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Server configuration tools ease downtime

Early adopter IT shops and the big systems vendors are investing in configuration management software to alleviate downtime. .

Data center pros are spending too much time tracking down system failures. In fact, IDC reports 78% of all downtime is due to infrastructure changes. With exploding server numbers, virtual servers and Web-oriented applications, it's easy for infrastructure changes to slip through the cracks and cause problems that are hard to pinpoint.

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The companies with the biggest problems are the ones with cutting edge technology -- often financial industry companies with heavy investment in IT. But experts and early adopters say it won't be long before infrastructure complexity issues catch up with the mainstream -- and they're betting configuration management software will be the answer.

Kurt Hansel, a senior technical officer at New York-based financial giant, JP Morgan Chase has been using configuration management software for two years, and he's especially concerned with keeping an eye on its configuration.

Hansel is dealing with an ongoing merger between JP Morgan and Bank One, and has multiple IT departments touching the infrastructure, so Hansel uses software from Relicore, Inc. to keep track of changes to his systems.

"People make mistakes. Other people are involved with managing our servers and you can tell right away if something happened. It's part of the overall ability to watch what the other group is doing in real time," Hansel said. "You can't have everybody's fingers in all of the servers."

With transaction monitoring software, Hansel can keep track of changes and know when it happens and who did it. "In our business, moving money for customers, it's important for us to have great uptime. Relicore increases our speed to resolution," Hansel said.

Big vendor buy-in

The big systems vendors are realizing that configuration management software is a new must-have feature. Once the realm of specialized small vendors, the big players are buying into the technology or developing their own.

In fact, Symantec last week snapped up Burlington, Mass.-based Relicore. And Houston-based management software firm BMC just rolled out a new configuration management tool. These developments come weeks after systems management company CA acquired Wily Technology and IBM acquired Collation.

Integrien Corp., a server management software startup in Pasadena, Calif., has also tapped the technology to differentiate itself in the management market. Integrien's latest release, Alive 5.4, came out last week and the offering focuses on configuration management.

Vic Nyman, president and CEO of Relicore said adoption of this kind of functionality rarely happens over night, but the challenge of managing hundreds, even thousands of distributed servers has caught up with companies.

"You used to be able to keep up with it using Visio or Excel," Nyman said. "But leading edge customers, telcos and financial services, have felt this pressure for some time."

Many companies have built in adapters or APIs to hook transaction monitoring data into larger system management programs like IBM's Tivoli, HP OpenView or BMC's Mainview.

What's it going to do for you?

A lot of vendors and analysts have different names for the technology: dependency mapping, configuration management, transaction monitoring -- but the main theme is documenting relationships and changes in the underlying IT infrastructure and making application dependencies more transparent.

The obvious payback on the software is saving time diagnosing problems. But having accurate information on your IT configuration has other benefits.

For example, many configuration management packages feed into a configuration management database (CMDB). A CMDB holds all configuration files for every piece of software and hardware you make changes to and it's impossible to keep track of without those changes without some assistance. The CMDB is a big component of the best practices specification in ITIL.

In addition, accurate configuration data can save companies headaches when it comes time for SOX compliance. And it will help companies accurately track problems when it comes to managing service level agreements -- instead of having the network guy, applications guy, database guy, and server guy pointing the fingers at each other.

Joe Spurr, News Writer at SearchDataCenter.com contributed to this article.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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