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ITIL vets turn to SaaS-based tools to ease upgrade hell

Matt Stansberry

For some companies, the pain of upgrading IT management software is enough to break a relationship with existing vendors. The upgrades can span months or even years, and require an army of professional services people to get the job done.

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Some frustrated companies have turned to IT management Software as a Service (SaaS), and now their upgrade hell is a thing of the past.

Sheri Cassidy, the PMP manager of process engineering services at Progress Energy, a Raleigh, N.C.-based utility, dumped BMC Software's Remedy ITSM application suite to avoid the pain of upgrades.

In 2006, Progress Energy conducted a Remedy IT service management (ITSM) upgrade, which Cassidy characterized as time-consuming and costly. Then 18 months later, the organization needed to upgrade again, from version 5.6 to version 7 to continue to receive support. Or it could consider alternatives.

"We did a thorough investigation of functionality of Remedy ITSM version 7 and found it to be disappointing on what had been enhanced since Version 5.6," Cassidy said. "We had already been through some upgrades in the product suite and felt that it wasn't going to be worth the upgrade for not much progress on functionality."

Progress Energy held a bakeoff between BMC, which Cassidy considered the top contender in the big vendor space, and a "radical alternative": a SaaS-based IT management startup Service-now.com, of Solana Beach, Calif.

"We looked at the products in terms of meeting our requirements, the financial business case on TCO [total cost of ownership], vision of where the two products are going and user interface," Cassidy said. "Service-now came out ahead on all of those fronts."

Benefits of SaaS-based IT service management get clearer
The SaaS model is very attractive to Progress Energy for several reasons, including better performance now that the company no longer supports hardware for the tool. "It's like the saying about the cobbler's children not having shoes," Cassidy said. "We weren't running our [internally hosted ITSM software] at optimum capacity and we were experiencing performance issues. We don't have to worry about that with SaaS. It's someone else's issue."

Software upgrades that were previously slow, painful, and sparse are also someone else's problem. "We're impressed by the frequency at which Service-now is doing upgrades," Cassidy said. "There is new functionality coming forward on a quarterly basis. With the BMC tool, we were lucky to complete an upgrade every 24 months."

At Progress Energy, software upgrades that were previously slow, painful, and sparse are also someone else's problem.
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SaaS is also attractive because Progress Energy doesn't need to have an application support team to maintain and customize the application. "We don't need nearly the level of technical support compared to what we'd have to have to run the application in-house," Cassidy said.

Another user hosts Service-now's subscription-based software on her company's own servers said the implementation and support process is also comparatively painless.

Mary Jo McElroy, the vice president of information services at Columbus, Ohio-based healthcare provider Ohio Health, turned to Service-now after spending three years and more than $1 million trying to implement CA's Unicenter Service Desk.

Rather going the SaaS route, Ohio Health runs Service-now in-house because of security concerns. But even running the program on its own servers, McElroy said "Service-now does all the heavy lifting for the upgrades, and they're accomplished in less than 10 minutes."

"It's a subscription, so we don't own any software," McElroy said. "It's an operating expense as a subscription. We pay an annual fee. It's cheaper; it's the same reason we lease our computers over three years."

It's worth mentioning that both Progress Energy and Ohio Health have mature IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes in place, Ohio Health since 2001 and Progress Energy since 2003.

"Clients who have mature ITSM (incident, problem, change, knowledge management, some CMDB) see the value in SaaS and they want to move toward service management above and beyond ITSM," said Evelyn Hubbert, senior analyst for infrastructure and operations for Forrester Research Inc.

In fact, Cassidy said Progress Energy's ITIL maturity was outpacing its old tool set. "We were getting to the point where the BMC software was constraining our ITIL process maturity. The tool was not allowing us to do things we wanted to do. The configuration management was the biggest shortcoming," Cassidy said.

BMC responds to upgrade issues
BMC took issue with some of Cassidy's claims, and said a typical customer upgrading to version seven of BMC's ITSM suite might take four to six weeks to update a single module, or two to three months for the whole suite, with professional services help, which would add around $150,000. BMC acknowledges that there are customers that have had projects run over three months, but the company contends that these shops are rearchitecting how they run entire IT processes, and that it's not implementation of the technical tools that causes projects to go longer.

Today BMC is also offering its own product suite under a SaaS model, through business partners.

Clearing the traditional SaaS hurdles
Several IT management companies offer IT Software as a Service, including based Paglo of Menlo Park, Calif., and ManageEngine of Pleasanton, Calif. While in recent years SaaS has become more of a more mainstream model, thanks to the success of companies like customer relationship management giant Salesforce.com, there are still risks to weigh when considering SaaS adoption.

IT professionals must look at the security standards and auditing capabilities of the provider, experts said. And buyers must ask what happens in the instance of a provider's data center failure. And they must investigate how the product scales in large environments?

Although security continues to be one of the main concerns about SaaS generally, Service-now contends that it is less of an issue than in the IT management market, noting a recent research note from Gartner analyst David Coyle:

Many IT organizations don't consider data in their service desk tools to be sensitive. "If my competition got hold of my service desk tool data," said one Gartner client, "and was able to see that I have problems with our laptops, connectivity, Microsoft applications and so on, it wouldn't be a big deal. There isn't much exposure to sensitive data there." Although data security and privacy are concerns with SaaS solutions, they are less so than with service desk tools.

Forrester's Hubbert said application availability and security are risks in a SaaS environment, "But many of these [issues] can be handled via performance [i.e., service-level agreements, or SLAs] or fines or refunds, or by really understanding the vendor's capabilities."

In the case of Service-now.com, its SLA guarantees 99.97% availability, with all upgrades and maintenance built in. According to Service-now, the average availability is 99.98%. The company also houses customer operations in SAS-70 Type II audited data centers. These audits can address physical and technical security, capacity planning, disaster recovery, redundancy and availability.

"Service-now has proven itself in many large enterprises today," Hubbert said. "SaaS is no longer just for the SMB [small and medium-sized business] clients -- my customers want predictability of the cost around ITSM implementations and a superfast implementation. This is a compelling offer for enterprises."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Matt Stansberry, Executive Editor.

And check out SearchDataCenter.com blogs: Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead and Data Center Facilities Pro.


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