By Cathy Luo (October 2002)
At a time when CIOs are pressed to do more with less, remote systems management tools can help deliver cost savings and higher productivity
Today's enterprises operate in a distributed world. Long gone are the days when IT assets resided in a closet down the hall. Today, assets are spread across the globe, and without comprehensive remote management, these systems cost your business more time and money than they should.
Why? Because managing distributed systems entails numerous mission-critical tasks. These systems run your business, and they must remain up and running at all times—no exceptions. An IT infrastructure needs to protect the integrity of business information, yet make it available to users when they demand it. When a company implements a new technology, IT must be able to upgrade systems with almost no downtime or service interruption.
Some industries have more pressing availability demands than others. For a large bank with customers around the world, a single hiccup in the availability of online transaction processing (OLTP) applications can put a barrier between millions of customers and their money. Even downtime of internal systems—such as customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain management (SCM)—can cause expensive delays.
The need for high availability and systems management tools transcends industry lines. In fact, any enterprise with distributed locations or complex supply chains—from banks to restaurant chains to automobile manufacturers—needs a cost-effective way to manage complex infrastructures. Enterprise IT shops need efficient tools to administer distributed critical systems in a way that reduces expenses.
Greater than the sum of its parts
Systems management refers to a set of tools, processes, and procedures that help organizations support IT infrastructure hardware and software throughout a system's life cycle. It helps IT resources to be as productive as possible and consume the least amount of administrative and support costs and avoid costly downtime.
"The ability to remotely manage computing devices plays a key role in several enterprise-management trends," says Pete Morowski, vice president of software for the DellTM Enterprise Systems Group. "For example, the continued push for consolidated systems dispersed across wide geographies requires IT professionals to monitor and manage numerous devices in multiple locations."
At the same time, enterprises are rediscovering the merits of the data center, where server consolidation and clustering present new management challenges. Server clusters and storage area networks (SANs) comprise hardware, software, networks, and storage—components often considered to be separate pieces. But the focus today is on comprehensive systems management, including the ability to remotely manage these architectures as complete systems, not just individual components. By corralling distributed systems and simplifying administration, remote management tools streamline several IT processes—resulting in a smaller IT staff that accomplishes more and costs less without causing interruptions to daily business.
Faster deployment and installation
Centralized and remote systems management helps new systems contribute to the bottom line as quickly as possible and without interruption. These solutions allow administrators to install, configure, update, and proactively manage a large number of systems over a network without leaving their desks. Productivity increases when they can perform an operation once from virtually anywhere and have it automatically apply to many remote systems. For example, a large manufacturer with factories around the world can use remote management to save the time and money previously spent traveling to distant locations, administering multiple servers.
Rapid resolution of problems and higher availability
Remote management also enables enterprises to catch potential service outages before they negatively affect the business. Using event management capabilities, administrators can receive instant alerts at the moment a problem occurs—often before the problem causes costly downtime. This immediate notification would enable administrators at a large bank to dispatch repair technicians to remedy problems quickly—or prevent them without disrupting network uptime for millions of customers.
The right tools for the job
From the edges of an enterprise to the heart of a data center, the fundamental proposition behind systems management remains the same: IT professionals must reduce infrastructure complexity, maintain availability of mission-critical systems, and monitor systems within the enterprise.
The Dell Intelligent IT approach to systems management is a holistic treatment of all network components in the enterprise. "Dell Intelligent IT comprises a collection of tools that enable complete life cycle management—giving customers the ability to rapidly deploy our systems, manage them on a day-to-day basis, and service them," says Jeff Jilg, an enterprise software architect at Dell.
The Intelligent IT approach is designed to facilitate remote management throughout the many stages of a system's life cycle, a few of which include:
- Deployment: Installing, configuring, and deploying the operating system, management agents, and management applications
- Operations: Monitoring, managing, and reporting the systems' health
- Service: Diagnosing and quickly repairing a problem
Dell has taken a cross-platform approach to developing Intelligent IT tools. As a result, the tools can support Linux® , Microsoft® Windows® , and Novell® NetWare® operating systems. Dell OpenManageTM software also supports pure Linux-based, Windows-based, or mixed environments, and both the Netscape® Navigator® and Microsoft Internet Explorer browsers. Intelligent IT products provide management for hardware including Dell LatitudeTM notebooks, Dell PrecisionTM workstations, Dell OptiPlexTM desktops, Dell PowerEdgeTM servers, Dell PowerVaultTM storage systems, and Dell PowerConnectTM switches.
