Infrastructures change, so automate the process

Change, infrastructure terms, used to occur rarely, and usually constituted a major upheaval that was at best partially planned and full of pitfalls. Now it is an everyday, even hourly occurrence, which makes the issue of managing the change one of the most important tasks facing IT managements.

`Managing', in this context, now means much more than simply organising what tasks should done, when. It now has to incorporate the automated implementation and deployment of the changes.

The result of this is that most customers are already managing complex composite applications over many tiers, so the ability assess the impact of change is increasingly difficult. The knock-on effects of any individual change in an infrastructure can be significant, and not always obvious. HP refers to such situations as `server collisions' and it is what its Business Technology Optimisation (BTO) suite of tools is setting out to overcome.

BTO brings together HP's existing expertise in infrastructure management tools such as OpenView and Business Service Manager with the technology acquired with Mercury Technologies last year and, more recently, Opsware.

The issues surrounding change management in an infrastructural context are now being made worse by the fact that server virtualisation is creating new servers, in effect, out of nothing. Some of them do not even `exist' for very long. HP itself offers the Utility Data Centre with a highly virtualised approach. This allows users to specify the creation of a virtual server or environment that exists for a specific period of time. IBM is now also offering this approach with its Blue Cloud system. Estimates predict that some 72 percent of all servers will in fact be virtual systems by 2013, with the average population being four virtual servers on every physical system.

In addition, the range of services that will be available via such infrastructures will have grown significantly. For example, it is expected that the position of VoIP in the enterprise will soon warrant words such as endemic and ubiquitous applied to it.

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The cost of managing this complexity of infrastructure is already a major problem in its own right. For example, in 2005 the cumulative cost of managing the installed base of 27 million servers was estimated at $110 billion. The expectation is that next year will see an installed base of 35 million units. Even if the per-unit management costs remain static that will still mean a management bill of over $140 billion. The increasing complexity of the infrastructure, however, means that the potential for the per-unit management costs to rise is great indeed.

This means that issues such as Configuration Management are now moving centre stage for IT managements. This is the lynchpin of HP's BTO offering, which has been largely built around the Universal Configuration Management DataBase (CMDB) that came to the company as a core part of its acquisition of Mercury. Around this, both feeding and fed by it, are HP's Business Service Management and IT Service Management tool sets. The final component - for now at least - is the Business Service Automation tool set which came with HP's acquisition of Opsware in September. According to Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Opsware and now VP in charge of HP's BTO operation, the package represents `Automated Operations 1.0'. This has the objective of overcoming many of the silo'd and often labour-intensive processes involved in managing infrastructures that are now required to change rapidly and, sometimes, continuously.

For individual users, of course, all this represents the problems of the `back office' and the datacentre. Their immediate issues tend to be more focused around the growing number of options that are continually appearing in the personal client space. The volume of devices being used at the edge of corporate infrastructures is growing rapidly, and the functional richness of each of them is expanding by the day. It is now easy to predict a significant reduction in the number of `traditional' PCs and laptops, to be replaced by either functionally rich personal clients, or user ID tags of some description that allow a user's personal workspace to follow them to any available workstation or terminal. In either case, this will be all about service delivery by streaming content, rather than up- or down-loading specific applications and files, putting far greater reliance on the integiryt and reliability of the infrastructure.

This has now become a sector of IT management where the application of automation is urgently required, for it is fast becoming too complex to manage in any other way. HP is keen to build a differentiated automation solution to this and its point of differentiation has, in fact, little specific to do with technology. Instead it is the ability for customers to select the modules from its Business Service Automation suite that then provide end-to-end business service management of the infrastructure. At one extreme, therefore, an enterprise can contract with HP to provide the entire management suite. In practice, however, this is likely to be a rare occurrence. Users are most likely to have point solution elements of the service management environment already in place.

What is now needed is where HP is targeting itself - providing an infrastructure management analogy for Microsoft's Office. The need is now to provide a way of integrating the management of change in complex systems, particularly where those systems now include a growing variety of personal and desktop thick and thin clients, servers, storage systems and the physical implementation of the network and infrastructure fabric. In addition, `complex systems' now also encompasses the services being provided to the end users, together with the means of their delivery.

While there are some who would certainly view Office as a curse upon the earth, its one significant advantage is that, for the vast majority of users, it contains all the functionality they need for general office productivity tasks. And by and large the components work well and have a high level of functional richness. This is, at least to some degree, the model HP is pitching at with BTO in the world of end-to-end infrastructure management systems.

It does have one major difference from that basic model, however, in that it is fully modular. While Office users get soup-to-nuts as a package, regardless of wanting only the Quail's Eggs, HP is acknowledging that infrastructure management is already heavily populated with a wide range of point solution tools, and that many potential customers will not want to change from those tools for many different reasons - ranging from incomplete ROI and amortisation issues through to staff training and experience and on to the fitness of a particular tool for a specific management purpose.

So HP's position is now to provide an open, modular suite of tools that can be used to complement existing infrastructure systems and fill them out into an end-to-end management environment.

The company is aiming BTO at what it describes as the `Fortune 2000 companies' market, with financial services and telecommunications companies amongst its early adopters. It does not see itself driving down to the SMB market for some time yet, certainly with direct licence-based contracts. The tools do, however, map well onto the company's existing Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery model for infrastructure management services. The SaaS division of HP has been pitching a service delivery approach to infrastructure management for several years and the BTO suite is already being seen as an important addition to its existing offerings.

This option could also make it available to the SMB marketplace, where its modularisation and ability to integrate with many existing tools could prove a useful route towards installing higher levels of automation into SMB infrastructure management.

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