Opinion: IT systems management on a small business budget

Although widely adopted at an enterprise level, professional systems management has been out of the reach of small and medium-sized businesses because of the cost and administrative overheads involved, until now.

Although widely adopted at an enterprise level, professional systems management has been out of the reach of small and medium-sized businesses because of the cost and administrative overheads involved, until now, writes Simon Barnes, co-founder, Orb Data.

With the launch of the Tivoli Foundations products, IBM is making system monitoring better suited to smaller businesses. The move marks a sea change for the whole market.

But why do small and medium-sized businesses need monitoring? After all, they seem to have been getting along just fine without it.

For a start, that is not strictly true. It is rare to find a company that has never had an IT problem or complaints from users. Smaller businesses tend to act only when something goes wrong, but if they anticipate problems before they happen, small business owners can save themselves a lot of heartache in the long run and prevent business losses.

A few years back I attended a pre-sales meeting where the company told us they had hired another IBM business partner because they had tried to access our website to retrieve contact details, but it was down. That cost us business.

Monitoring performance

Another issue is performance. How can you know what an acceptable level of performance is until you establish a baseline? And if users complain about how long it takes them to log in, you need a monitoring tool to investigate why.

A systems monitoring tool will alert you to bottlenecks. So if it is a memory issue, it could simply be a case of adding another 2GB of memory to gain that extra half an hour each morning.

Without monitoring, bosses simply cannot see what is happening in their IT environment. But a systems management tool can provide alerts about potential problems and suggest a course of action. That reduces some of the burden on smaller IT departments.

For example, the Exchange monitor will not only identify that "IS mailbox messages delivered/min" are high, but it will also suggest that someone "Check for issues with Active Directory lookup or with the Private Information Store".

Acting on alerts

The biggest issue for many smaller businesses when they first deploy systems monitoring is that they will get too many alerts and will not know which ones to act on. IBM has used its experience from previous deployments to decide which alerts are crucial for mid-sized companies to start with and disable the rest. This gives owners time to fine-tune the alerts, so that each alert is pertinent to their business. In time, they can add their own custom alerts that will be unique to their business.

Unlike some previous approaches to managing smaller IT systems, this approach deploys the same products used by large firms, but with prebuilt reports, out-of-the-box best practices and server and network discovery. In addition, as the software comes pre-installed on an appliance, a small business can be up and running in just an hour.

There are agents for most systems or applications a small system owner might want to monitor, including Exchange, Windows, Oracle and VMware.

Once they reach a certain size, many companies will want to log incidents and provide a service desk. This is possible using existing products.

But possibly the best reason for using a performance monitor to is improve the quality of communications about system performance. So when someone in accounts says that the system is always down, you can check their claim and (hopefully) respond that in fact they have had 99.7% uptime over the past four weeks.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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