Looking at IT basics: Understand and automate

The IT industry has a long history of looking to the future. From its initial roots in mainframes, through to today’s increased interest in cloud computing, IT vendors have always been looking to the ‘next big thing.’

However, most IT managers still find that their main concern is keeping existing systems running properly on a daily basis. How can we take these “next big things” and apply them so that businesses feel their benefit faster?

IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) is the latest trend to be discussed. It involves using the principles of cloud computing to help companies improve their own approach to IT management, as well as how these services are consumed by end-users within the organisation itself.

At the heart of ITaaS is a requirement for greater automation and control over IT processes – if you are still relying on manual patching and other systems management tasks such as asset deployment and inventory, then there will be no opportunities to streamline how IT services are rolled out.

However linking together the IT inventory, systems management and service desk functions can help to support this and deliver more benefits to the organisation as well as the individual IT staffer.

Industry research by Forrester has pointed to between 75 and 80 per cent of budgets being spent on ‘keeping the lights on,’ with the rest assigned to new investments that can reduce spending and improve performance. Cutting this spend on existing management therefore represents the biggest opportunity to save money in the longer term.

Let’s take a closer look at how taking an ITaaS approach can streamline some common systems management initiatives:

Systems Imaging

Keeping system images and PC hardware up to date is a necessary step towards supporting users that are consuming services and applications from the cloud as well as traditional applications. Rather than having to spend more time on fixing problems that keep recurring on individual machines, these can be tackled in a more automated and proactive fashion.

An example here is monitoring the desktop hardware that users have, and reporting back to IT on how system resources are being used. If someone is approaching a full hard-drive, then IT can have this flagged in advance. They can then take steps to remedy the situation, either by deleting old documents that are no longer needed, or re-training users to save their data centrally.

This means IT can take proactive steps to prevent problems affecting user activities, rather than waiting for a call to be logged with the help-desk. The approach is more “service-led” as IT can think about and fix problems before users experience an issue, rather than working on the service desk to-do list while the user is prevented from being productive.

Patching

Another example of how IT can take a more forward-looking approach is around patching. The sheer range of applications, software and operating systems that are now in place means that often IT does not have all its patches in one place. This is not only frustrating for the IT team from a time management perspective, but it also leads to individual user machines being missed when it comes to rolling out updates.

Remote users with laptops are the prime example here: because they only connect to the network rarely, there can be problems with ensuring that all necessary patches are in place. Automatically detecting when machines join the network and deploying patches to these devices is therefore a good step to keeping machines up to the corporate standard. It also means that problems around compatibility can be avoided due to different software versions being installed.

License compliance

Forecasting how many licenses you need is not an exact science; the number of people using an application can go up or down over time, while the rise of Software as a Service has also made tracking licenses more complex too. For IT, taking the ITaaS approach can make this easier, as users can be provided with access to all the applications that they should need automatically, and additional licenses can be requested in an automatic manner.

This not only makes the process for tracking licenses easier, but it can also show up some surprising cost savings around “orphaned” applications where licenses are still being paid for when the software itself is not being used.

Going further, the ITaaS model could be used to provide a corporate app store, where users can choose the applications that they need and be granted access to them automatically. This makes application delivery easier for the IT team, as well as helping the user be more productive.

Service desk

The ITIL standards have been used by a lot of organisations to help them build out their service desk. However, too many of these projects end with this as well. ITIL gives a lot more guidance on the whole area of service delivery alongside the traditional “help desk” role.

ITaaS can use some of the guidance that is included in ITIL, as well as recognising the organisation’s distinct requirements around the services that IT provides through to users. At the heart of this remains the business need for supporting users in the most efficient and effective way.

Taking the ITaaS route here means that users’ hardware can be kept up to date, but also that the whole process is automated. Not having to run around after users is a boon for IT as well, and lets them concentrate on adding more value back to the organisation.

Tasks that are often regarded as the basics of IT management are still some of the most important requirements that IT has to fulfill. If IT is to keep pace with the needs of the overall business, these will have to be thought about and preferably automated where possible.

Compared to manually updating systems, this approach not only saves IT time and money that can be dedicated to improving overall business performance, it also makes life more enjoyable and interesting for IT professionals.

Seann Gardner is EMEA Regional Sales Director, Dell KACE. Seann is responsible for running Dell KACE's operations in EMEA, covering sales and channel development as well as supporting existing customer service. Seann has moved over to managing European operations after being responsible for overseeing the KACE channel network worldwide.