E-Business Demands Integration of Systems Management Tools

It is no secret that the IT industry is hopping on the e-business, or e-commerce, bandwagon. This is true on a global level. In fact, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research expects global e-commerce, including both business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions, to grow from an estimated $655.8 billion this year to $6.9 trillion by 2004. Of that amount, Forrester expects the U.S. to garner $3.19 trillion by 2004, or 46% of the worldwide market.

This global push toward e-commerce is also driving the need for integrated management systems. "In e-business," noted Bill Gassman, senior analyst at GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn., "the need for management has gone up because the correlating need for infrastructure and business process is very tight today. Managers want to rely on this technology to improve [the] business, but they need some sort of measurement," such as capacity, performance, problems, cost, what users are seeing and so on.

For Internet e-commerce to work efficiently, companies and products must work together toward a common goal — keeping customers happy. And for e-businesses to survive and to be able to gain and retain customers, they must also be able to adequately service those customers, said Billie Shea, director of research at Newport Group Inc., Barnstable, Mass.

E-business applications run on two different platforms: a server and a network. E-business apps impact a network platform in three significant ways, said Steve Dauber, VP of marketing at Loran Technologies, an Ottawa-based company whose Kinnetics product monitors network performance. They affect the mission-criticality of the network, cause a significant traffic load, and are not easy to forecast.

Vendors offer various solutions to help alleviate downtime and lost revenue. For example, Unicenter TNG, from Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y., uses a manager/ agent architecture that is similar to a client/server architecture in that a centralized machine or server runs a manager for servers that run agents.

Agents on servers that you are attempting to manage report back to the manager using SNMP and proprietary protocols. A manager can manage multiple agents, and multiple managers can manage an agent. Managers can also act as agents for other managers. Agents gather information about the IT infrastructure and instrument resources to monitor and control all aspects of the enterprise. The agents share data with peer agents, make corrections, and alert managers to problems based on user-defined thresholds and policies that are set centrally or locally. Unicenter TNG includes both system and database agents.

Information Technology Resources (ITR), Buena Park, Calif., the primary outsourcer for Isuzu Motors America, is using Unicenter TNG to manage Windows NT and Sun Solaris and to unify its information technology in a centralized manner. "From an outsourcer perspective," said Dan Legg, senior manager for technical services, "we can't make a good profit if we can't manage multiple customers with a common user interface." Unicenter TNG allows the company to do exactly that.

It also makes it possible for ITR to leverage personnel at its various locations. "It brings a unified method of a common user interface so that I've got staff that can learn to use Unicenter products for any number of needs," Legg explained. "We're leveraging talent, rather than a need to understand the specific intricacies of each system on each platform."

Without Unicenter, he added, ITR would need personnel for each specific platform and system. But by centralizing management, Unicenter alleviates that need. "The future is to be able to manipulate or manage systems on diverse platforms without having to vertically train employees for each specific platform," Legg noted. That is why he believes Unicenter is several years ahead of the competition in terms of its technology and its ability to handle a wide range of systems management areas.

Tivoli Systems, Austin, Texas, also offers a variety of management product suites. The company's Availability Management Suite, for instance, offers automated event monitoring and correction processes. Its Change Management Suite helps users keep tabs on changes throughout their network from a central location. Also available are an Applications Management Suite and a Security Management Suite.

Houston-based BMC Software is also in the competitive mix with its Patrol product, among others. According to GartnerGroup's Gassman, seven out of every 10 dollars spent on management software are spent on one of these three vendors.

Visual integration

One way in which companies are integrating their management systems is visually, using multiple tools that integrate on-screen instead of at the database level. "Everybody wants to have their logo on [the computer screen]," Gassman said. "That's where the value is visible."

Computer Associates, Tivoli and BMC all make proprietary systems. "Once you have one of those systems, you're locked into that company's agents on your server. CA won't talk to Tivoli or BMC," said Gassman. "There's a competitive fear to providing too much integration between vendor solutions. Eventually that will break down. It will have to."

In the meantime, Manage.Com has found a way to make these proprietary systems work together. The San Jose, Calif.-based company offers FrontLine e.M, a Web-based management solution that provides discovery, monitoring, diagnosis, notification and control of problems within and across the extended enterprise.

The eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based solution provides a browser-based mechanism for acquiring, inte- grating and exchanging data within and between disparate apps (such as billing and e-commerce), services (such as E-mail, security and directories), and devices (such as routers, switches and firewalls). FrontLine e.M does this within enterprise borders and across firewalls.

FrontLine e.M first views the management environment from the transaction level, then drills down to the service or device causing the problem. A live connection service from the user's site to a Manage.Com Web site provides access to updated management information.

Manage.Com has a server that collects information from all the systems to be managed, explained Guy Wood, director of operations at Atlanta-based NetZee, a provider of Internet financial products and services. NetZee uses Manage.Com to manage its IS services and SQL Servers, as well as to integrate the management of its Raptor firewalls and communications. "Instead of going out there for views of each system, we only hit this one that polls all the information. I can poll, say, an interface to see how systems are operating," he said.

Wood values the ability Manage.Com provides to "go to one interface and see a big picture of what is going on in the corporate environment across the board." If he then finds a troubled area, he likes to be able to drill down to view that specific area.

