Options and Trade-Offs
Any research undertaken on infrastructure tools will probably pay off regardless of the ultimate purchase and implementation. Whether a vendor sells it to you, you buy it yourself, or a hosting service provides it, you’ll see many of the same products. Even if you’re attracted to a particular vendor (or already have a horse in the barn), it is useful to see what the competition is doing. To encourage comparison, we will provide feature checklists in future ServerWatch server infrastructure tools articles — those focused on server management, server monitoring, and server configuration — that you can use to evaluate products.
The category of server infrastructure tools is one of the fastest growing areas of software. Thanks to the proliferation of small servers used in large groups (e.g., blades) the need for software to manage them has grown exponentially. As a category of software, server infrastructure tools is extremely competitive. Products are available from the biggest names in the business as well as tiny, unknown start-ups. The good news is the resulting proliferation of options, alternatives, and comparative advantages. This is also, of course, the bad news.
On top of wading through the forest of products, there are large issues to consider: Own or lease? Operate in-house or outsource? Single vendor or multiple vendors? Given the wide functionality of server tools, the many platforms, and the large number of products, the trade-offs that must be weighed are inevitable.
A grab bag of vendor tools may not play together as well as third-party tools designed to run in a heterogeneous environment.
When it comes to server infrastructure tools, the default decision factor has long been the server hardware vendor. If a company has IBM, HP, or Dell servers, for example the tendency is to stick with the respective vendor’s server tools. This is usually convenient and may mean the tools are optimized for the servers. Still, the functional coverage of vendor-supplied tools may not be complete, and they may be comparatively expensive. It’s also true that organizations often use servers from different vendors (running different operating systems). A grab bag of vendor tools may not play together as well as third-party tools designed to run in a heterogeneous environment. In addition, third-party products are often selected because they are considered best-of-breed or offer cost advantages — not because of inertia.
If third-party products are selected, the assumption is that each offering has best-in-class features; there is no guarantee they will work together properly (or at all). On the other hand, if you select an all-in-one (or suite) product from a single vendor, the coordination problems may be gone, but cost and vendor lock-in may be a problem. In a different context, there are decisions to be made about whether a company wants to own and operate the infrastructure tools, or outsource that operation to others. Trade-offs apply: Owning and operating your own management tools provides greater security and control (usually), but using a host or another outsourcer can be less expensive and may provide better facilities or staff.
None of these trade-offs are a given, but it is important to be aware that in the category of server infrastructure tools, there are usually trade-offs. In general, the larger and more complex the infrastructure, the more it will exacerbate the trade-offs. While ServerWatch’s coverage of server infrastructure tools will be product oriented, we will also keep an eye on the larger issues and trade-offs involved.