What To Look For

Systems management can involve a wide range of products and technologies and a lot of specialist jargon. In this section we explain the more common terms that buyers will encounter.

Systems management can involve a wide range of products and technologies and a lot of specialist jargon. In this section we explain the more common terms that buyers will encounter.

Common Information Model (CIM)
Developed by the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), CIM is a standard for the common definition of management information to allow for the exchange of semantically rich management information between IT systems.

Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF)
Industry association responsible for the development of systems management technologies and standards. Members include Cisco, Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Sun, Symantec and others. Standards developed by the DMTF include CIM (Common Information Model), WBEM (Web-Based Enterprise Management) and SMASH (Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware).

The more comprehensive systems management solutions are often referred to as 'frameworks'. These typically employ a single extensible client agent instead of separate agents for each management tool. The central management application, console and extensible agents together make up the management framework.

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)
An internationally accepted set of best practice guidelines designed to help organisations develop a framework for IT Service Management. In the UK, ITIL is managed by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF). ITIL is also supported by the British Standards Institute (BSI) and forms the basis of the BS 15000 IT Service Management standard.

Licence management
The ability to manage the number of users allowed to run an application. Used to insure licensing compliance, most implementations allow either passive monitoring of application use or active enforcement of licence agreements, with access only allowed up to a preset number of concurrent users.

Lifecycle management
A term that describes tools designed to handle the complete lifecycle of an IT system from initial deployment, through day-to-day use and management, to ultimate decommissioning and replacement. This typically involves several separate management tools that may or may not be integrated together.

Lights-out remote management
The ability to manage systems entirely remotely, so that they can be located in unmanned datacentres. This typically requires both in-band (network) and out-of-band (network independent) access, together with remote console and desktop access and the ability to remotely cycle system power.

Management Information Base (MIB)
Information that describes the manageability features of a particular hardware device or software application. This is can be used by SNMP management solutions to better monitor and manage the product involved -- for example, to enable a network switch or router to be programmed remotely.

Network Inventory
The ability to remotely gather information about the hardware and software connected to the network. Most inventory tools will identify common PC/server components such as processor type and speed, amount of memory installed, hard disk configuration and so on. Software is, typically, identified by vendor, application and version. Inventories can be taken on demand, scheduled or whenever users log on.

Out-of-band management
The ability to connect to and manage a system remotely independent of its normal network connection. Access can be via an independent Ethernet network, dial-up or other WAN link.

Patch management
The process by which security patches and other software updates are retrieved, tested and deployed on a customer network. Testing enables support staff to identify compatibility issues and come up with workarounds before the patches are installed across the organisation.

Performance management
The monitoring of IT systems from a performance perspective, to identify potential bottlenecks and problems. Can be implemented in several ways, including local monitors and distributed monitoring stations running test transactions remotely against an e-business application.

Point solutions
A systems management application designed to handle a specific set of tasks only, such as network status monitoring, hardware/software inventory, server management and so on. Can sometimes, but not always, share information with other management tools and be integrated as a part of a larger management suite./>

Policy-based management
The ability to configure IT systems using pre-determined business rules. Typically used to manage security and access, policy-based management allows a common set of rules to be applied across a range of devices and applications without having to program each one individually.

Service Level Agreement (SLA)
A contract that specifies the level of service a customer can expect form a service provider and the compensation if those levels are not met. Often used to specify levels of bandwidth, response times and system availability that a customer can expect.

Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP)
An industry standard protocol used to communicate basic management information over a TCP/IP network. SNMP managed devices are, typically, polled on a regular basis to obtain status information that can be displayed graphically on a central management console. Optionally, SNMP devices can also issue alerts (referred to as 'SNMP traps') when they require attention and be configured remotely using SNMP commands.

Software distribution
The ability to remotely install software updates and new applications on both servers and individual client machines. Tools involved may be integrated with auditing/inventory tools to make sure software is only installed on systems with the correct configuration to run them.

Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware (SMASH)
A suite of specifications and protocols for the management of servers and server software. Developed by the DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force), SMASH leverages the Common Information Model (CIM) -- also from the DMTF -- and was recently enhanced with a common Command Line Protocol (CLP) specification, allowing servers from different vendors to be managed in similar ways.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Originally coined by the Gartner Group, TCO reflects the entire cost of buying, installing, managing and using a product. Also known as the fully burdened cost, TCO calculations include such things as service, support and management, security, user training and licensing.

Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM)
A set of standards and protocols for the exchange of rich management information over TCP/IP networks such as the Internet. Developed by the Distributed Management task Force (DMTF) and using the Common Information Model (CIM), also from the DMTF, WBEM is also used as the basis of Microsoft’s Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) technology.