State of systems management and data center services: 2011

Systems management and outsourcing options are two keys to efficient data center operation.

This Content Component encountered an error

Data center hardware and workloads are difficult to provision, track, monitor and control. Adding virtualization and cloud computing technologies only compound these complications in that they separate workloads from physical machines.

IT professionals rely on management tools to organize and optimize the data center. Outsourcing all or some portion of the IT workload -- infrastructure and management tasks, for example -- has also become a practical way to ease overburdened IT staff. Outsourcing can also consolidate traditional capital expenses into predictable, recurring monthly charges. How do your organization’s attitudes toward management tools and outsourcing compare with others in the industry?

SearchDataCenter.com released the Data Center Decisions 2011 survey (DCD: 2011) to gauge trends and understand factors influencing data center evolution in the enterprise. We received more than 1,000 responses from a range of IT professionals. This fourth article in our special report series examines respondents’ attitudes toward systems management products, outsourcing services and other related spending trends for 2011, and how those feelings have changed over the year.

Choosing systems management products
Data center systems management presents an array of requirements. When asked to cite their biggest systems management challenges, IT pros responding to DCD: 2011 seem to have difficulty with change. Properly addressing shifts in capacity, availability, configurations and other system attributes remain top concerns, as shown in Table 1.

Managing performance over time and being able to change workloads and computing resource needs on a dime are pervasive problems, especially in an evolving data center. Systems availability is also an issue for organizations with mission-critical workloads and regulatory compliance restrictions. And when changes do occur, managing them is vital. IT pros must be able to accurately track and document the evolution of their environments.

Table 1 – Primary system management challenges for IT professionals

Challenge 2011 results

Capacity planning and monitoring

16%

Server availability monitoring and metrics

16%

Change and configuration management

13%

Storage management

11%

I/O bottlenecks

9%

Systems security management/security gaps

8%

Network capacity and utilization monitoring

7%

Inadequate or uneven performance

6%

Backing up virtual machine data

  4%

Configuration difficulties

4%

Tracking and identifying virtual machines

2%

Compliance and/or auditing

1%

Goals of systems management tools. When asked to rank why they use systems management tools, automation and productivity ranked highest for the last two years, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2 – Factors driving systems management software purchases

Factor 2011 results 2010 results

Manual process automation

51%

52%

Increase staff productivity

42%

44%

Troubleshoot performance problems and outages

28%

25%

Implement virtualization

22%

21%

Contain costs and align business with IT

19%

18%

Rein in configuration challenges

15%

17%

Comply with regulations

8%

10%

Create a private cloud infrastructure

1%

No data

Traditional systems management requires a great deal of manual interaction from IT staff, and the desire to automate processes is clearly a priority among survey respondents from year to year. Automating processes frees up staff for other creative and long-term tasks like strategic planning. A close corollary is the desire to increase IT staff productivity, which results from automating cumbersome and time-consuming responsibilities. These tools can also help track down problems and troubleshoot the environment.

Still, some IT managers are skeptical about the benefits of completely automating systems management. “There are great tools out there that will help you spin up a [disaster recovery] virtual machine or help you load-balance a server,” said Bill Kleyman, director of technology at World Wide Fittings Inc., a global manufacturing shop headquartered in Niles, Ill. “However, giving full automated control to a system without any user interaction is scary. There will always be a need for human hands at the console to ensure proper use of automated systems.”

Not all experts are in agreement about why IT pros seek out systems management tools. “When aggregating the data collected, the single greatest factor can be boiled down to flexibility,” said Chris Steffen, technical architect at Kroll Factual Data, a Loveland, Colo.-based provider of independent verification services. “The more flexible that the tool can be, the greater the longevity … and the more willing decision makers and IT professionals will be to upgrade and maintain the suite.”

How do these numbers translate into actual systems management purchases? DCD: 2011 asked IT professionals to name the top two management tools they will purchase this year. As Table 3 illustrates, the top three management tool categories for 2011 are performance management, virtualization management, followed by change and configuration management.

Trends in performance and virtualization management purchases remain unchanged from 2010, while acquisitions of capacity management tools declined steadily year-over-year. This dip is likely because popular hypervisors are now bundled with necessary capacity management features. The emphasis on compliance tools also declined in 2011, possibly because compliance responsibilities have shifted to departments outside of IT.

