The 4 C’s of Quality IT Monitoring Tools

I’ve never fancied myself a particularly good author. Rather, I’m a self-avowed computer geek who’s been known to string together a sentence or two from time to time (and, on a good day, elicit a chuckle from my readers). When it came time to look for a topic in our next blog series I reached into my bag of writing tricks and dusted off my old friend “Alliteration”. In the world of systems and network technology there’s already a pretty good precedent here. We’ve got “AAA”, “PPP”, and “www”. I wanted to find a clever way to sum up what to look for in a quality IT Monitoring Tool. What attributes should it possess to earn a place as an invaluable component in the technology and business strategy of an organization? And then it hit me. All excellent NMS systems can be described by the four C’s: Collaboration, Convenience, Cost, and Clarity.

P.S. You might even recognize the similarities to evaluating your next diamond purchase :).

Let’s Get Together

The first attribute in an NMS tool we want to look for is “Collaboration”. How easy is it to share the insights from your monitoring tool with others? Can your managers get the data they need to make the proper strategic decisions? What about at the day-to-day engineering level? In an IT world where it’s more important than ever to take a holistic approach to monitoring the walls between silos are coming down. A great example is the trend of hyper-convergence. A single virtualization host potentially wraps up systems, storage, and network in a single physical unit. Does it really make sense for those three groups to all use different tools? However, collaboration outside your organization is important too. Often times in the discipline of IT monitoring it can be said there’s nothing new under the sun. If you’re facing a particular challenge getting visibility it’s a good bet another administrator somewhere else is too. Your chosen tool should allow (if configured, of course) this level of information sharing.

Where’s my “EASY” Button?

In my travels with customers and prospects alike, it’s not uncommon to find only a small handful of ‘Jack-of-All-Trades’ IT personnel responsible for vast IT environments. To that end, you want to find tools (monitoring and otherwise) that are convenient to setup and maintain. Do these tools contain at least some measure of automation capability, like network auto-discovery, so your IT staff isn’t spending all their time adding and subtracting devices? Aside from automation how well does this tool scale to a large environment? Is your team configuring devices one at a time or can the entire configuration be done with a handful of points, clicks, and selects in your browser window? Another incredibly important aspect of a tool’s “convenience” factor is it’s integrative feature set. While “integration” can sometimes be looked at in a negative light how well does your chosen tool play with other systems? Does it provide full API access? Is the system well documented?

Ka-Ching

We can’t bring up the letter “C” with regard to anything in the IT world without talking about the word “cost”. There are a couple dimensions to software tool costs. There are the direct monetary costs and then those resource-related costs like time, computing, etc that are indirect. In IT, as with other facets of life, you get what you pay for. Are you getting the proper value for your IT spend? There are some incredibly complex and feature-rich monitoring tools available in the market place. IBM Tivoli Netcool comes to mind. It’s … well … cool. This package does a lot of very sophisticated things in the IT monitoring realm. It also comes with a “cool” price tag for customization, training, and all the trimmings. Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum as well. Open source software is available to do everything you need in an enterprise-monitoring context. However, “free isn’t free”. Nagios, RANCID, and Cacti may not “cost” anything to buy, but if your staff isn’t well versed in the F/OSS world, good luck getting them to pop their head up from instructional man pages and wiki pages to do the job you likely hired them for in the first place.

I Can See Clearly Now

With all due respect to Johnny Nash, composer of the original “I Can See Clearly Now” Billboard Chart topper in 1972, I doubt he had NMS utilities in mind as he was writing. However, the message is all the same. You want clarity from your IT Monitoring tool and that comes in many forms. First, a clean, digestible primary UI interface that minimizes your attention budget. Day-to-day IT engineers have a enough to worry about. Why would they want to be flooded with details and input that cloud what they’re trying to do, which is detect and fix problems? The second thing to look for is clear and succinct alerting behavior. A phrase I’m fond of using with regard to NMS alerting “If everything is a CRITICAL alert in your environment, then nothing is a CRITICAL alert in your environment”. Too much noise in your inbox will lead to legitimate problems getting overlooked. Lastly, and this also touches on “Collaboration” from earlier, is the necessity for clear, concise reports (or report setup). Easy reporting allows users and managers to make informed decisions quickly and get on with their day.

Stay tuned to this blog and yours truly over the coming weeks as we drill into more depth on the 4 C’s of Quality IT Monitoring Tools. Will reading these subsequent posts in the series be as much fun as creating your own alliterative gems? Probably not, but heeding our advice may just have your IT leadership proclaiming positive praise about your monitoring strategy.

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