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Frameworks or platforms for IT infrastructure management: Are they worth it?

The utility of frameworks for IT management has been hotly debated. Are they worth it? Do they save time? Defining what frameworks actually are is the first step. Richard Ptak will drive to do just that in his first column for on the topic.

Google the term "frameworks," you get over 18,000,000 hits. Search for "IT frameworks," and it drops to a little...

over 2,500,000. Frameworks are everything from a Drum and Bugle Corps show to an aluminium screen door company to superstar implementation best practices such as ITIL, COBIT and CMMI. No one can say frameworks aren't popular, but are they really useful?

Framing the frameworks and platforms debate

Our focus is on the frameworks or platforms for IT infrastructure management. Their utility remains a hot topic for many. Are they worth it? Do they actually save you time? Are they too complicated to succeed? Or, are they too simplistic to deliver on their promise? For IT, we say yes. But, it isn't that simple. First, we must agree on what we are talking about.

There are arguments on both sides. What they lack in decisiveness they more than make up for in lack of clarity. This is partly the result of the ambiguity of the development history. Two of the most popular management platforms (Tivoli and BMC) began as application development tools, grew into frameworks and evolved into comprehensive management solution with platform characteristics.

Another part of the problem results from an inclination among competitive vendors trail- blazing markets. To create a unique niche, they tolerate pervasive (frequently deliberate) imprecision when describing product functions. Note: Ambiguity also appears among media and analysts, as they fight for recognition by creating unique labels for "new" and emerging wrinkles in the IT fabric.

A model for discussing frameworks and platforms

To reduce ambiguity, we will use a model that defines three functions that management frameworks/platforms can usefully provide:

  1. A development platform to build management applications
  2. A set of shared, common services or functions (such as a profiles, task library, user interface, engines for reporting, modelling, analytics, etc.)
  3. Integration facilitation capabilities to easily pull together the multiple different tools needed to keep enterprise infrastructure, resources and assets working to support enterprise efforts (e.g., tools for the management of security, performance, configuration, etc.).

It isn't necessary that all these functions be intimately bundled into a single massive monostructure. In fact, early experiences indicates that the secret to success comes from a proper and appropriately blended recipe of separated functionality. A well-defined design concept that can be understood by consumers. We'll use this model to examine some of the more popular management platforms in future articles. Let's finish our overview of the management platform space.

Frameworks and platforms: Reviews of current options

Each management vendor (BMC, CA, IBM, HP, etc.) has a unique combination of these functions even if they deny any association with frameworks or platforms. The functionality mix depends upon their view of how to best attack and solve the management problem. 

Far from fading from sight, new frameworks and platforms continue to appear.

Far from fading from sight, new frameworks and platforms continue to appear -- in response to emerging and evolving infrastructure management challenges. Virtually every supplier of a broad-based management solution will make implicit claims -- if not explicit -- about aspects of framework functionality.

The value proposition for platforms is a mixed bag. Different perspectives emphasize these four outcomes as the primary drivers or benefits from platforms:

  • They save development and implementation time as different tools for specific functions easily plug into existing environments.
  • They reduce development time for new tools focused on specific management tasks that leverage existing functions.
  • They have lower training and maintenance costs as operations staff build expertise using a common set of base functions and interfaces.
  • They cause operations staff to concentrate their efforts on developing new applications and services to achieve business goals, and not focus on becoming integration experts.

In early instantiations -- despite vendor promises and best efforts to the contrary -- frameworks proved to be bulky, awkward and parochial in design. Hence, enterprise projects aimed at implementing framework-based solutions proved to be expensive and prolonged with most yielding less than satisfactory results. As a result, reference to "frameworks" or "management platforms" were dropped from product descriptions.

Some in IT are happy to take the time every 6 or twelve months to integrate a new "Best-of-Breed" product in their shop. The justification is that they always have the latest and best tools. They also, incidentally, establish them as the sole experts on their particular implementation architecture.

This wasn't a problem until executives, newly sensitive to IT as a business function, realized infrastructure maintenance consumed a far larger portion of the IT budget than the innovation needed for business success. IT was being called upon to deliver new services and applications to achieve business goals. At the same time, the structure of management solutions was undergoing change.

Renewed interest in integrated management solutions

As experience accumulated, fashions changed and technology advanced -- once again integrated management solutions are being spoken about in public. The idea and reality of the interdependency and complexity of operations within IT as well as with outside business functions placed more and more demands on IT time and resources. Intelligent, automated, integrated management is becoming mandatory to survive.

Intelligent, automated, integrated management is becoming mandatory to survive.

The questions followed:

  • Should IT managers and administrators give traditional management frameworks a second look?
  • Do system management framework tools remain a good choice only for the largest of shops?
  • Does open source provide a viable alternative?
  • Are there alternatives to commercial frameworks?

We'll discuss these topics as we lead up to TechTarget's Data Center Decisions event taking place in Chicago, Il., this fall. In the meantime, tell me what you think!

Agree, disagree, have something you want to add or comment? Let me know what and why it struck your interest at:[email protected] and we'll try to address it in a future column.

About the author:
Richard Ptak is an analyst with Ptak, Noel & Associates. He has over 30 years experience in systems product management.

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