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IT Strategy

RIM vendors, the current slowdown is the icing on the cake, as companies all around the world are looking to consolidate their IT infrastructure strategies and experienced yet cheap labor. This means that enterprises today are trying to get most out of their it infrastructure and are keen on applying sound infrastructure performance management measures.

Remote Infrastructure Management outsourcing is one of fastest growing services. According to the latest Nasscom report, “Global RIM industry grew at more than 80 per cent CAGR from $2 billion in 2006 to $6 to 7 billion in 2008”. Nasscom also believes India is likely to capture $13 to 15 billion of the market share. For RIM vendors, the current slowdown is the icing on the cake, as companies all around the world are looking to consolidate their IT infrastructure and experienced yet cheap labor.

Enterprises running mission critical applications need 24x7 monitoring, along with management, DR and other similar services. This isn't an easy job to do with the in-house IT team. As a result RIM is becoming a peachy option for enterprises across the globe. With their IT infrastructure outsourced, they can concentrate on their core business and utilize their IT team in planning, design and escalation activities.

In India companies have been taking to remote infrastructure management since a long time. However given the fact that young talented IT workforce is not easy to find, many enterprises choose to manage IT infrastructure on their own.

Lately with the slowdown and other issues like high attrition rate in IT industry, CIOs have been under increased pressure to cut down their IT budgets and at the same time continue to meet their companies' growing requirements. As a result they are also starting to adopt RIM. In this story we will talk about the growing trends and advantages of adopting RIM. We also talk about what you should look for when outsourcing your infrastructure.

Current Trends
Traditionally network, server and desktop management were considered to be key functions of RIM. But with the advent of new technologies like virtualization, cloud computing, etc organization demands are changing; as a result vendors are now offering new and innovative services. Let's look at some of the evolving trends in RIM industry.

Business Continuity
Ensuring this is one of the top priorities of CIOs. As IT has become a part of the core business, many enterprises cannot even afford downtime of a few minutes. Just having remote backup scheduling, monitoring and recovery from backup failures is no longer enough. Even small enterprises nowadays have some sort of DR mechanism in place, so that in case of disaster they can quickly shift without affecting business.

However, for maintaining a DR site, enterprises need infrastructure on other locations, skilled workforce to maintain DR sites and carry periodic tests. This means there will be a significant increase in IT budgets of an enterprise. As a result, enterprises are starting to adopt Managed Business Continuity services. Here again there are various services available for an enterprise, for eg an enterprise running mission critical applications, would ideally like to have a “HOT” D.R site, which will be a mirrored, dedicated replica at the service provider's location. Similarly, concepts of managed "warm site" and "cold site" are also catching up. Under DR services, it's no longer just about IT recovery; Work Area Recovery and Crisis Management services are also gaining momentum.

Infrastructure as a Service Popularly known as Cloud Computing, this is another growing trend in RIM services especially in the global markets. As enterprises look to consolidate their infrastructure and bandwidth, they are looking to invest in infrastructure as a service. With this, enterprises not only save on space costs but also don't have to worry about maintaining their infrastructure or other issues like workforce, business continuity etc. This allows them to focus on their existing infrastructure.

We mentioned earlier that in traditional remote infrastructure management, there are a few tasks which cannot be performed remotely, such as if any component of your data center fails, then it has to be replaced physically. However in this scenario, an enterprise doesn't have to worry about these issues as everything is in the cloud and with the kind of cloud computing technologies around, an enterprise won't even know about it. All the company has to do is ensure connectivity to the cloud. Another advantage that IAAS provides is that whenever an enterprise starts a new project they can quickly get access to desired infrastructure, rather than going through the long process of buying and implementing new infrastructure.

A similar trend is Co-Location services, where an enterprise can place its existing IT infrastructure at a service provider's premises, to be managed by the latter. This is also a good option for enterprises looking to consolidate their existing infrastructure, as they do not have to worry about issues like business continuity, skilled workforce, immediate problem resolution, etc.

Why should you outsource WAN Management?
Businesses are faced with unique challenges when attempting to connect and manage an extended enterprise network. Due to the current economic environment, businesses need to do more with less.  As organizations expand and become more global, the complexity of running applications across a global infrastructure increases. In today's business world, companies must deploy services in disparate locations throughout the globe, while meeting the familiar need to curb capital expenditure and effectively distribute IT resources. At the same time, the ever-evolving industry means that enterprises must keep pace with deploying and managing new technologies, often with staff that are already stretched for resources

Leveraging the management resources of an efficient network service provider can help businesses cost-effectively meet their technology needs, while relieving them of the need to self-manage their network and enabling staff to focus on core business goals and competencies.