Table 3 – Systems management tool purchases

Tool category 2011 results 2010 results

Performance management

38%

39%

Virtualization management

25%

26%

Change/configuration management

23%

21%

Network management

20%

19%

Automation

18%

16%

Asset management

17%

15%

IT service management and service desk

15%

13%

Capacity management

15%

22%

Incident management

12%

13%

Compliance

5%

10%

Systems management vendors and criteria. Windows platforms have a strong presence in the data center, so it's no surprise that Microsoft is the clear leader in systems management tools. The company supplies several mature products such as System Center Configuration Manager, System Center Virtual Machine Manager and System Center Service Manager. Table 4 lists systems management tool vendors that DCD: 2011 respondents are using in 2011 compared to those in data centers last year.

Table 4 – Systems management tool vendors

Vendor 2011 results 2010 results

Microsoft Corp.

57%

50%

Hewlett-Packard Co.

37%

37%

SolarWinds

28%

21%

IBM Corp.

26%

31%

CiscoWorks

22%

No data

Symantec/Altiris

22%

No data

CA

18%

18%

Nagios

17%

13%

Quest Software

14%

No data

BMC Software Inc.

14%

22%

Novell

7%

4%

Oracle-Hyperion

6%

4%

Compuware

6%

No data

Zenoss

4%

4%

A few trends stood out in 2011. Large vendors such as Microsoft as well as smaller, niche vendors like SolarWinds both gained ground among consumers. In addition, 2011 gave rise to several new vendors in the systems management market, according to DCD: 2011 data.  

Vendors listed in Table 4 are by no means exhaustive; there are many other systems management vendors. However, several other companies, including Ganglia, Nimsoft, Uptime Software Inc., GroundWork, ManageEngine, Centina Systems Inc., Hyperic Inc. (now part of VMware), FrontRange Solutions and ServiceNow, all received 2% or fewer responses.

Data center managers scrutinize both features and price when choosing a systems management vendor. In 2011, 76% of respondents ranked features and functionality as a top priority when choosing a vendor, while 58% consider price alone the most important factor. Ease of installation and use nabbed 19% of votes, 16% of IT pros responding rely on an existing relationship with the vendor and 14% prefer vendors with an integrated management suite.

In 2010, 82% of IT professionals looked for features and functionality when choosing a system management vendor and 51% cited price as a top criteria. The shift from features to price is not a surprising one. IT departments still have a need for management tools, but often have limited budgets to acquire and maintain them. Other considerations have remained steady year over year.

Systems management budgets and spending. IT departments not only need funds to purchase systems management tools, but also require capital to train staff and time equity to install, use and maintain the systems. Unfortunately, budgets don't always reflect operational costs. In 2011, 54% of respondents expect funding to remain flat and 33% expect some increase in systems management funds. The good news seems to be that only 6% expect a decline in systems management funding, which is down from 8% last year.

Moving IT out of the data center
Companies are becoming more comfortable with the idea of offloading to third parties certain data center functions – or having those companies host certain fringe technologies. The interest in outsourcing is easy to understand. Reduced staffing and tight budgets prohibit many organizations from mastering emerging technologies or supporting the organization's growing computing needs. Outside help can bridge that gap, allowing a business to deploy new equipment or tools in less time. Outsourcing also allows companies to reduce capital investments in hardware and facilities.

DCD: 2011 examined IT professionals’ current and future attitudes toward outsourcing in the data center, and discovered there are still some mixed feelings. The most noteworthy interest in outsourcing is in hardware, software, application and systems consulting services for deploying and integrating new devices and software. However, a large percentage of respondents are not using any third-party outsourcing services. Other uses for third-party hosts in the enterprise are shown in Table 5.

