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IT pros explore SaaS-based infrastructure monitoring

Alex Barrett

With the success of Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings like Salesforce.com and service-now.com, data center managers are starting to explore the latest SaaS variant: infrastructure monitoring as a service.

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They hope this service can speed time to deployment, reduce infrastructure and free up staff time -- all for a smaller up-front capital cost.

With SaaS, software is hosted by a third party offsite and accessed via a Web portal. Rather than paying for the software up front, SaaS software is paid for by the month. SaaS-based infrastructure monitoring software follows that same model, except it adds an on-premise component that collects local system data, which it uploads to the third party hosting the software.

Richard Navarro, director of IT at Jewish Home San Francisco, an elderly care facility, is a recent convert to SaaS-based infrastructure monitoring, having selected business service management (BSM) software from AccelOps.

“I have set up monitoring products in the past, and have watched engineers work for weeks getting everything perfect,” Navarro said. With the hosted AccelOps service, monitoring was up and running in a matter of hours, and staff does not need to concern itself with updates.

AccelOps offers its monitoring platform in two configurations: traditional on-premise software packaged as a VMware virtual appliance, and as hosted SaaS.

“At first, the SaaS option was like, ‘Oh, this is an interesting idea, but when I looked at what I needed to accomplish, it started to make a lot of sense,” Navarro said.

In exchange, the SaaS version is more costly than the on-premise version. The starting price for both AccelOps’ on-premise and SaaS offerings is $25,000 for an annual subscription, but for that price, the SaaS version monitors fewer devices, said Scott Gordon, AccelOps vice president of marketing. Without revealing any specifics, “a SaaS solution will be at least 30% more expensive than on-premise,” he said.

But Jewish Home’s Navarro cautioned, “There are a lot of hidden costs with on-premise.”

Managing your monitoring
Indeed, it’s easy to see the logic of SaaS for infrastructure monitoring, said Michael Coté, analyst at Redmonk.

“When you start having to think about managing your monitoring, you’ve failed,” Coté said. “When you get to that point, it makes sense to do it as a service.”

And unlike other applications, the prospect of housing infrastructure monitoring in the cloud doesn’t ring too many security or compliance alarm bells.

“Monitoring will probably always require something on-premise, but you can secure connections between the data center and the cloud pretty well, so it probably shouldn’t be an issue,” said Coté.

Furthermore, in the event that the cloud-based data becomes exposed, “how valuable really are graphs of six months of CPU usage?” Coté asked rhetorically.

Jewish Home’s Navarro concurred. “We’re a healthcare organization, and we’re being nailed by regulations left and right,” he said. “But the thing about AccelOps is that it doesn’t store any company or patient information on the server -- it’s all just infrastructure data.”

The lay of the SaaS monitoring land
SaaS-based infrastructure monitoring products are still few and far between, and those that are available are relatively recent players on the stage, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and target audiences.

Besides the aforementioned AccelOps, BSM provider Nimsoft, a CA company, offers its software as a service under the Nimsoft On Demand moniker. Announced in April, Nimsoft offers the On Demand product through service providers and direct to customers. There’s also ManageEngine, whose SaaS-based network monitoring product is in beta, and LogicMonitor. And, among traditional infrastructure monitoring players, IBM has Tivoli Live.

Generally speaking, the “Big Four” of systems monitoring -- Hewlett-Packard, CA, BMC and IBM/Tivoli -- are more focused on delivering on-premise software to large enterprises, said Coté, and have not pushed hard on offering their monitoring products via SaaS.

Gordon claims that AccelOps doesn’t compete much with the traditional enterprise monitoring vendors for SaaS. AccelOps is focused on the midmarket, and as such, “we don’t see the Big Four too much because they’re pricey,” Gordon said. To make those solutions work, “you have to buy all these modules, and by the time you’re done, no one in the mid-tier can afford it.”

That may be true, but SaaS-based infrastructure monitoring pricing isn’t necessarily a bargain -- and even if it were, IT managers are hard pressed to recognize it as such.

Tom Peacock is systems architect at New England BioLabs Inc., a life sciences firm in Ipswich, Mass., that is exploring its monitoring software options. Peacock evaluated the SaaS-based LogicMonitor last year, and found that he couldn’t tell one way or the other if the service was cheap or expensive.

“It’s really hard for me to figure out if it’s a fair price,” Peacock said. “If I go with something like [open-source networking and IT monitoring software] GroundWork, I know the hard costs, but then there are soft costs … I don’t have anything to compare it to.”

Cost comparisons aside, there’s no doubt that SaaS-based infrastructure monitoring holds a lot of appeal over on-premise versions, Peacock said. “A lot of shops are like mine -- resource-starved. This would give us a single pane of glass to do just about everything we need to do, without having to build up a huge infrastructure and having to go through the pain of setting it up.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on Twitter.


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