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IT operations dashboard efforts strive for single pane of glass

Single pane of glass application monitoring is an IT myth on par with Bigfoot: frequently mentioned, constantly sought after and equally as elusive.

The modern world abounds with rumors of unbelievable things. Was it really Bigfoot getting a drink at the local coffee house this morning? Well, we all do need that first cup. And IT is no stranger to mythical creatures. Possibly one of the biggest to hit data center operations is the single pane of glass.

Single pane of glass is a term for a unified IT operations dashboard designed to bring relief to IT personnel who have suffered with multiple management and monitoring tools, browser incompatibilities, Java version issues and a host of other problems, while simply trying to troubleshoot issues in day-to-day IT operations.

This hasn't gone unnoticed from management and monitoring tool vendors. Many of them have made the transition from thick clients hosted on site to web-based tools that support more OS platforms. However, the overall success of an IT operations dashboard is somewhat questionable. While thick clients removed the reliance on specific software, many found that the web-based tools had features that required specific plug-ins, Flash or Java versions. This idea of wide compatibility exploded -- and so did the person's temper who found that tools failed to function after a web browser update.

In an ideal world, the IT operations staff would have one dashboard to monitor and adjust systems throughout the data center. This would cut down on training, reaction time and confusion for IT staff, leading to better service to end users. This is the true goal of the single pane of glass.

One of the challenges to a single-pane IT operations dashboard is that no single vendor makes all the tools in a modern data center. IT shops typically acquire vendors' products to meet business needs, within the constraints of IT budgets. While this diversity is great for the business, it creates challenges for the staff required to deploy and support these technology stacks. IT staff must already be experts on multiple environments, now they must adjust as those interfaces change with each and every update. Even with products that promise integrated management, such as hyper-converged infrastructure, IT ops still has external networking gear and the guest operating systems to contend with -- but more on that later.

Hyperactive ops

Hyper-converged infrastructure is realizing the ideal of integrated monitoring and management up and down the technology stack. Since previously unique data center silos -- compute, storage, virtualization and management -- go into the same box, the tools they come with are better for both the monitoring and execution of tasks. This still does not include all the external data center pieces that the HCI environment interfaces with, but it is a start for a unified IT operations dashboard. 

While this all sounds bleak, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel, and the odds are only 50-50 that it's a train.

Less pain to integrate

Many IT management and monitoring tools have adopted application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow other products to interface with the systems and, in many cases, enact two-way communications. This can amount to an integration as simple as pulling alerts, data and performance stats into a dashboard, or as complex as executing scripts and performing operational functions.

APIs show a glimmer of the all-encompassing IT operations dashboard promise. However, all vendors prefer for their customers to use the tools natively provided, sometimes at an additional cost. Vendors put a lot of resources into making these tools, which makes it difficult to put effort into the best set of APIs to let their product be subsumed into an IT operations dashboard with competing or unaffiliated products. This can leave the third-party experience a bit questionable, creating a less-than-ideal situation for the user in the data center.

So while that single pane of glass does exist, it's not the magic mirror for which you were hoping. Different companies have options that piggy back on their own IT operations technology, while others interface into a wide range of products, but the result is still a subpar dashboard experience.

Don't give up on the idea of a controlling mega-IT operations dashboard now that you see its limitations. Collecting data is always easier than executing commands within a single pane of glass-type dashboard. This means it is possible to have a decent single view into IT operations, even if you still must go into varied tools and dashboards to manage it. It's not ideal, but it's a start. 

Next Steps

Any single pane of glass for IT monitoring must also include the application that the technology stack supports. Application monitoring isn't top of mind for IT operations pros, but it is the most critical and customer-visible part of the entire IT deployment. 

This was last published in May 2017

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How many IT monitoring and management tools do you use on a weekly basis to execute ops tasks?
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Very timely article. I'm currently researching MSP platforms and their single pane of glass promises. Small MSPs with multiple small SMB clients, some of whom are HIPAA and/or PCI regulated, need an affordable platform that combines single pane of glass monitoring with a secure & reliable remote management stack using trusted & tech-friendly APIs. My experience in the field is how fragile & exploitable browsers are in everyday operations, where a routine browser update/security patch cascades problems throughout a modern IT enterprise network AND yet another malware attack hits yet another zero day vulnerability in a popular browser. If the glass cockpit in a modern jumbo jet was this fragile, I, for one, would take the train instead (take your time/get there alive). So, where is the safe, reliable, secure and affordable MSP platform that gets the job done with just simple, durable, no-frills Volkswagen Beetle functionality?
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I wonder if the increasingly miniscule number of reader comments on well-written and important TechTarget articles is because IT techs are too busy to comment or because IT techs are reluctant to provide social networks with potential network infrastructure intelligence on their employer's IT systems? With most employees looking over their shoulders and trying to keep their heads down, maybe the "loose lips" warning message has firmly taken root? Is there some way to allow true anonymity to TechTarget commenters who want to speak up but need to be sure that their comments can't be traced back to them or their employer?
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