Smart systems management technologies are emerging from the labs of nichesuppliers, bringing new perspectives to this category of software.
By innovating in their particular fields, systems management suppliers are earning recognition from industry analysts as having "best-of-breed" systems.
NetIQ is one supplierseen as a strong contender in systems management. The firm, which sells systems and security management tools, has more than 12,000 customers worldwide.
Attachmate bought NetIQ in 2006, which enabled NetIQ to bring more innovation to its software development, said Forrester Research.
Forrester analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani, explained, "Instead of becoming another 'me too'supplier of infrastructure and application management, NetIQ understood that to successfully introduce its management portfolio to enterprises and thus compete with larger suppliers and other incumbents, it needed to design a solution that would adapt seamlessly to any enterprise management context while showing a rapid return on investment.
"IT process automation was the answer, and NetIQ Aegis is the solution that makes NetIQ a true innovator."
NetIQ Aegis is a process automation tool designed to reduce the time spent by IT operations' staff on carrying out manual repetitive tasks. It does this by using intelligent automation and run book automation (RBA).
RBA uses workflows, defined by the IT department, to automate and orchestrate operational IT processes that involve multiple types of data, as well as applications and company departments.
As a result, Aegis can enable organisations to introduce standardised procedures and systems so that the same processes (such as system restarts), are executed identically each time.
Garbani said that Aegis' strength is that it works with an organisation's existing enterprise products and processes.
He added that NetIQ can increase IT productivity, streamline compliance, and cut costs.
Companies that have deployed Aegis include managed services provider Attenda and Principality Building Society, the tenth largest building society in the UK.
Marc Jones, IT infrastructure support manager at Principality, said the business case for deploying Aegis was straightforward: to make the most efficient use of resources.
"We were aware that our service desk teams were spending a considerable amount of time on mundane, repetitive tasks. For this reason, a management tool that could help automate tasks, such as the creation of service desk incidents for critical system events generated by NetIQ AppManager, provides us with integration that reduces the complexity of our infrastructure," he said.
"This not only helps us to improve IT operations efficiencies, but enables us to reallocate skills, time and resources toward more strategic areas where we can really add value."
He added that Aegis will also help Principality to automate processes across multiple departments and disciplines.
Managing virtual systems
Another systems management supplier that has developed noteworthy technology is Veeam Software.
Veeam produces management tools specifically for VMware ESX Server-based virtualised environments.
Gartner research vice-president Cameron Haight, recognised the supplier in the analyst firm's "Hype Cycle for IT Operations Management, 2008" report.
The two-year old US firm launched in Europe in September 2008, offering products to manage an organisation's virtual estate, as well as its physical servers.
Veeam has connectors that allow users to manage their VMware environment and their physical environment by plugging into Microsoft System Center Operations Manager, or HP Software Operations manager.
"One of the reasons for the high total cost of ownership associated with management technology is the inability to easily integrate its multiple functions. As a consequence, IT organisations should search for tools from suppliers that can easily exchange information, whether for the management of physical or virtual infrastructures," said Haight.
Veeam managing director Colin Wright, said, "Virtualisation brings lots of benefits, but unless it is managed and monitored, organisations will find these benefits turning into nightmares. We are about helping people realise these benefits by ensuring that critical tasks such as monitoring and back-up are not neglected in the rush to go virtual."
Veeam's virtual systems management tools include Veeam Backup, a "two-in-one" back-up and replication tool, and Veeam Reporter, which helps to document virtual environments so IT departments can carry out capacity planning and departmental chargeback.
Enigmatec is another firm featured in analyst reports for its tools designed to help manage virtualised infrastructures.
The company warns that as users rush to implement virtualisation as a way to use IT resources more efficiently, they should be weary of problems this can create for management, in the form of "server sprawl" - the introduction of too many, underused servers.
Enigmatec argued that, if left unchecked, this will outweigh the primary drivers for introducing virtualisation.
