Can systems management handle today's data center?

Through the years, data centers – and their designs and requirements—have changed. But one thing has stayed the same: they are the nexus of any organization's IT operation. For that reason, ITworld has decided to start a blog that focuses solely on data centers.

Specifically, this blog will follow the challenges and opportunities CIOs face as they oversee management of their companies' existing data centers while planning for and building their next-generation data centers.

I've been covering IT and technology as a journalist for more than 20 years, and look forward to discussing a variety of data center topics, including data center consolidation, converged fabric environments such as FCoE, 10GigE, etc., disaster recovery, data center automation, data center services and outsourcing, virtualized data centers, and more.

What's most important, however, is that this blog take its cue from you, the readers. What data center issues are most pressing in your organization? What insights and wisdom can you share? I look forward to this being a shared forum.

To kick things off, there's a new report out from SearchDataCenter.com, State of the Data Center 2011, that has a lot of interesting information. The report covers a variety of topics, and is based on the site's Data Center Decisions 2011 survey of IT professionals spanning numerous roles within the enterprise. More than 1,000 responses were obtained and analyzed for the report and, needless to say, will provide quite a bit of fodder for us to discuss in this blog over the next few weeks.

I'd like to spend a bit of time on one area that has been near and dear to my heart: systems management. I consider systems management a vital part of an optimized data center operation and am guessing many of you do as well. But just how well is systems management serving organizations? Not surprisingly, the shifting environment of many data centers to virtualization and cloud computing is straining the capabilities of current systems management tools.

When asked to identify their biggest challenges, many respondents pointed to capacity planning and monitoring, server availability monitoring and metrics, and change and configuration management. These make perfect sense to me – when virtual application servers are spun up and down as needed to meet an organization's shifting needs for capacity, pushing change management policies becomes quite complex. And handling server "sprawl" that's likely to occur when end users have the ability to toggle their own computing resources without adding more IT staff adds to the complexities.

The manual processes required of older, more traditional systems management packages no longer work for today's evolving data centers, and the survey found that more and more IT administrators are seeking data center automation tools. In fact, when asked to rank why they use systems management tools, automation and productivity ranked highest for the last two years of the survey.

Of course, budget concerns still have sway. The survey found that in 2011, 54% of respondents expect funding to remain flat. Luckily, about a third expect some increase in systems management funds and only 6% expect a decline in systems management funding, which is down from 8% last year, according to SearchDataCenter.com.

There are quite a few other topics to delve into, not just on systems management. Watch for more! In the meantime, let me know what your most challenging systems management issues are. I look forward to hearing from you!

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