ICYMI: IT monitoring: ignore it at your peril

This interview was originally posted on http://onlyit.ca

To many businesses, IT monitoring software is a luxury they cannot afford. However, that mindset is dangerous. Not monitoring your IT infrastructure can cost you in stolen data and damage your reputation. Leon Adato, who holds the title of “head geek” at SolarWinds, shared his thoughts on why IT monitoring software is vital to the health of companies as well as the consequences of ignoring the need to monitor your IT infrastructure.

“Over the course of my 25 years in IT, with 12 years specifically focused on monitoring, I would say that more often than not-say 60 percent of the time-businesses lack a gut understanding that monitoring helps save them money, and lots of it,” said Adato. “In addition, I’ve never seen a company, large or small, actually do the work to estimate and document the savings monitoring provides, either overall or on a per-alert basis.”

Adato recounted an anecdote from when he first started working in IT. “As an example, early in my career when I was doing desktop support, I got a call that the barcode printer on ‘production line seven’ was down,” he remarked. “When I got there, I realized the fix was going to take some time. It was the end of the day, I was tired and I wanted to get home. I figured this particular printer issue could wait until the next day. The guy working that line said to me, ‘I completely understand if you’ve got responsibilities, but let me make sure you understand the choice you are making-each one of these circuit boards is $10,000 of profit, and we don’t get the money until they ship, and they don’t ship until they get a barcode from that printer.’ I realized I was looking at 4 racks with about 150 boards per rack. I made a few calls and stayed late to get the printer back up and running.”

“The point of the story is that the guy on the line knew exactly what the cost breakdown was,” Adato continued. “He knew the material costs, labor costs, gross and net revenue, and he could have told you per minute, per hour, per production line how much money was being lost. That’s not uncommon in production environments. Unfortunately, companies usually don’t approach IT monitoring and alerting with the same attitude and level of awareness, even though they could, and in my opinion, certainly should.”

Even if businesses have some type of IT monitoring in place, it might not be across the entire business. “Monitoring is always happening, whether it’s a server tech who checks all his servers manually from time to time (‘monitoring via eyeballs’) or teams that implement their own ‘skunkworks’ systems,” Adato commented. “People in the trenches don’t like surprises. Those systems will be narrowly focused, though, and will probably overlap in terms of features as well as scope. For example, the server team and the Exchange team might both monitor the same server; possibly using two different tools that collect much of the same data.” This approach is inefficient and not cost effective.

Adato cited the benefits of a business-wide IT monitoring program. He noted that it provides “the ability to have ongoing metrics that allow for capacity planning, forensic analysis of unexpected events-there will always be black swans-and the shortening of not only mean time to repair but also mean time to innocence by using data to prove that something, such as the network, is not at fault so efforts can be focused elsewhere.”

SolarWinds’ head geek acknowledged that businesses will need to invest financial and personnel resources into IT monitoring. Furthermore, IT monitoring can shatter some illusions about infrastructure. “[There is] the potentially unhappy realization that the environment is not as stable as you thought it was,” Adato said. He sees a silver lining to that situation, though. “Of course, this is a good thing masquerading as a bad thing because knowing there’s a previously-undetectable problem is the first step to fixing it before it blows up,” Adato concluded.