For some time, systems management vendors have touted their tools' promise in managing complexity and bringing automation to data centers. But respondents to the Data Center Decisions 2008 Purchasing Intentions Survey remain skeptical about the potential of these tools.
While nearly 65% of respondents' data center budgets have increased over budgets in 2007, data centers have not made significant increases in systems management spending for activities like monitoring performance, increasing data center automation and conducting capacity planning.
According to our 2008 Purchasing Intentions Survey of more than 600 respondents, only 35% of respondents plan to increase spending on these tools, and 42% plan to spend the same amount as they did in 2007. Interest in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) also remains lukewarm. About 70% of respondents have not implemented ITIL. Those that have implemented ITIL have taken a piecemeal approach, focusing largely on its more basic service support and delivery components.
Tackling data center complexity
But data centers have extended use of some management tools -- particularly configuration management databases (CMDBs) -- to track and manage the complexity associated with a growing number of servers, configurations and interdependencies. Nearly 80% of respondents either have or are evaluating a CMDB. "If you're in a small data center environment, you can do things without tools [like CMDBs]," said Jasmine Noel, a partner at New York-based Ptak, Noel & Associates. "But as soon as you get into tens or hundreds of servers, with people from different [parts of IT] doing different things, you need help; you can no longer just remember what you did to the system a week ago. That explains why people are putting some dollars into configuration management databases."
Still, spending on and implementation of systems management tools overall remains incremental, similar to findings from last year's Data Center Purchasing Intentions Survey . "Our research shows an ongoing lack of trust in systems management tools," said Andi Mann, a research director at the Boulder, Colo.-based research firm Enterprise Management Associates. With increasing data center interdependencies, respondents' environments "are extremely complex, and they don't believe tools can deal with that complexity," he said.
Figure 1: Spending on systems management tools in 2008
Building trust in systems management tools
Whither data centers' resistance to implementing these tools? No doubt, cost and lack of staff to manage these tools figure significantly into the spending picture. Nearly 37% of respondents say they don't have management tools because of budgetary constraints, and lack of staff is a barrier for another 24%. But skepticism about return on investment is also a factor. For 10% of respondents, there is also question about whether these tools offer sufficient value.
Figure 2: Reasons for not investing in systems management software
According to Mann, however, respondents' reasons for not investing in systems management tools reflect concern not only about cost and staff to handle these systems but also a continued lack of sophistication in data center management. "A lot of enterprises are not using sophisticated tools, and it has to do with a level of maturity," he said.
But respondents' increasing adoption of CMDBs indicates efforts to take on a more sophisticated management approach. In the 2007 Purchasing Intentions survey of 374 respondents, 24% of respondents had invested in configuration management databases, and another 24% were evaluating them.
In contrast, this year, 55% have invested in a CMDB, 5% will purchase one, and another 19% plan to evaluate one this year. This growing investment indicates that data centers have begun to lay the groundwork for future automation and more well-defined processes. "A good CMDB implementation provides the linchpin for future automation," said Mann. "You need to know what servers exist, what their configurations are before you can automate [activities like] bringing them up or shutting them down." And with server virtualization pervading data centers -- some 72% of respondents will have deployed server virtualization by the end of 2008 -- managing data center interdependencies and complexity has become paramount.
Figure 3: Configuration management database adoption
CMDBs address pain points, show immediate ROI
Thus, increasing interest in CMDBs indicates that IT shops now use these tools to lay the foundation to achieve greater data center maturity, more well-defined process and less manual management. "Among our own respondents in a recent survey, the strongest reason to employ a CMDB was to enable process," said Mann. "They need CMDBs to help them achieve that maturity. And the next step is more management tools, specifically around process automation." Still, while data centers have begun to lay the groundwork for greater maturity, investment in a variety of tools -- for say, capacity planning, performance monitoring and other systems management activities -- to aid these efforts remains slow.
Noel believes that the increase in respondents' CMDB adoption reflects the increasing pragmatism of data center spending. "Data centers start where they experience the most pain," she said. "When people use a CMDB, they use it to solve a particular problem like application troubleshooting, for example. They're spending a slowly increasing budget by tackling a specific IT management problem with tools that they can leverage for [other management uses] later on but that can give them some value today."
According to Mann, it makes sense for data centers with competing priorities to focus on initiatives that show clear return on investment. "For these shops, they have other day-to-day must-haves," Mann asserted. "They're looking at the application side, sales force applications, CRM [customer relationship management] systems, order entry. This is what drives business and adds to revenue. It's hard to point to added revenue from system management, and that's the vendor challenge: to prove the value of these tools," he said.
Still, according to Noel, trust builds on itself. As data centers deploy tools like CMDBs and gain short-term payback in tackling specific problems, these tools can then prove their value in new activities. "After implementing a CMDB and seeing how it works, a data center admin says, 'Now I can use it for something else to get answers there as well,'" she said. "Organizations are learning and figuring out, 'OK, this really does supply me the answers.'"
For SearchDataCenter.com's entire survey report, click here. Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of SearchDataCenter.com. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out our Server Farming blog.