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IT ops seek the mythical 'single pane of glass' tool

The light may be at the end of the tunnel in the quest to combine IT ops monitoring onto a single pane of glass.

Vendors often claim their product provides management through a single pane of glass, but multiple panes of glass are still necessary in most data centers.

The idea that "one tool will rule them all" doesn't reflect organizational realities for many companies, said Christian Renaud, an analyst with New York -based 451 Research.

"The [information security] guy wants a different dashboard/pane than the servers or storage or networking guys," he said. "[Fewer] tools is better than tool over-proliferation from every vendor."

One vendor making the single-pane pitch is Rocana Inc., a San Francisco-based company formerly called Scaling Data that recently received about $20 million in venture capital funding.

The company's Rocana Ops software uses machine learning and advanced analytics to "make the human operator significantly more effective," connecting the symptoms and root causes when a performance or security issue spans multiple layers in the stack - either in the network, in multiple data centers, in the cloud or on mobile devices.

Other products in the monitoring space include offerings from Splunk Inc., Foglight by Dell Software, BMC Software, Inc., CiscoWorks and HP's OpenView, which all monitor and operate some part of the data center. Rocana will go head-to-head with Splunk and HP's ArcSight to solve what it calls a $20 billion problem.

Rocana strives for true single pane of glass management

Rocana's augmented IT ops tool weaves DevOps principles into IT operations monitoring. CEO Omer Trajman calls it the "Bloomberg terminal" for IT operations, collecting data from the full stack to show what's normal and where there are changes in behavior to "surface correlated anomalies" that could help IT find problems before they occur. The tool also has a longer and wider capture window than some other tools and has no limit to how far back the data can go.

Rocana Ops handles large amounts of data in real-time with faster query response times than existing products, many focused on one part of the stack, according to Trajman.

"This is not firefighting a specific problem," Trajman said. "You don't wake up in the middle of the night saying you need a specific monitoring tool."

One of Rocana's customers uses it for Web analytics and the company said it can be integrated with an existing DCIM or eventually replace it. The goal is to offer "total operational awareness," Trajman said.

Some enterprises have an operating monitoring tool that they find can't do something – such as monitor Docker containers – so they buy another.

"You end up with a fragmented view of your data center while the operations are becoming more interconnected," Trajman said. "They need one place where they can see everything."

The vice president of security at a large California-based video game company sees Rocana Ops as a step toward monitoring his thousands of physical servers in 11 data centers on a single dashboard.

"We're hopeful it will reduce the panes of glass, but there will still be multiple panes of glass," he said.

The video game vice president, who requested anonymity, said he was first drawn to Rocana because of the price. He was faced with a multi-million dollar price tag for off-the-shelf products that he was not sure would solve all the company's problems. With Rocana, he started for about $50,000 and grew from there.

When fully implemented, he estimated savings of at least 50%, or more, compared to other proprietary products.

Rocana would not reveal pricing specifics but said it charges an annual licensing fee based on the number of users and allows organizations unlimited, unlocked data storage forever.

The video game VP still expects to see several panes of glass for years to come in the company's network operations center, but mainly in areas focused on the business outside the data center. For example, world events that impact when players access their games aren't monitored through a tool such as Rocana's.

Still, the scalability of Rocana Ops will resonate with IT pros, said Colin Fletcher, an analyst with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

The idea should be to provide a single pane for a specific [person] in a specific situation.
Donnie Berkholzanalyst, 451 Research

Previous generations of root cause analysis tools have taught IT pros some lessons, he said. A lot of time has been spent on manual rule correlation.

"This is a big data problem but those were not big data tools," Fletcher said.

Most systems administrators tell Donnie Berkholz, a development, DevOps and IT operations analyst at 451 Research, that there is no such thing as a single pane of glass that works for everyone.

"The idea should be to provide a single pane for a specific [person] in a specific situation," he said.

For example, there is one view that IT pros may want during normal operations versus a project to troubleshoot and look for a root cause.

"There is absolutely a desire to have a unified view integrating multiple data sources, given those constraints," he said.

It's a different view of the single pane of glass that takes the uses into account.

Many IT pros turn to Graphite for IT monitoring "as a central source of truth for time-series data," he said, but from there build different dashboards on top of it for different users or situations.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or Email him at [email protected]

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