Taking IT Operations Beyond Firefighting with ITOA
August 04, 2014

Sasha Gilenson
Evolven

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Today's infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders are in a tight spot. On the one hand under constant pressure to lower operating costs, while on the other hand the business expects them to reinvent themselves, improve their capabilities, and directly impact the company's bottom line. To take control in a complex world of business and IT services, I&O leaders must adapt to doing more with less, balancing the demands of business groups with available IT resources, troubleshooting more effectively.

Chasing vs. Preventing Problems - IT Firefighting

IT is mandated to build and maintain IT environments with the highest possible availability (within budget and available resources). Challenges faced by IT Operations have intensified due to both the rapid growth in performance and event monitoring data volumes. As a result, for many IT organizations, especially with limited resources and with specialists wearing many hats, they often spend too much time fighting fires with “maintenance & support” and not enough time proactively avoiding issues like performance or availability problems.

The amount of time IT Ops spends firefighting not only hurts the IT department, but innovation across the entire company. With the magnitude of solutions in today's organization requiring input from IT, business opportunities are missed - from mastering proper new tech developments to better addressing the agile demands of the business. So how can the IT pro, who is fed up with just handling crisis after crisis, better leverage limited resources and get onto the important issues?

Old Approaches Don't Help

To keep up with the complexity of its IT environment IT Operations team's management practices, like the ITIL process approach, need to evolve and address the abundant data and complexity continuing to confront operations teams. In the past, while trying to stick to processes that were intended to make IT more efficient, these processes haven't been able to evolve fast enough, as evidenced by how the average team is burdened with bad practices that don't just slow down investigation efforts, but waste resources and really hamper innovation.

Furthermore, in many cases, traditional IT management tools were not designed to deal with today's volume, complexity and dynamics, leaving IT teams burdened when facing performance issues. While these tools may be able to provide IT Operations teams with lots of raw data, they lack insights or actionable information, leaving IT Operations without a successful way to pursue these issues.

Managing highly complex IT environments while trapped in a reactive mode leaves IT managers at a loss for how to understand all causes and effects happening amongst the hundreds of thousands of technologies in use across the enterprise. IT Operations needs to step back and take a more comprehensive approach, breaking the “reactive” cycle.

Break the Reactive Cycle

IT Ops teams have to cope with the reality of decreasing amounts of firefighters, while facing growing amounts of fires.

A prime example of what ignites these fires is change, which still remains a major blind spot for IT Operations and exposes business systems to risk each time a change happens in an application, infrastructure, data or workload. If some parameter somewhere in the application configuration was changed in a way that results in a critical issue, then it can take several days for the assembled IT firefighting team just to identify and find this "needle in the haystack" cause. Between planned applications or infrastructure updates, and individual emergency hotfixes, mistakes and unauthorized changes often happen (as has been seen with some high profile outages such as with Google), demanding that IT Ops spend long amounts of time fighting fires on IT systems.

This imbalance cannot continue forever. So the best solution for IT operations is to break the reactive cycle and move towards fire prevention to finally proactively detect situations that can cause problems early enough and quickly and easily resolve them. Where can IT Operations turn to be in prevention mode instead of reaction?

Preventing Fires with IT Operations Analytics

In complex environments, operations management needs more than the automation of mundane tasks to actually prevent issues. One of the approaches that can enhance automation is IT Operations Analytics (ITOA).

In the same spirit of business intelligence (BI), ITOA can blend operational data from the various silo-sourced data like machine events recorded in logs, APM metrics, security events, configuration changes etc. IT Operations Analytics can take a complex IT environment overflowing with data and transform it, turning operational data into a competitive tool that provides IT staff with the right information at the right time. Applying such techniques as complex-event processing, statistical pattern discovery, behavior learning engines, unstructured text file search, topology mapping and analysis, and multidimensional database analysis, IT Operations Analytics can sift through terabytes of operations data in real time, spotting risks and then presenting them in an understandable context.

Manage IT via a Prism of Change

With change requests and changes coming at a blinding pace, IT Operations teams need to use ITOA solutions to carry out a top down analysis blending and reviewing the diverse IT Operations data via changes as they occur, instead of reverse engineering a problem's root cause from low level machine events and metrics.

ITOA gives IT managers the ability to analyze IT operations through a prism of change that drives a single point of view of operations, allowing effective prevention and resolution of issues. ITOA helps IT specialists uncover why environments are not operating as they should, correlating various metrics into the context of the changing state of the environment (release, infrastructure update, user workload change etc.), allowing operators to successfully remediate and more importantly prevent issues.

Get More from Less Resources with Automation

Increased automation can enable IT Operations to identify such harmful changes while they happen and effectively remediate them, overcoming the changes that pose risk to stability and performance. Automation can ensure the error-free execution of mundane tasks, increasing the quality, consistency and availability of services delivered by IT Operations, dramatically lowering the cost per unit of management; for example, patching thousands of physical servers or virtual machines with no human involvement.

While automation can provide IT Operations teams with more time to focus on innovation and deployment of new applications, it's really just a first step for helping IT Operations managers proactively understand what is happening in their environments.

New IT Operations Analytics tools take a fresh perspective on the abundant data and complexity confronting operations teams, automatically generating actionable insights that current tools don't offer, to help IT stay ahead of the curve. These solutions enable IT organizations to address a broader set of tasks, making problem resolution and root cause analysis easier and faster.

Sasha Gilenson is the Founder and CEO of Evolven Software.

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