Its software aims to manage the lifecycle of virtual infrastructures. The software sits above and integrates with other tools in the datacentre, and can carry out functions such as automated server provisioning, tracking, configuration, and reclamation of virtual resources.
Like NetIQ's Aegis, Enigmatec also uses RBA techniques.
David Williams, research vice-president at Gartner, said, "RBA tools have focused on making the job of building, administrating and monitoring IT operations processes easy."
He added that they have filled the gap left by existing IT management approaches which use traditional job scheduling products, or custom scripting.
John Humphreys, program director at IDC, said Enigmatec software operates at the "highest levels" of the virtualisation management space.
"Enigmatec's EMS automation platform significantly reduces administrative overhead, while enforcing virtual resource utilisation policies."
He added that EMS can reduce or even eliminate many manual, time-consuming administrative tasks, and the underlying EMS architecture is "highly scalable" and "easily adaptable to changes in business demands".
One analyst said that Enigmatec's strength is that it allows datacentre managers, not just developers, to manage virtual environments. It does this by using graphical interfaces and automated, policy-based management to carry out complex tasks.
So, for example, the tools can automate disaster recovery provisioning, firing up automated routines upon a hardware failure, to reassign the remaining resources to critical applications.
Another trend noted by analysts is the emergence of on-demand systems management services, which can be delivered over broadband networks to small and mid-sized users.
Kaseya is one supplier named by several analysts, although it is not alone in offering remote IT systems management.
According to Gartner analyst Tiffani Bova, Kaseya is among a new crop of firmsthat are utilising the software as a service (SaaS) model to offer "managed service portals". Other suppliers include nAble, Level Platforms and Silverback Technologies.
Jean Marc Annonier, an analyst at IDC, said, "The availability of specially designed managed services software such as Kaseya, which can take care of both technical tasks like alerting or patch management and administrative tasks like the service-level agreement achievements, have made it possible for managed service providers to start delivering high-quality IT services at an attractive cost to SMBs."
Kaseya has developed its IT Automation Framework, which allows IT professionals, managed service providers and large corporate users, to monitor, manage and maintain a distributed IT infrastructure remotely via the web.
The IT Automation Framework is designed to run ITIL processes such as service desk, incident management, problem management, configuration management, change management and release management.
The technology creates a "self-managing" distributed virtual private network and uses connection algorithms patented by Kaseya. It also uses Microsoft IIS, SQL Server and TCP/UDP technologies.
Another systems management supplier that supports ITIL alignment is ASG. The firm, which was founded in 1986, was recently featured in a Forrester Research report because of its emergence onto the business service management scene, which is dominated by the likes of CA, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
In early 2007, ASG introduced BSP, a set of integrated modules designed to align IT operations with business needs.
BSP is based on ASG's MetaCMDB database. It is built on top of the Rochade metadata repository and has built-in federation capabilities. The product also uses ASG's UMA, an open adapter bus, which allows connectors to be rapidly developed for third-party data collection.
BSP is designed to integrate with ASG's other software products, which can provide real-time monitoring for a range of IT environments, from distributed systems to applications and mainframes.
By measuring, monitoring and managing IT resources, BSP can help with ITIL adherence.
The firm's customers tend to be mid-to large enterprises, and ASG has partnered with Microsoft, to create a MOM connector.
Forester noted both the firm's rapid creation of impressive technologies, and its emergence onto the business service management landscape.
"Within a year, ASG has developed its business service management vision and can call it a success. In doing so, ASG has acquired a challenger position against the major business service managementsuppliers, BMC Software, CA, HP Software, and IBM. It is part of a select group vying for an IT management software market position that includes Compuware, EMC, Microsoft, Quest Software, and Symantec," said Garbani.
Garbini added that innovative software firms like ASG are winning customers, and proving that systems management continues to evolve and mature.
"The next BSM battlefields appear to be alignment with ITIL, IT process automation, and datacentre automation - especially the management of the virtual environment," he said.