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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.

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