Saturday, December 22, 2007

Virtualization, Green IT and Application Management

Besides sessions run by Gartner analysts, there were also many vendor presentations at the conference. The hot topics this year seemed to be virtualization and green IT.

In polls conducted at the conference, the majority of the participants indicated that they were already using virtualization technologies at their organizations. So in a way, virtualization was not a brand new topic. What were interesting were some of the spins that vendors put into virtualization. In fact, one of the vendor went as far as calling remote application access “display virtualization”, as it separates the box where the application is run, from the terminal device where the application is displayed.

Wow, by that definition, X Windows, VNC or even the web browser are really virtualization technologies. Hmm...

It may be cool to be able to display an application remotely, and it is certainly very, very good to be able to utilize hardware more efficiently, take snapshot and rollback system images, and migrate running systems. However, I think the truly exciting possibilities in virtualization are with the ways that it can change application management. For example, one of the biggest headaches in managing applications is deployment, as it can be pretty challenging to make sure that the application can co-exist with all the other software that run on the box. A certified virtual machine image that includes the application can go a long way in reducing that complexity.

In terms of green IT, IBM pointed out that many organizations are already spending close to 30% of their energy budget on running IT, and the figure is going up. The interesting thing is that using energy efficient CPUs only reduces overall energy consumption by 2%. Other practices, such as locating data centers closer to energy sources, cooling system redesigns, and turning on servers only when needed to handle workload, can have much greater impacts on energy consumption and energy costs. Supporting these green IT practices require more dynamic software that can be activated and deactivated with ease, and even greater emphasis on capacity management. For example, electricity costs may become a new parameter to consider when scheduling batch jobs.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Oracle Acquires Moniforce

Oracle announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire Moniforce, a leading vendor for end user experience monitoring. Using its product, UXinsight, one could monitor the actual end user response time of applications, usage trends, and whether users experience any problems. These are all critical information that helps IT professionals determine whether their applications are delivering the service level demanded by their businesses. The UXinsight technology augments other end user monitoring tools that are already available in Oracle Enterprise Manager.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Establishing, Enforcing, and Marketing SLAs

Another presentation that I attended at the Gartner conference was David Coyle's session on “Establishing, Enforcing and Marketing SLAs.”

He started the session by asking how many service level agreements (SLAs) were established at organizations represented by the audience. 74% of the participants reported that their organizations have at least one SLAs established, and 15% have over 20 SLAs. This result was fairly consistent with a survey that we conducted at OpenWorld. Over half of the respondents in our survey also indicated that they are using SLAs at their organizations.

The question, however, is how many of these are formal SLAs, and whether these organizations can guarantee the delivery of the SLAs. According to Gartner's model, an organization has to be at level 3 maturity or higher in order to be able to have high confidence in achieving SLAs. This is because many of the supportive service delivery and service support processes need to be in place first.

Even though an organization may not be ready to fully deliver the terms of an SLA, it doesn't mean it should not be done. SLAs are important because they help drive continuous improvements by providing targets to aim for, and they help IT communicate the values delivered. In fact, David Coyle argued that regular, formal service level review meetings should be used to highlight successes.

In terms of enforcement, the key is to make sure that there are proper rewards and penalties to drive behavior. The leading organizations even link IT staff bonuses to SLA attainment. This kind of practice is still rather rare, and it was confirmed by a participant poll that only a small percentage of organizations represented at the conference had this sort of policy. Still, linking performance to compensation makes a lot of sense as long as the system is implemented carefully.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Gartner Maturity Model

I attended Gartner Data Center Conference this week. Since the show was held in Las Vegas, it presents a bit of a dilemma for bloggers like me, as the unwritten rule for Las Vegas is “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” Well, I found a couple of the discussions interesting, so I am going to talk about them anyways.

The first session that I attended was Donna Scott and Jay Pultz' keynote on the Gartner Maturity Model. The concept of a maturity model is not a new thing. Models such as Software Engineering Institute's CMMI have been around for many years. What's interesting about the Gartner model is that it focuses specifically on IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) practices and it covers not only process assessment, but also organization, human resource and business management assessments.

The model classifies I&O maturity into 6 levels:
0. survival – no defined I&O practices
1. awareness – has dedicated resources for I&O
2. committed – has sufficient resources, but mostly operating in reactive mode; attempts to define informal operational level agreements
3. proactive – be able to forecast demands of various IT services and provision capacity accordingly
4. service aligned – formal service level agreement defined; organization has capabilities to achieve the formal service level targets
5. business partners – IT is capable of proactively suggest using technologies to transform organizations and bring new products and services to market

The model contains some pretty detailed classification criterion. I am not going into the details of them, since there is too much information to write on a blog and Gartner probably won't want me to give away the whole thing. Call Gartner if you want the details.

The most interesting part of the session was the live audience poll, in which the audience was asked to provide quick self assessments of where their organizations stand according to the maturity model. The overall distribution was fairly close to a bell curve but with a bit more concentration at the lower levels. Only 4 percent of the participants rated their organizations to be at level 4 or above.

I think the point about these maturity models is not necessary the specific details and the classification criteria. One could argue all day whether something should fall under level 2 or 3. The importance of these models is that they provide yardsticks to assess how organizations improve over time. For example, Gartner estimates that by 2012, 14% of large IT organizations would be at level 4 or above. We will see if this prediction comes true.

Does your organization use a maturity model to drive improvements? What sort of experience have you had in using them?