Increased business efficiency together with cost reduction are, typically, the main aims of any systems management project. However, it’s important to take a holistic approach if those goals are to be met, because systems management involves a lot more than just network monitoring. Neither is it simply a matter of taking hardware and software inventories, rolling out security patches or implementing a help desk.
It’s all this and a lot more besides. And if you put too much emphasis on the wrong area, the inevitable consequence will be compatibility issues, implementation delays, disruption and cost over-runs.
That said, some management issues are more pressing than others, and increasingly there are compliance needs that have to be met immediately, making it essential to prioritise. Care is required, though: it's tempting, for example, to tackle desktop management as soon as possible, simply because it’s a huge task that’s relatively easy to deal with. However, there’s little point being able to monitor and manage user desktops if the applications on which those users -- and ultimately the business -- depend are forever crashing.
Rather, it’s important to concentrate on management of the mission-critical systems first. That means ensuring the availability and efficiency of core application, database, email and Web servers, together with the supporting network infrastructure. Similarly, you should put network security, patch management and regulatory compliance high up on the to-do list, as these are critical to the smooth running of today's businesses.
Planning and management
Good planning and tight management are essential. As you’ll see from the rest of this guide, there are lots of tools to be had, but it can be costly getting them to work together unless you plan for this at the outset. Don’t underestimate this requirement as it’s not uncommon for companies to have to rethink their strategy, swap suppliers or even abandon a project altogether simply because they can’t make the tools they’ve chosen work together (or, in some cases, work at all).
It’s also crucial to get staff, at all levels, on board at an early stage. Understand what’s important from their perspective and agree on what’s required to achieve those goals, and the best way of proceeding. Bear in mind, too, that systems management tools can be complex applications in their own right, so it's important to adequately train and resource support staff to use them. Moreover, you should always expect support costs to rise, at least initially, and budget to cope with this.
Good systems management rarely comes cheap, but there are ways of limiting both the initial outlay and ongoing costs. For example, you can insist on compliance with industry standards, thereby reducing compatibility issues and allowing you to make full use of the monitoring and management tools increasingly bundled with IT hardware and applications. But beware solutions that look too cheap: they probably are. It's also worth sticking with well-known brands and suppliers with a documented track record, as systems management is a complex and fast-changing market where today’s leading-edge technology and expertise all too soon becomes obsolete.
Finally you may want to consider outsourcing some or all of your systems management requirements. At one level that could simply involve getting a specialist company in to deploy the tools and train staff to use them. On the other hand, you may want to outsource everything, from planning and deployment to day-to-day monitoring, systems maintenance and problem resolution.
However, don't expect to be able to simply wave a chequebook at a specialist supplier and leave it at that. When outsourcing this type of project it’s equally important to consult and involve your own staff as when doing it in-house -- if not more so.