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The Focus Points of IT management

Author: Andrey Chervonets (19.10.2012)

IT infrastructure management can be simple for small IT infrastructure and complex for big one. But it is also possible to see when it is too complicated even for small, and there are cases when it is simple, transparent and relatively not expensive for big systems. How it is possible?

General rule of management – it should be structured. To manage something you should identify expected results and criteria of it's achievement, specify every important aspect of managed object, group that information around some focus points, detect how it impacts the results and step by step improve objects properties. The objects for management are elements of IT System as well as people involved and existing procedures. In this article I will show my vision of key focus points of good IT management.

After reviewing my own experience I had found some factors impacting good IT infrastructure management:

   1. Knowledge of System – how much we know about managed system, it's components, it's relationships and behaviour.

   2. IT staff competence – how good IT administrators know how and have skills to setup, tune system and fix problems.

   3. Intention to improve - the will of IT managers and experts to improve the System and it's own work resulted in reduced time for “regular maintenance” tasks and “fire-fighting”, dedication more time for system improvement and competence growth (education and technologies workshops – internal or external).

   4. Time and Management - proportion between “regular maintenance” tasks, “fire-fighting” technical problems or just too high users requests, and time for system improvements (fine tuning and development). Special portion is works and changes planning. Distribution of works type indicates how good IT management is organized.

Some words about Time and Management. Time is meant as:
   a) External Time – the chain of global changes like Earth movement around the Sun. In that meaning our live is limited to unknown, but definite number of such cycles. In regular life we use that cycles, which looks more or less constant comparing with other events, as measure for events.
   b) Internal Time – the chain of decisions made resulted in work done. In that meaning we can't tell: “I have no time for that”, more correct would be: “I have other priorities” or “Our decision is to do that one or other thing”.

To be effective, we should compare our Internal Time with External Time and manage what Results achieved. This mean we are only responsible how we invest our Time and Time of our partners and customers.

Now I will not tell you what decisions You should make and what is the best way of management. Any working style is good. Just take in account the following:
   If all your time consist of: planning, maintenance, fire-fighting and system improvements (or any other type of work), and You are not satisfied with achieved results and/or distribution of time (in hours or [number] of decisions made) for exact work type,
   then you can:
      a) define desired distribution of time for each work type
      b) change that distribution by reducing efforts in some works and increasing in others.
All this taking in account business requirements and expectations from your work.

To make that requirements roots more clear imagine the hierarchy starting with business clients needs and expectations from business (advertised activities of your company or organization), business (model) requirements to technical infrastructure layers: applications, databases, OS, network and hardware.

In this article I will not focus on Clients-to-Business layer. It is subject for another article, but note that key moment is effective Communication.

At any time business have requirements to IT system, that can be grouped into the following main focus areas:
  • Availability
  • Performance
  • Security
  • Data Consistency
  • Applications Functionality
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • others are less important

To make IT system manageable we should:
  • define that requirements,
  • make them measurable
  • and evaluate.

To evaluate how well IT system is managed, the business should define:
  • what is minimal requirements;
  • and what is desired results.

Write all this in SLA and track/monitor the progress time to time.

To satisfy requirements of main focus areas at IT team should perform activities in some supporting focus areas, that are:
  • Configuration management – in other words: what we have and what is where
  • Backup and Recovery – we have to be able recover from any component failure or loss
  • Capacity management – we need to understand what resources required and provide them
  • Scalability – system should scale together with business
  • other aspects of IT Service Management, including:
    • Processes management
    • Changes management
    • Events management
    • Incidents and Problems
    • and others (see more details in ITIL definitions).

Returning to IT team Time and Management we could say that all work consists of:
  • Planned works: maintenance, system improvements, staff competence growth.
  • Unplanned works: fire-fighting and support requests.
  • The Planning.

The relationships between the work types is:
  1. Time for Planning is mandatory to make all that manageable and developing in a defined way
  2. Time for system improvements and staff competence growth can be dedicated only when at least minimal requirements from business to technical layer of IT System are satisfied.
  3. That mean 1st of all we do fire-fighting for critical and urgent things.
  4. To avoid fire-fighting we should invest time into system development, including activities to be prepared to some undesired events like power outage, hardware failure and so on.
  5. But first of all we should invest Time into regular maintenance (manual or automated) to satisfy basic needs avoiding problems, which will increase our Time for fire-fightings. Most of maintenance activities are “hygiene” requirement, things that we must do – if we do not do this, then sooner or later we will get the problems. Of course, they will appear suddenly, when nobody expects them.

In article “IT System Maintenance Checklist” we will collect things that must be done as well as things nice to have. The list will be improved time to time, but already now it is already usable. Take a look and adopt it to your company or organization needs.

(may be continued).

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