Case Study: A Real-Time View

By Allen Bernard

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Over the years George Tillmann has tried many times, in many different ways, to see things from his constituent's perspective. But, for the most part, those efforts have been only partially successful at best.

As the chief information officer of consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, Tillmann's main job is keeping the company's thousands of consultants (i.e. its revenue generators) around the globe in touch and working. To do this, he and his staff have to keep a worldwide email system functioning smoothly night and day, 24/7. Without email there is no project collaboration, and without collaboration deadlines are missed and revenues dip.

As with most IT departments, Tillmann has infrastructure visibility tools at his disposal. But none of them can give him a view into how BAH's email system is working from a user's perspective. Sure, he could see that the routers, servers and lines connecting Milan to Moscow were working properly, but he couldn't see if there were log-on troubles in either place or if the system was running frustratingly slow.

"Like everybody else I have that plethora downstairs," he said. "The difficulty was pulling a lot of it together."

Strategic Laptops

To help solve this problem they placed laptops in strategic places around the globe that would ping the network every few minutes and report back to the IT department. But even this idea, although better, wasn't enough to obtain a good user's perspective on how BAH's entire network was functioning as a whole.

That's why, when BAH's long-time infrastructure tools provider Concord Communications approached him about being part of a beta trial for its new, Web-based dashboard product, the Business Service Console (BSC), Tillmann decided the opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. (As of April 26, the BSC, the newest part of Concord's eHealth suite of infrastructure tools, became generally available.)

He and his staff had already embarked on a project to consolidate all infrastructure-reporting data onto one Oracle database so that everyone working on the system would have the same information. As it happens, Concord's BSC relies on the same Oracle database for its information.

A product that could finally give Tillmann the real-time, user-level perspective he had been looking for and one that easily integrated into his existing infrastructure? This made the decision, basically, a no-brainer.

"I had HP hording their data and CA's tools hording their data and Concord horded their data and I'm in a better position now of pulling that together," said Tillmann. "I'm not saying we're there, but we're getting there, where there's an opportunity to integrate these things together with one wrapper around it so I can sort of see what exactly is occurring with email in Europe. It was very difficult to do that in the past. It was a game of 20 questions."The Ticker

While dashboard tools are nothing new, Concord's BSC offers Tilman two advantages: an end-user perspective of network performance, and a stock-exchange-like "ticker" that continuously tells him what is happening by streaming red (for bad), yellow (for needs attention) and green (for good) indicators across the bottom of his PC screen.

If Houston is down, he'd see a red dot next to that location. If San Diego is slow, it's yellow, and so on. By clicking on a location, he expand it to see what is going on and why, how long its been that way, and if the problem is being addressed.

Like most tools, the metrics that make up the reporting are customizable, and Tilman, who is currently the only user of the dashboard at BAH, is still in the process of figuring out some of the enhancements he'd like to see. For example, instead of seeing how long something is down, he'd like to see how long it's been running green as well.

In fact, he is so enamored with the ticker he is thinking of putting a larger one in BAH's headquarters lobby in McLean, Va.

"Does somebody need to know (email) is up in Cairo? Probably not," said Tilman. "Does somebody here need to know IT is on top of things? Yeah, I think so."

Another advantage the BSC provides is cost. It is a whole lot cheaper, even at a $100,000 starting price, for Tilman to let Concord take over database consolidation efforts and provide him with the tool than for his team to do it in-house.

Currently, Tilman uses the BSC in (almost) three ways: 1) operationally -- seeing what's up, what's not; 2) tactically -- seeing how the new Moscow office going to into the infrastructure as a whole; and 3) strategically. This last one is still in the works since Tilman's only had the product for a few months, is still trying to figure out how best to utilize it, and needs to get more trends data into the system. When that happens, he'll be able to look at things with a long-term, strategic eye.

Until then, though, he is quite happy to use what he has and to finally have someone outside of his IT department providing him with a long-sought-after solution.

"We've been trying for a long time to get the tools so that we can have a real view, so that we actually knew what was up and we could say, 'Yes, Milan is on line and they can do their stuff' as opposed to saying, 'Well, I know the router works and I know the server works ... What I think we have now is the potential to do something smart," he said.