Intelligent IT deployment products are designed to simplify software installation and uninstallation processes, which are critical capabilities for large enterprises in nearly any industry.
SETTING UP INDIVIDUAL SERVERS
Intelligent IT includes products that allow enterprises to set up and configure PowerEdge servers and system components. A CD kit simplifies the operating system installation process and requires minimal technical experience. It provides a smart installation option, which installs only the necessary components and performs unattended installation of supported operating systems. The CD kit also contains an application that offers one-button installation of the management agents and software.
CLONING SYSTEM SOFTWARE ON MULTIPLE REMOTE SYSTEMS
As an alternative to inefficient conventional installation, Dell has introduced image-based deployment software called Dell OpenManage Remote Install, which helps quickly clone operating system software, applications, and configuration information over the network onto multiple remote Dell blade servers. Using OpenManage Remote Install, administrators can control the deployment from a central console. The remote servers do not need attention from an operator at any time after power-up, nor do they require any console peripherals (keyboard, mouse, or monitor) attached to them.
An enterprise can incorporate a wide variety of IT environments, from a small group of servers in a centralized location to hundreds of heterogeneous servers located globally. The complexity of the network determines the level of server management required: individual server management, group management, or enterprise management.
ADMINISTERING INDIVIDUAL SERVERS
By using Dell OpenManage Server Administrator, administrators can manage individual servers from virtually anywhere at any time. Server Administrator, which runs as an agent on a managed server, lets administrators monitor system status, report on asset and array information, view an audit trail of system changes, provide version control for firmware and BIOS, and execute online diagnostics for preventive maintenance or troubleshooting. Administrators can access Server Administrator through an industry-standard Web browser so they can manage a server locally or remotely.
MONITORING GROUPS OF SERVERS FROM A CENTRALIZED LOCATION
Dell OpenManage IT Assistant, on the other hand, provides centralized management for groups of networked servers, desktops, portables, and workstations. Administrators can access this enterprise console through a Web browser from anywhere in an intranet.
IT Assistant automatically detects all networked Dell systems and supplies current health and status information for each system and its components, including memory, processors, network interface cards, and attached storage.
INTEGRATING SERVERS WITHIN AN ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK
Organizations that have geographically dispersed data centers containing hundreds of heterogeneous servers often require advanced management capabilities. Some organizations use enterprise management console frameworks such as Computer AssociatesTM Unicenter® Solutions, Tivoli Enterprise Console, HPTM OpenView® Network Node Manager, and BMC Software PATROL® Console. Dell OpenManage Connections software allows Dell hardware-specific information to be forwarded to these frameworks.
FIXING THE BREAK BEFORE IT HAPPENS
When a server in a remote location refuses to boot, a system administrator may need to travel off-site to fix it, or chase down someone at the remote site and explain the problem. A more efficient method is to provide administrators with remote-access capabilities that allow them to fix remote systems without ever leaving their desks. Using Dell hardware and Intelligent IT tools, administrators can remotely access networked servers for control, troubleshooting, and maintenance.
Using OpenManage Server Administrator, administrators can remotely apply diagnostics to analyze and predict problems before they disrupt operations. The software allows administrators to interactively run diagnostics, immediately receive and review the results, and take constructive, preventive measures based on the review.
Today, remote management is more critical than ever for IT professionals tasked with minimizing costs and maximizing availability. Dell focuses its expertise on developing tools that allow IT professionals to manage their enterprise systems remotely without sacrificing security, availability, and usability—all leading toward the low total cost of ownership that CFOs demand.
"Going forward, a key tenet for Dell is that our management system must be easy to upgrade, and rollouts of subsequent Intelligent IT components should provide that capability," Morowski says. "Today's IT professionals need to manage everything across the enterprise from desktops to servers to SANs, and Dell has the unique opportunity to provide its customers with a total solution to meet that challenge."
For more information about Dell Intelligent IT solutions, please visit www.dell.com/intelligentit.
About the author: Cathy Luo is a contributing writer for Dell Insight.