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Comprehensive Systems Management

In this post, I explore systems management as a comprehensive discipline: What is it, how has it changed and what are the latest innovations to emerge. Systems management has developed into a mature and vibrant network of activities that are key to keeping systems available and useful. Let’s consider it as a model with categories and activities.

System Management Model

Systems management is a term that refers to the integrated management of a company’s IT assets. Typically, systems management is explained by listing different tasks required to monitor and manage systems and to resolve IT problems. The tasks performed are organized by category like these groupings from Chapter 7: Systems Management from “Introduction to the New Mainframe: Large Scale Commercial Computing” :

  • Performance management
  • Workload management
  • Configuration management
  • Operations management
  • Problem management
  • Network management
  • Storage management
  • Security management
  • Change management

The Categories are Familiar

The list of categories is a starting point. Next, you have to consider the relationships between the activities in the categories. Potentially, every other category or discipline has a relationship to problem management. Problem management is a discipline that is concerned with how problems are solved, reported and tracked. How do problems get into the system in the first place?

Support personnel enter them as observed or reported and often, they’re entered automatically when a threshold is reached. Some organizations monitor with software and when a limit is reached, an automation routine creates a problem record that requires human intervention to resolve. When organizations decide to implement in this way—automated problem management—they then refine the monitoring thresholds and the human procedures until they end up with something that works well. Achieving balance with the interface between people and automation is still challenging even after decades of practice.

Relationships and Specialization

Systems management happens inside the complex world of IT. IT departments utilize a wide array of different hardware devices that all require management. Layers of software are implemented that need to be periodically refreshed through new installations or maintenance. Personnel come and go within organizations, creating skill challenges and the loss of institutional knowledge. Support procedures need frequent updating as systems when applications undergo rapid change. The data that supports the IT systems changes rapidly, and many have found that automation is critical in keeping it current and useful.

Within this complex world, there are a number of factors that impact the ability to apply effective systems management. One consideration is standards as IT suppliers utilize them in their products, and when their use is common, the result is helpful to IT departments. For example, the Distributed Management Task Force has developed the Common Information Model. Some IT suppliers use other standards like the Alert Standard Format and the Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware. Another factor is the software products used to manage systems. Each management discipline has products that are used to support it, and there is often a lot of competition for mindshare and use of a given tool. Some products have long-term institutional use whereas others come and go with the new waves of technology. Selection and use, as well as integration into existing activity flows, is required.

Outside Help

Implementing a comprehensive systems management solution with the proper focus, procedures and supporting tools is a challenge for which companies often get outside help. It’s not that they can’t do it themselves. Getting help from consultants and their practitioners helps the speed of implementation and avoids common pitfalls. When you already have a system management method in place, consultants are still useful in improving your existing approach.

Sometimes, when a crisis happens, consultants are involved to help create “a fix.”
Generally, consultants have steps that they follow to help customers with their systems management work. They might start by defining systems management principles then define (or document) the target management environments. Often, they perform a process assessment and document the results of the effort. This is one way to get started with a design or process improvement effort.

What’s Changing?

The scope of what’s called systems management is growing to include a broader array of categories and tasks as new technologies emerge. Some IT departments consider cloud as another category of systems management whereas others treat it as a separate discipline with its own personnel and tools. Either way, the same or different, cloud management requires a disciplined approach that aligns with the priorities of the business. The next post will focus on network management.