EMA recently completed a major landscape survey on network management, including updates on technologies, process, and organization affecting the tools and practices used within network operations. One of the more interesting themes that emerged was the overwhelming indication that systems management is now part and parcel of most network operations teams' daily lives.
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents called out systems management as an area of direct involvement or required domain knowledge, second only by a slight margin to network management on the list of choices provided, and ahead of options such as security and change/config management. And while there was a slight bias in these responses to participants from smaller shops, where wearing many hats is often just part of the job, even the largest organizations called out systems management ahead of every other choice, save network management.
This trend showed up in other portions of our research as well. Most notably, when exploring another area of expanding responsibilities for network operations - remote sites and equipment - we asked what technologies were considered the most important for managing remote locations. The clear and most dominant response to this question was "server performance and monitoring tools," and priority was also voiced for server configuration and out-of-band access to remote servers. That followed indications that nearly three-quarters had responsibilities for monitoring servers and storage at remote sites in addition to network devices, and over half of that crowd indicated that they went beyond monitoring to also cover active configuration.
Combine these findings with the growing number of management-tool vendors that are providing both network and systems management capabilities within their products, whether as integral core features or as part of a multi-product suite. In fact, many of the newer offerings, especially those targeting the mid-market, are tightly combining such functionality to serve the needs of multi-talented, multi-tasking operations professionals.
It would be easy to blame this trend on cost-cutting or cost control, but there are some other reasons that are perhaps more positive in nature. First, network management products are traditionally delivered as software, which must be installed, administered, and maintained on a computing system or platform. Even those delivered in appliance packaging are not completely "touchless." This simple fact means that many networking professionals must also be skilled with some degree of system administration, and further need the ability to monitor the health of the monitoring systems to ensure reliable management coverage and continuity.
A second driver behind this shift, one which is much more hopeful for the long run, is that IT organizations are more regularly bridging the silos between managed domains, for the purpose of adopting and promoting service-aware practices. Could this be a signal that the old network-as-a-scapegoat stereotype is fading? Or perhaps validation that IT operations groups are ready to push management practices in more holistic and proactive directions? We're certainly optimistic, and will be watching this trend closely in the future.