Table 5 – Types of outsourcing used by IT

2011 outsourcing interest Previous 12 months Next 12 months

Hardware/software/application/systems consulting

40%

35%

No services

34%

36%

IT outsourcing services (e.g., IBM Global Services)

23%

19%

IT application development services

21%

23%

Management consultants (e.g., Deloitte, Accenture)

20%

15%

Infrastructure as a Service providers (e.g., Rackspace)

12%

12%

Managed service providers (e.g., mindSHIFT)

7%

12%

Choosing a managed services provider. Selecting the right managed services provider for your data center can be difficult. Choices range from small, local shops to large, globally recognized service organizations. DCD: 2011 surveyed over 1,000 IT professionals on which characteristics they find most valuable in a service provider. A resounding 62% look for expertise in a specific technology or application, while 60% focus on price. [There is no comparative data for 2010.]

Beyond expertise and price, IT professionals are less concerned with past relationships with the provider, its size or its location. Only 23% of respondents made decisions based on a previous vendor relationship, 21% look for a top-tier provider with a global reputation, 20% want a vendor that is authorized and/or certified to support or implement specific product(s), 16% want to support a local company and 7% merely choose a provider that isn’t associated with a particular hardware or software vendor.

“Our two primary concerns when working with managed services providers are reliability and presence,” said Kleyman. “If a system component goes down, we need to know that we are being taken care of immediately. Downtime for our company can cost between $150,000 and $300,000 per day, depending on the system that goes down.”

Software as a Service and systems management trends. Although an organization typically owns and operates management tools in-house, an emerging trend is to use off-premises, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) management tools. With the high cost and complexity of some management suites, the notion of simply “renting” access to tools can seem appealing. But it's an idea that is still clearly in its infancy, according to DCD: 2011.

In 2011, an overwhelming 62% of IT respondents would not purchase SaaS-based systems management software or replace in-house system management tools with SaaS products. Nearly 23% of survey respondents would consider purchasing or replacing in-house IT tools with SaaS-based offerings. Only 10% of IT professionals currently use SaaS-based systems management tools or would consider replacing other in-house tools with a SaaS. Another 5% have started using SaaS-based systems management tools, but want to first evaluate long-term return-on-investment and functionality of the model. [There is no comparative data for 2010.]

“I rarely hear traditional IT folks interested in SaaS-based tools,” said Michael Cote, an analyst with Seattle-based RedMonk. “I think it’s a mix of fear of the Internet going down, fear of losing my job and a lot of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There are some technological hurdles, but those are being worked on frantically.”

A large sampling of IT pros is opposed to SaaS-based tools, according to survey results. In 2011, half of the respondents prefer traditional tools because they already have in-house expertise to operate existing management systems. Another 20% expressed concern about pricing, noting that SaaS tools would be more costly than current management tools. Fourteen percent prefer tools that accompany virtualization platforms, which are increasingly comprehensive, cost-competitive and integrated with the environment. Only 8% said they avoid SaaS-based tools because of the associated learning curve.

Even though only a small number of respondents are currently using SaaS-based tools, major drivers behind adoption were clear. In 2011, 47% of those surveyed said they need a variety of tools for physical and virtual systems.  In these instances, SaaS makes sense as it alleviates the need to purchase and maintain multiple tools. Another 21% of respondents said traditional systems management tools and frameworks are too expensive, 17% believe tools and frameworks are too complicated. A mere 11% said they have turned to SaaS delivery because the large computing demands of traditional systems management tools and frameworks impose too much on the infrastructure.

Service spending and budgets. Spending intentions often are a good indicator of interest in a technology; and based on the responses from those involved in managed IT services, the outlook is modest at best. Survey results for 2011 indicate that the vast majority of any expected funding will remain flat over the next 12 months, while only 12% of respondents expect some budget increase for managed services. Another 13% of respondents expect some reduction in their managed services budget, and 18% have no intention of spending any money to adopt managed services over the next 12 months.

When asked why budgets for managed services have changed in 2011, 35% of those surveyed noted the change was the result of an IT budget cut, 25% expect to do more work in-house, 18% said managed services filled a role in a specific IT project that had expired and 5% noted that they intended to move from managed services to the cloud in the next year.

This was first published in July 2011

Dig deeper on Data center capacity planning

Pro+

Features

Enjoy the benefits of Pro+ membership, learn more and join.

0 comments

Oldest 

Forgot Password?

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an email containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

-ADS BY GOOGLE

SearchWindowsServer

SearchEnterpriseLinux

SearchServerVirtualization

SearchCloudComputing

Close