Jon Collins, originally published on The Register
It’s a fair assumption that the operational management of IT follows some kind of maturity model. Many organizations are, in theory, chaotic; a logical next step is to implement a layer of control, and from there one might say one could start building a managed environment. After that – hurrah! – it is reputedly an easy hop, skip and jump towards fully dynamic IT management.
The problem with this model is simply that it isn’t true. The ‘chaos’ myth – that a majority of IT operations are doing no more than fire fighting, at best shoring up the defenses and just managing to keep the lights on – doesn’t actually represent the majority of IT organizations out there. In reality, most places are working at a level we could term “good enough” – the last time we researched this we found the challenge was more one of running through the mud, than fighting fires.
In truth, most mid-sized organizations hover somewhere between a ‘controlled’ and a ‘managed’ level of IT management capability. When, on occasion, things tend towards chaos – for example after a security breach or a more significant systems failure – budget can miraculously become available to sort things out. When it comes to making budget available for more general improvements however, systems management tools and techniques have not been seen as a major priority. “Good enough” is a phrase that can cut both ways.
To be fair as well, the “mid-market” has been traditionally been under-served by management software vendors, who have tended to put their efforts into providing big-ticket ‘enterprise management’ offerings. The big four providers (HP, IBM, CA and BMC) all fit into this category. Solutions available for non-enterprise organizations have traditionally been complex, time consuming and expensive to get running. Until quite recently there has been something of a gap between the simpler management tooling suitable for use in smaller companies and the management suites deployed by the largest organizations.
All this being said, there is still scope for improvement. Management tools are certainly more broadly available than they were in the past for mid-sized companies, so it may be worth you revisiting what is available today – (Sun, Symantec, Microsoft, Quest, Spiceworks and LanDesk to name a few). But let’s be clear: the primary goal is one of efficiency. This is not just a sign of the cash strapped times, though that obviously plays its part. It also reflects the fact that if IT operations spends more of its time in a managed state, rather than just keeping control, it will be better able to deliver the right services, and less likely to descend into chaos. It also makes it more straightforward to make the business case.
From my own IT management days, I absolutely knew I could benefit from having better tools in place. But while they might have reduced my stress levels, would they have actually saved my company money? I don’t know the answer to that – and I don’t suppose I should have been that surprised in hindsight, when my finance director told me I couldn’t have them.
As a further point, it’s worth remembering that efficiency doesn’t have to be about tools at all. A training course on writing administration scripts, for example, could have a very quick payback. There is also much to be said for implementing the right policies/processes in the first place. As we have seen from research such as the above, experienced practitioners understand that most systems management projects are exercises in people and process management just as much as dealing with technology challenges.
It may be that some of the developments in IT infrastructure – notably virtualisation, which encourages the more flexible use of physical resources – may require IT management to up the ante and adopt more dynamic approaches. In the meantime, and for the majority of organizations who just want ‘good enough’ IT, any visions of hyper-dynamic environments may well be a step too far.
“Good enough” IT requires good enough management tools and practices, which may be sufficient as an end in themselves, as well as offering a potential stepping stone for more dynamic approaches in the future. Though perhaps the hyper-dynamic vision will always remain just that – a vision.