Part of NetZee's operation includes developing, hosting and securing Web sites. Each of the company's Web servers hosts 50 Web sites — and NetZee has 40 servers. "On an individual basis, [monitoring those] would be a nightmare. I would have to have 10 operators who didn't do anything but look at those things all day," Wood said.

He also appreciates the cost savings he finds with Manage.Com. "They're a lot less investment" than other products where employees would have to be sent to train for a week, he said. "Training with Manage.Com is $200 a day."

In addition, Manage.Com offers a tool to create other interfaces, allowing for customization. Wood is most excited about that aspect. "You can get this tool that allows you to develop the interfaces instead of having a contract with them to do that for you," he said. "It puts the control back in our hands once the system is in place."

A similar firm, Dallas-based Critical-, provides Internet-based assets services management, including the ability to track corporate assets. At the foundation layer, provides classless asset tracking, such as servers, workstations, PDAs, cell phones, copiers, toasters and even microwaves — "anything with a processor," said Andrew Levi, CTO and founder. Corporate end users work with their integrator or service provider to get remote systems management capabilities on a monthly, per-device subscription.

Shifting paradigm

The enterprise management paradigm is shifting as more and more companies embrace e-commerce. When a problem arose with old tried-and-true systems, employees would complain to their IT departments. When a problem arises in today's Internet world, people take their business elsewhere.

"If Web users are to be kept satisfied," said Newport Group's Shea, "application performance must be maintained for consistency through application monitoring practices." So enterprise application integration also plays a significant part in an e-commerce world.

The Newport Group, added Shea, believes the Internet economy will drive significant growth in Web application monitoring tools and services as businesses seek to understand how users continuously experience their applications.

Compuware Corp., Farmington Hills, Mich., is one such application monitoring tools vendor. The company is well positioned for e-commerce thanks to its acquisition of performance analysis products from Arlington, Va.-based CACI in December. The products are now part of Compuware's EcoSystems tools suite.

Prior to the acquisition, Compuware offered alerting and troubleshooting tools. With the CACI products, now called EcoProfiler and EcoPredictor, the company is able to offer planning and predictive analysis as well.

This product integration is compelling because "most users do not integrate various types of performance management reporting," said Dennis Drogseth, director at Enterprise Management Associates, a Boulder, Colo.-based analyst and consulting firm. But it is a trend he is seeing elsewhere in the industry.

Pfizer Inc., a global pharmaceutical company based in Parsippany, N.J., uses Compuware's EcoSystems to report the paging and E-mail on certain events happening on its various Unix systems.

"It has become a critical [piece] in monitoring the overall health of our Unix systems. Because we have a lot more systems than people, we rely on the product to let us know when something's broken," explained John Strano, senior project manager.

Without the integration EcoSystems provides, said Strano, "we would just be shooting in the dark." Now when people leave each night, status messages roll over to an on-call person so that they know exactly what is broken. "With 100-plus systems, there's always something broken, however small that might be," Strano added. Without the help of EcoSystems, Pfizer would have to staff three shifts and have someone monitor the systems constantly.

Sun's Forté Fusion suite also provides e-business application integration by taking large-scale apps and making them work together, "but in a more intelligent way," said Jim Meyers, CTO at Framework Inc., a developer of Internet mortgage processing software in Tarrytown, N.Y.

Framework does not use Fusion internally; rather, the software firm offers it as part of a complete solution to customers. For example, if a customer wants to use Framework's technology to run a mortgage business, they need to be able to integrate that application into other applications, Meyers said. That is where Fusion fits in.

"Companies are never really on top of enterprise-level data," Meyers continued. "They get data out of one, two or three systems, but they're never sure if those systems are in sync. By integrating our product with a financial package, they can get the information from our system into their financial package — with fewer people involved in the whole process." The Canadian Depository for Securities (CDS) Ltd. uses IBM's MQSeries In-tegrator, another enterprise application integration provider, on its execution systems for trade settlement.

"With MQSeries, we've worked with our external participant community to facilitate real-time settlements," explained John Packwood, director of business development at the Toronto-based firm. The external participant community includes Canadian banks, the Investment Dealers Association and trust companies.

The CDS clears and settles all exchange transactions occurring on the exchange floors, such as equities, fixed income, Government of Canada debt, Canada bonds and treasury bills. MQSeries helped CDS eliminate duplicate entries into the internal and CDS systems. With MQSeries, a settlement instruction is entered only in the internal system. MQSeries then handles feeding the second entry back into the CDS system.

"In the debt-clearing world, we clear and settle anywhere from 120 billion to 220 billion [transactions] a day," Packwood noted. "We can't tolerate the risk involved in manual entry and reconciliation. MQSeries gives us guaranteed delivery and the automation required to handle that type of volume."

Proactive stance

E-business is simply a stack of products that are each mission-critical. Integrating management systems, however, is a necessity for e-commerce to succeed. "If that system goes down, you can lose more money in one hour of downtime than the cost of all your management products," said Les Yeamans, CEO and founding editor of ITQuadrant, a family of Web sites specializing in e-business infrastructures and integration. "Everyone is striving for 99.999 percent uptime," he added.

The real need for integrated e-business management systems boils down to the limits in application integration. "You can integrate some things and make some management tasks easier, but there is no way you can integrate everything into one tool," said GartnerGroup's Gassman.

Newport Group's Shea agrees. "It is important for businesses to seriously consider taking proactive steps to manage application performance before issues grow into serious business problems," she said.