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ITIL: Managing change, breaking down silos

For data center managers, ITIL can bring more comprehensive knowledge of the assets and resources IT managers have at their disposal. Learn more with this installment of our feature on ITIL in the data center.

This is the third article in our five-part feature on ITIL in the data center. Table of contents

For data center managers, one of the most basic improvements ITIL can bring is a more comprehensive knowledge of just what assets and resources IT managers have at their disposal. Knowing that, and knowing how they're changing, can be vital in planning for big shifts in technology. Put simply, if you don't know how you're doing now, how can you know if you're doing better later?

ITIL eases modern infrastructure into data center

Michelle Hudnall, director of service management at Managed Objects Inc., a software provider based in McLean, Va., says new approaches like virtualization and service-oriented architecture (SOA) can put a premium on the ability of data centers to conduct performance and capacity management. "ITIL processes are one way that data centers can monitor and plan services," she says.

One of the selling points of virtualization is the ability to partition server capacity quickly on an as-needed basis. Likewise, with SOA, a big benefit is the ability to reuse software components in a variety of applications. With both approaches, IT has to be able to respond to business requests quickly by essentially changing infrastructure components on the fly; without visibility into those components, that becomes a tough task for IT to fulfill.

At Broomfield, Colo.-based office supply company Corporate Express, data center manager Dave Hines hopes ITIL will help tackle the chaos that comes with exponential growth. In 1986, Office Express got its start with a $100 investment. Today, after numerous acquisitions, the company has sales of more than $4.5 billion.

Hines, who's in charge of a server-based data center with about 600 HP and Dell machines running AIX, Linux and Red Hat, first explored ITIL in order "to try and get ourselves better organized," he says. "In IT, everything is siloed, there's a lot of duplication and communications across the silos is a barrier."

ITIL improves help desk

One area where IT silos often manifest is with help desk support. Applications have their own help desk personnel, as does networking and the data center. When problems occur, such overlap will distort the big picture. Rather than deciphering patterns—identifying incidents—IT will continually solve the same problem repeatedly rather than find the root cause and eliminate the incident. One typical scenario: end users repeatedly call the help desk because they forget their passwords. With ITIL, which calls for centralizing such help desk processes, an IT department will discover the trend and can respond by deploying automatic password resets.

Phil Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County in Pontiac, Mich., has been able to confront such issues. His IT department maintains all issues related to its service center in a repository, providing a central location for all data related to incidents, problems and change orders, thereby eliminating duplicate work.

Another reason for implementing ITIL has to do with knowledge management, an idea that will become increasingly important as data center staff with years of mainframe experience begin retiring.

"A lot of processes and configuration know-how lives in the head of the lead techs," says Hank Marquis, the managing partner and CTO of itSM Solutions, a Lexington, N.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in IT service management. "ITIL can provide the impetus to document processes, and then a CMDB or other software can automate the workflow.

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