In recent years organisations have come under pressure to deliver improved results within financial constraints.
Businesses must operate on a global basis, which means that IT systems need 24-hour availability and, while five or six nines is not an absolutely necessity, service availability has to be of the highest level possible.
At the same time companies face a backdrop of economic pressure and the ever increasing complexity of the IT infrastructure. These are challenging times for IT departments, but there is hope.
Until recently the technology used to deliver service-level management (SLM) was large and cumbersome. It is only when you take an enterprise view of assets that you are able to get maximum value out of SLM tools.
Historically this meant the deployment of framework solutions, which could take as long as two years to implement, meaning that many systems were left unfinished and no benefit was obtained.
Thinking has evolved and point-based solutions are available that monitor and manage selected areas of the infrastructure. Companies will no longer consider lengthy projects that may or may not deliver business benefit.
And customers are demanding out-of-the-box functionality that can be deployed quickly to deliver return on investment (ROI) in months, not years.
Another change in thinking has meant that organisations now consider IT in terms of a business service, rather than technology.
It is no longer about network routers, operating systems and server racks; IT investment is now viewed in a business-centric way. Customers want to be able to communicate through email securely, reliably and fairly quickly, rather than demanding nanosecond responses from the mail server.
SLM tools have also evolved since their initial development. Originally the emphasis was on monitoring events in the hardware layer, an approach which ensured that processes ran and completed within performance thresholds.
This level of SLM focused on reducing the need for operational staff to monitor console messages. Its deployment required an infrastructure capable of messaging and a set of core management data and event monitors.
The next step in the SLM evolution was the management of the applications layer. Abstraction was introduced as the application was defined as component parts, and application monitors sat alongside hardware event monitors as both interfaced through the messaging infrastructure.
Monitoring hardware and software enables real abstraction to be achieved by building the business view from the hardware and application components.
Data from different SLM tools can be combined, which enables customers to use point solutions.
An important consideration is that not every component retains the same level of importance across different services and the analysing tool must understand the components, the context in which they operate and their dependencies. This high level of analysis enables a proactive approach in SLM to be taken.
As with many tools of this nature, one size does not fit all; organisations have a diverse mix of IT architectures and service requirements. But some SLM capabilities that every company should consider include:
Asset management This helps to establish the foundation for other SLM tools and is essential for auditing.
Software distribution A key function for the IT department providing an alternative to the 'painting the Forth Bridge' scenario that many IT departments face: a continual, resource-hungry software upgrade programme.
Storage management This is one of the most misunderstood and underused assets in any organisation. Consolidation is only part of the answer, as the ability to effectively manage storage assets delivers ROI.
Security Using the internet as a business route means that an organisation's IT systems are opened up to a wider audience and, with an increased amount of data to deal with - of both a personal and commercial nature - it is vital that an organisation can guarantee its confidentiality.
SLM is developing rapidly, driven by changes in business and technical environments. Since the dotcom bubble burst we have been seeing realistic standards being set for business in the new economy, where service is paramount.
While the framework approach reflected the need to implement SLM at an enterprise level, it was an unrealistic goal for many organisations.
The move towards point solutions, offering out-of-the-box functionality that can quickly and easily be directed to an organisation's area of maximum pain, represents the biggest advance in the SLM space.
As with any maturing market the number of SLM vendors has been slow to consolidate but, due to the development of the point solution concept, there continue to be good opportunities for niche players offering the right solution.
With the need to deliver more with less, every organisation is looking to sweat its assets in the most profitable way possible. And in a world where service is everything, SLM is on the first step of its evolutionary ladder.
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