Computer systems and networks have become integral to daily business operations and any IT outage, even in a remote branch office, will invariably result in financial costs to the business. The employees and managers within the business, as well as the customers, no longer tolerate IT system issues and downtime. As a result, system administrators and network managers are expected to maintain the IT system with maximum uptime. However, this simple task is compounded by three other factors:
- Limited IT budgets – IT managers are increasingly expected to improve quality of service (QoS) with limited IT budgets, and these limitations include capital acquisition, maintenance of new equipment, IT staff employment, and training.
- Distributed networks – Today’s networks are increasingly distributed so the IT assets being managed are generally geographically remote from the IT centre and staff. The cost of sending IT staff to fix remote issues include travel costs as well as an opportunity cost, as the effective problem resolution time is lost while the IT staff member is travelling.
- Business risk – There is increased pressure for the IT manager to secure all business data and operations to comply with recent legal requirements. No longer can the small remote sites simply be treated as part of the hostile environment and managed by limiting interconnection.
As a result, there is pressure to increase the productivity of, and the returns from, IT infrastructure. Industry analysts show that while the installed base of computers and network equipment shipments continues to grow, the unit costs continue to fall. However, the complexity and the corresponding costs of monitoring and managing this expanding infrastructure is increasing, and the costs of system down time are increasing.
The Yankee Group reports that 10 years ago businesses spent two-thirds of their IT budgets on product acquisition and one-third on managing their IT environment, whereas today they can spend anywhere between 70% to 80% maintaining their existing environments.
Indeed, over the past decade the scope of the management domain has broadened. The first generation approach to managing IT infrastructure and recovering from disaster was to have 24/7 staffing on-site or to deliver after hours and to reconfigure or power cycle the remote systems on site. These reactive and expensive management practices are being displaced by automated and proactive management, using capacity planning, performance monitoring tools and automatic configuration, and change management suites.
At the same time, coupled with this growth in the depth of management control facilities, is a broadening in the scope of infrastructure that needs to be managed. The goal of improving the TCO and QoS, while meeting today’s privacy requirements, mean that the CIO, system administrator and network manager need to embrace their branch offices, and often even mobile desktops, within their management policies. This calls for a new approach to IT infrastructure management which involves changing configurations, power cycling, connecting to restricted ports, changing access privileges, collecting buffered data and performing a variety of other control related functions.
While some of this management can be undertaken in-band (using regular data channels like the LAN and IPSec/SSL VPN services), it is also important that dedicated management channels are set up for out-of-band management. The system administrators and network managers need to access, reconfigure and recover computer and network devices in an event of failure of the normal in-band management methods.
To meet the new needs of IT managers, the next generation console managers now support the full span of both serial and network access. They enable the IT manager to access the entire new management infrastructure in their computers and network devices as well as use all the new communications protocols and tools. In addition, they provide authentication, security, logging and alerts, as well as integration with the system management applications from platform and third party providers.
Organisations implementing these management gateways in today’s IT environment will gain a solution for high availability, centralised management, policy compliance, reduced cost, and increased up-time. The challenge of managing mission-critical server and network infrastructure within distributed IT networks may soon be one less headache for the IT department, but one strong business opportunity for the channel in the meantime.