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IT tool selection criteria to guide emerging tech navigation

The IT industry is almost always in flux. For organizations to keep up, they must invest in the right tools, which takes asking the right questions.

Rate of change in IT is at an all-time high. Remember when client-server computing was all the rage? How about service-oriented architectures, grid computing and management frameworks?

All those technologies rose to and fell from prominence within the last couple of decades. Cloud computing and VMs already seem to be yesterday's topics in the news, replaced by AI, containers, microservices and quantum computing.

This rate of change has a massive effect on how IT organizations plan for the future, including the tools they use each day. Although most organizations accept that software requires regular updates, a complete replacement of the old for the new is a high-risk strategy wherein things can easily go wrong that impair business transactions. This is particularly the case with IT operations tools: It takes time to create a complete, functional tool set that is familiar and useful to admins.

It's tempting to look to emerging technologies for point tools that address specific tasks, such as log management or systems monitoring. However, this vision can be short-sighted and lead to major problems. It is increasingly difficult to look at any aspect of an IT platform and regard it as separate from the other components. For example, to package and provision container-based microservices, IT teams need orchestration software, but if that orchestration software doesn't integrate into the current monitoring and maintenance software, then all those microservices become opaque, which prevents system administrators from seeing the whole picture in production.

Additionally, support and longevity are not always priorities in newly created IT tools. In a quickly moving environment, IT organizations can't afford to use tools that fail to respond to change -- or to be left with a dead-end tool from a maker that has shut its doors.

At the other end of the spectrum is the problem of trying to force existing tools to support environments for which they were never designed. For example, IT infrastructure-focused systems management tools might struggle to address virtualized platforms. Trying to push these tools to accommodate hybrid cloud systems with microservices hosted in container clusters is likely asking too much.

Time to make a decision

So where does this leave the IT operations team when it's time to make decisions? Consider the following IT tool selection questions to establish criteria for the best possible toolkit.

What IT tools does your organization already have in place? Are existing IT monitoring and management tools fit for their current purpose? If they are, does your team believe they will remain fit for the foreseeable future?

If existing tools don't work adequately to run daily IT operations, then you've already waited too long to replace tools: Now is the time to transition to a new tool set that is better placed to support your organization's production workloads and environment. In some cases, the IT organization needs to start with a stripped-down basic administration system, on top of which they build additional capabilities to fit custom needs.

If the monitoring and management tools in place work today, but don't have a roadmap that fits the IT organization's future needs, plan and carry out a thorough evaluation of the market for replacements.

What path is your organization taking? IT organizations can host production workloads on VMs or containers, on private or public cloud -- or both, and with many options in terms of management and support. Know what approach works best in your company. If it is obvious that the organization is moving primarily to a mix of third-party cloud environments, then it must implement some form of aggregation capability that pulls together monitoring and reporting data across all cloud platforms involved. If it aims for a hybrid platform that involves private and public cloud alongside some remnants of physical infrastructure, then it needs a set of tools that provides both an engine and an aggregation capability, along with suitable analytics and reporting.

What is your organization's risk stance? To keep pace with change, divide decisions into strategic and tactical categories.

If your organization is risk-averse, it is likely to invest in tools that work for the long term. These tools are unlikely to be based on leading-edge, emerging tech, and likely won't use certain functions that the underlying IT platform could provide. However, as a conservative organization, lacking the hottest new capabilities should not be a problem. For those organizations that are open to risk, investing in a mix of the best tools for given needs might be more appealing.

In both cases, IT organizations should select a solid underlying engine that is modern -- yet well-proven -- and fully supported in the provision of advanced monitoring, automated maintenance and reporting. A few examples include HashiCorp Terraform, CloudBees Electric Cloud and Red Hat Ansible.

Organizations ready to try new tools to gain some advantages in the IT environment can place less-proven point tools into use in concert with a well-understood and supported main engine, such as the examples above, for various advancements and improvements. For example, emerging tech can bring AI into the environment. These investments might get replaced in a couple of years, but their benefits in IT operations should offset the associated costs.

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