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IT shops pick point management tools to cut staff, speed installs

Small systems management companies aim their point products at practitioners rather than senior IT managers to encourage enterprises with large management frameworks to switch.

When it comes to IT systems management tools, less really is more -- at least according to some data center administrators who have turned their backs on IT systems management frameworks in favor of point products from smaller companies.

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IT managers said they're turning to tools from companies such as SolarWinds and Nimsoft for what they don't offer: long implementation times, giant consulting engagements and features that admins won't use.

Vince Conroy, the chief technology officer of FusionStorm, a San Francisco-based IT managed services provider, dropped HP OpenView for Nimsoft's Nimbus product to manage services for customers as well as FusionStorm's internal IT operations.

We could deploy it on new systems and applications very easily with users that didn't have a ton of training.
Vince Conroy,
chief technology oficerFusionStorm

The primary reason for the switch to Redwood City, Calif.-based Nimsoft Inc. was ease of deployment, Conroy said. "The thing we liked the most about Nimbus was we could deploy it on new systems and applications very easily with users that didn't have a ton of training. And it's lightweight."

Nimsoft's tool monitors a range of platforms and hardware at FusionStorm, and where, for example, Nimsoft didn't have an agent, Conroy's developers could write or customize an agent to do the job. While that would be possible with OpenView, Conroy said the process would be far more complex.

"When you're looking at a product suite from the Big Four [IBM, HP, CA, BMC], they have much broader and deeper offerings [than Nimsoft]," Conroy said. "But when you're looking at just monitoring, it's a good fit."

By choosing a point product, Conroy has to use a plethora of other vendors' toolsets to fill in the gaps.

"We have a whole bunch of tools that solve point solutions, a little bit of open source here and there, and custom apps," Conroy said. "Each customer has to make this choice individually: What level integration do you need? We buy the best tools possible and work to make them interoperate."

Another IT manager, who works for a large government health-care agency and asked to remain anonymous, echoed Conroy's sentiments on switching to a smaller IT management software vendor.

In this case, the vendor was Austin, Texas-based SolarWinds, which he uses for monitoring and configuring network and server infrastructure. The IT manager said he wasn't interested in every feature. He chose the product because he thought it was easy to use.

Cutting costs and staff overhead
Large IT frameworks have always been expensive, and the cost isn't just for the software. Most of the companies that install these large frameworks pay consultants or hire internal staff to do the job.

According to IT management expert John M. Willis, a large financial organization might spend $5 million on Tivoli a year, and 60% of that cost goes toward paying the staff and consultants to maintain Tivoli. "When you talk about price, what really gets people excited is when you can start reducing that 60%," Willis said. So if companies can get 80% of the functions they need out of software that costs $8 per node instead of $3,000, and you don't need a full-time person to maintain it, why aren't more customers that own large systems management frameworks?

One reason is that these companies have byzantine licensing structures.

"You can't figure out from an enterprise licensing agreement, how much you're paying for each product, said Liam McGlynn, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "A little guy tries to come in and say, 'I have a product so much better than IBM Omegamon and you'll only pay us $300,000 a year.' And the customer says, 'How much are we paying for Omegamon? I don't know! It's one price, they don't break it out.' How do you put a business case together as a manager?"

The smaller firms have battled this problem by coming in at a small price point, marketed directly to the actual users of the software rather than targeting upper management. It's not a hassle for data center admins to get money for these small software packages, said Michael Coté, an analyst at RedMonk, a Seattle, Wash.-based consulting firm, referring to SolarWinds.

But too much of a good thing can backfire. "I've used SolarWinds extensively for uploading and downloading things like router configurations and device firmware, and it worked great for that," said data center administrator Bill Bradford. "But I got rather annoyed at the volume of sales/marketing spam that I got from them for a year or two after I downloaded it."

Matt Stansberry is the executive editor of Write to him at

Note: This is the second article in a series on smaller IT systems management vendors competing with the Big Four systems management providers in enterprise data center management. The series explores the pricing and functionality advantages that smaller vendors bring to the table while weighing the strengths of the incumbent framework vendors. Part one explored Web monitoring tools.

Have your admins openly rebelled against OpenView? Would you trade that "single pane of glass" for point products that work? Are you sick of training staff on 20 different vendors' tools? Email Matt Stansberry at about your IT management concerns and story ideas.

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