I am really looking forwards to bringing information out to our audience. Our show is recorded in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada but covers topics pertinent to anyone, anywhere, who is tasked with the topics we've outlined in the paragraph above.

The production team is always interested in hearing back from the listeners as to what topics or interviews would be valuable so we are keen to hear constructive comments back at our email address;

The first episodes will be online soon, we just have to work the bugs out of our RSS feed first, and then we'll post here immediately as soon as it's ready. Our next blog posting will outline the content of the upcoming podcast.