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Remote monitoring and management tools: Some assembly required

Managed service providers use custom integration to unify monitoring tools in a bid to simplify what otherwise could become out-of-control automation.

Managed service providers and other channel partners have a wealth of remote monitoring and management software to choose from when automating their businesses.

But one set of tools doesn't always cover all of an MSP's bases. A company may need to supplement its core remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool with other tools that monitor legacy systems or cloud deployments. An MSP may also want to tie its monitoring technology into related systems such as IT service management (ITSM). So, to get the most out of its off-the-shelf tools, an MSP may need to pursue a bit of custom development and technology tweaking to get the commercially available tools working together in a coordinated fashion.

The alternative is operating and maintaining a myriad of tools and associated consoles, which can end up adding to an MSP's management burden rather than relieving it.

Clayton Weise, cloud architect, Key Information SystemsClayton Weise

Clayton Weise, cloud architect for Key Information Systems Inc., an MSP based in Agoura Hills, Calif., said a service provider can find itself watching a half dozen different dashboards to see what is going on with customers when issues arise. The pressing task becomes simplification in such settings. Key Information Systems' response is an offering the company calls cloud monitoring as a service (CMaaS). The service has been in use for about one year.

CMaaS, Weise said, combines off-the-shelf tools with Key Information Systems' custom integration. The main tool is FireScope, which provides IT service monitoring capabilities. Weise said the company uses a few other collectors to feed data into FireScope's enterprise service bus when required. The enterprise service bus acts as a hub that lets third-party applications communicate with FireScope.

"It didn't make sense for us to actually build it from scratch," Weise said of CMaaS. "It's much better to buy off the shelf and tweak it."

As for tweaking, Key Information Systems' custom integration of tools, combined with a distributed configuration of FireScope, lets the company collect on-premises data from clients through a single virtual machine and send the data back to the CMaaS database, Weise explained.

Remote monitoring and management software: ITSM integration

Phil O'Konski, director of managed services, DatalinkPhil O'Konski

Datalink, a data center infrastructure provider and MSP based in Minneapolis, had a similar experience with a proliferation of tools. Phil O'Konski, director of managed services at Datalink, said it needed a way to control the sprawl of different monitoring systems that were acquired to manage a wide range of environments.

Datalink built an integration platform, Datalink Central, to better manage its tools. The platform, which is based on ServiceNow and Resolve Systems, lets the company plug in multiple tool sets. ServiceNow provides ITSM, while Resolve offers an incident response automation platform. O'Konski said the company needed the "flexibility to bring in and out tool sets as they came to fruition or became stale."

In addition, the company wanted to accommodate customer requests for specific tools.

It didn't make sense for us to actually build it from scratch; it's much better to buy off the shelf and tweak it.
Clayton Weisecloud architect, Key Information Systems Inc.

As for new tools, O'Konski said he has seen a shift from monitoring tools focused on IT assets to tools that focus on IT services. Monitoring enterprise IT components as discrete assets may miss the bigger picture -- multiple assets could be contributing to the failure of an IT service such as email. Tools of this kind let MSPs report back to clients on their service-level objectives and the issues the MSP is seeing from a service perspective.

Kevin Clark, director, Cloud & Managed Solutions, LogicalisKevin Clark

Logicalis Inc., which offers systems integration, managed services and cloud offerings, has also created a remote monitoring and management software foundation via integration. And, as with Datalink, ServiceNow is part of the mix. Logicalis has integrated ServiceNow with a suite of CA Technologies' software that includes CA Nimsoft RMM, CA's Unified Monitoring Portal and user experience monitoring tool.

Logicalis leveraged ServiceNow's custom integration capability to "develop an integrated solution," according to Kevin Clark, director, Cloud & Managed Solutions, at Logicalis.

Logicalis also provides a monitoring service for customers that have their own ServiceNow instance and want to leverage Logicalis' monitoring offering, he added.

In the ServiceNow-CA integration, ServiceNow captures incidents and provides the configuration management database (CMDB), which documents information on the devices under management. Event data captured through the RMM -- actionable messages -- are inserted into the incidents captured by ServiceNow. Data from the CMDB is also inserted into the incident to help engineers working to resolve issues.

Monitoring legacy systems

Legacy systems are still out there and need to be managed.

Clayton Weise, cloud architect for MSP Key Information Systems Inc., said monitoring tools such as RMM products work quite well with generic Windows environments, but aren't equipped to monitor legacy and specialized technologies such as mainframes and AS/400s.

As a consequence, businesses tend to manage those technologies separately -- contributing to tool sprawl. Weise, however, said his company's monitoring as a service approach can monitor systems that may be off the beaten path. Key Information Systems' monitoring as a service offering uses FireScope, an IT service monitoring product, to tie in such systems. FireScope includes an enterprise service bus to accomplish such integration.

Wiese said tools that collect data from, for instance, IBM Power systems (AIX and IBM i -- formerly AS/400) may be integrated into Key Information Systems' monitoring as a service deployment. This linkup allows the data to be visualized through FireScope.

Better tool management

While integration makes for simplification and smoother workflow, effective management is another important aspect of optimizing remote monitoring and management software.

Clark said key management considerations include:

  • For any specific technology an MSP is monitoring, it must identify the critical components of the technology it needs to know about.
  • The MSP must configure the tool set to get after the data it specifically wants to see about the technology.

Service level objectives include several elements

For example, in the case of a server, a service provider would want to focus on availability, hardware status of the physical server, network interface status and utilization, and the services or processes running, Clark noted. He said there may be other areas a service provider might want to include, such as the critical components of a SQL database.

But the point is, "if you are alerting on all messages, it can become unmanageable noise and you will lose the effectiveness of the monitoring solution," Clark said.

Next Steps

Learn about selection criteria for remote monitoring and management tools

Find out how some RMM vendors are pursuing integration and ease of use

Read about integrated security in RMM offerings

This was last published in August 2016

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