Way back in 1965, before the Internet was invented and when IBM and the BUNCH (Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell) dominated the computing landscape, there was a show on television called “The Dating Game”.  For the uninitiated, the format of the show was that a bachelorette would question three bachelors, who were hidden from her view; at the end of the questioning period, she would choose one to go out with on a date paid for by the show.  That got me to thinking.  If there was a similar game where a CIO got the opportunity to question prospective monitoring vendors about their toolsets, what qualities would be the most desirable?

We know from last month’s light-hearted tome that a good network management system won’t be free, it will be standards-based, and it will have the flexibility to adapt to a variety of technical environments too.  However, those elements are just the tip of the iceberg.  What would it really take for a CIO to find the monitoring tool of their dreams?  If I had the opportunity to get on such a game show here are the questions I’d be asking:

“Vendor number 1, I really value my time and that of my team.  How difficult is it to get to a day-one configuration?  In others words, once I install your system into my infrastructure how much effort will it take my IT staff before it’s giving me useful, actionable information?  Is the user interface intuitive enough for me to start tweaking things on my own or will I have to wait until a high-priced services engagement is underway before I can really take it for spin?  We’re currently running a Bambleweenie 5000.  Is monitoring for that type of device supported out of the box or can I easily add it without the aforementioned services engagement?”

“Vendor number 2, I’ve got roughly 250 devices in my network and 80% of them are various types of servers.  Is it just as easy for me to change the primary contact on one of those servers as it is for 200 of them?  I’ve got a staff of five engineers and about 10 IT projects in my work queue.  Needless to say (and as you just heard me mention to Vendor 1) my time is very valuable.  Altering the configuration for 200 devices individually every time something changes is an absolute non-starter.  Put another way, can you describe to me how your monitoring solution can scale to meet my needs?”

“Vendor number 3,  We’ve established that my team and I support around 250 devices, but business is booming for us right now.  We’re constantly adding capacity or adjusting our configurations to keep up with the demands placed on our enterprise IT architecture.  That means once we put a monitoring tool in and get it configured (i.e. with devices, sites, alerting, scheduled reporting, etc) it’s very possible the configuration will be stale.  Describe for me the way your tool has the ability to ‘re-configure’ itself to guarantee its configuration is fresh and generating information useful to my team.”

Finding True Monitoring Love
There is an over-arching theme to all of these questions.  Could I have asked “Do I have the ability control the speed reported for every network interface on a given device?”  Sure.  However, that would be the equivalent of a bachelorette asking a potential beau “I really like smoothies in the morning.  Do you have a Vitamix or Ninja blender at home?”  Detailed questions like that ignore the point of what it means to have a truly useful systems monitoring application:  To make the complex simple.  It is often very difficult to get a feeling of what it will be like to use and live with a software product by simply comparing checkbox features among vendors.  

When all is said and done the real “art” of network management is about taking those complex architectures and making the management and maintenance of them quite simple.  New technologies such as SDN and application containers can improve business processes in one manner or another.  However, those same technologies also increase complexity from an IT perspective.  Therefore, a tool that fails to cut through the clutter and show what really matters will miss the mark.

At the conclusion of every “Dating Game” broadcast all the contestants used to blow a kiss to the audience.  Since we can’t really do that in a blog post I’ll conclude with this:  May all your mount points be found and your packets not get lost.  Good luck in finding the monitoring tool of your dreams.