IT man

Getting to grips with IT

New-generation management software is presenting ever more accurate pictures of computing infrastructures and resources. Here we take a look at four tools to help you to plan and manage IT.

The developers of shoot-'em-up video games like 'Wolfenstein' and 'Doom' probably never envisaged that the technology to generate similar 3D representations would one day be harnessed for data-centre management. That, however, is just what is happening with the latest generation of IT infrastructure modelling tools. Operators are now being given the opportunity to take a virtual walk through the facilities at their command, hunting down the servers, storage devices, cabling systems and power racks located in the maze of aisles and corridors.

There is no doubt that applications that use visualisation in navigating complex data-centre environments can improve their accessibility, but these tools are more than a graphical gimmick to help sell operationally dull (though powerful) software. Providing simpler views of the mass of physical and virtual hardware and software components, and the relationships between them, in constantly-expanding data centre environments, is only half the battle; this feature should prove a particular asset with future generations of ICT engineers who have emerged into a GUI-fronted working environment, and who are just as comfortable configuring servers and switches virtually as their forerunners were taking the more hands-on approach.

The key advantage of these tools, however, is their predictive abilities, giving IT-specifiers insight into planning their IT 'estate', and also how it might be expected to behave.

"Traditional systems management solutions all have some kind of graphical topology they can show, mostly in 2D, but they generally do not scale or have the richness of interface, so a lot of people just chuck them out rather than use them," Stace Hipperson, CEO of IT modelling software specialist Real Status told E&T.

"Virtualisation and the cloud is where things are going but people are not concentrated on the outsourcing aspect of that as well, not in management tools anyway."

IT modelling and infrastructure management software has been available for over a decade, but has usually taken the form of on-premise applications which track on-premise equipment. The growing move towards hybrid IT environments, which sees companies use a combination of outsourced services located beyond the firewall, including cloud computing, and on-site systems, is changing that traditional model. 

Some tools now monitor the status of off-site equipment and come in the form of hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that provide data-centre operators with remote access to the management interface from a variety of devices, including tablet PCs and smartphones.

Knowing precisely what assets are present within the data centre, and how much they are being used, provides the business with a better idea of where consolidation can be successful, and whether any move to public or hybrid hosted cloud services represents the value for money or flexibility the organisation is looking for.

Other benefits mirror other systems management software: thus reducing the amount of time spent troubleshooting because the graphical representation lets staff pinpoint problems more quickly for example, while predictive modelling of changes to existing architecture can help with capacity planning.

Some products are geared towards the specifics of physical and virtual ICT infrastructure management. Others meld those features with an overview of additional support systems, such as heating, cooling and ventilation. This provides data-centre managers with some insight into how servers, storage, networking, and other equipment usage affects, for example, temperature and power consumption and any associated costs.

The questions for ICT professionals are: what do these packages provide, how easy are they to deploy, and what do they deliver in terms of functionality? Here are profiles of four examples of the latest such tools that give a flavour of what they set out to do.

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