Going a step further, companies like Verizon Business, for instance, provide comprehensive service capabilities that include design and implementation, proactive monitoring, fault isolation and restoration, proactive notification, change management, and performance reporting, besides taking care of global compliances

From a business perspective, Managed WAN shields the business from technology and capital risks by taking advantage of new and evolving access to technologies and extending security and content policies out to distributed locations in a cost-effective manner.

How Should an Enterprise Carry out WAN Management?
The first step is to understand the technical capabilities of the Managed WAN services partner and ensure that the company can leverage in the area of design, planning, implementation, and network management for the WAN routers and network service of your enterprise. Going a step further from just installation and implementation, you would also require 24x7 pro-active monitoring and management, fault isolation and remediation, if your business is extremely mission-critical.

Businesses with multiple locations that utilize internal management tools must ensure that there is consistent support in order to maintain a high level of network efficiency - especially in the event of an outage. Notifying and monitoring should be given preference since skilled technical staff onsite might not be ready to move to a fully out-tasked solution.  However, they must be able to support their network services internally, without overrunning their costs. Managed WAN services allow businesses to take advantage of services like Verizon's 24x7 monitoring solution. This allows them to leverage their existing technical staff without needing to invest into expensive monitoring or reporting solutions..

Managed WAN Services allow for additional products to be sold in conjunction with the service in order to provide an additional level of customer support. Network Engineering, Network Analysis, and Enhanced Reporting are products that can be combined with Managed WAN Services and are created to improve the overall customer experience.

New Challenges for Managed WAN Services
Prioritization of network traffic has become the biggest challenge for workplaces and enterprises across the globe. With Web 2.0 applications being used increasingly by employees, bandwidth allocation ranks high in the priority list of IT managers.

Managed services allow bandwidth distribution and jitter sensitive applications such as voice to have the highest priority, and then other applications with decreasing sensitivity or decreasing business priority to be prioritized in different queues. Customer business traffic can therefore be prioritized above non-business traffic, allowing users to utilize Web 2.0 apps or other non-business traffic without interfering with business related applications.

Detailed eporting in order to understand the impact of non-business applications and then define the best approach to ensure optimum performance over time should be carried out as network utilization trends change. In simpler words, it gives an indication of whether WAN access is being limited by their business or non-business traffic performance.

Key Drivers
The biggest advantage of remote infrastructure management is that once an enterprise outsources its IT infrastructure, it will be managed by IT experts and enterprises can focus on its core businesses without worrying about IT related issues.

Increased up and Response Times
One of the biggest challenges for every enterprise is to ensure that its business runs smoothly without any IT related issues. To maintain your uptime, RIMS can help you by providing better and centralized monitoring. There are quite a few independent network devices and monitoring applications in both the commercial and Open Source world that are available for the job.

When we asked vendors about what tools they use for this purpose, most of them named standard tools, which include HP's OpenView, IBM's Tivoli, and CA's Unicenter. Many of them claimed to use open source tools such as PRTG, Nagios, OpenNMS, etc  Many companies use customized software for the job. In such a setup, there is likely to be a RIM core, which is basically a database that captures and stores all your events and alerts.

All alerts are fetched and sent to this RIM core using either hardware polling devices, which have been developed by vendors or by some common fetching mechanism such as rsync or FTP. The software should be installed/configured on each client's location. After these events are captured by the RIM core, they are forwarded to a monitoring agent, which has pre-defined thresholds configured for various types of services like database, mail, system performance (RAM, CPU, etc), Web servers, etc.

Here, all events are checked against their preset thresholds and forwarded to a help desk/trouble ticketing application. This application, in most cases also has in-built SLA details that have been set between the vendor and the service provider. For instance, if some organization wants that a set of its servers in a data center should be treated on a priority basis, then alerts generated from those devices will automatically get priority on helpdesk tickets. The applications' front end can then be monitored by the IT team for diagnostics and repairs. For repairing, they again can use standard techniques such as IP KVMs, Remote Desktop or VNC.

Another advantage that RIM provides is faster response time. In scenarios where everything is located centrally, this can be substantial as problems can be spotted and rectified instantly. This cuts down the response time drastically and ensures higher uptime for servers and nodes. There are multiple ways to achieve this. Most network devices and applications today provide a web-based management interface, meaning they can be accessed from anywhere. All you need is to access the network where these devices are located. You can either go for a VPN setup to access the network and then manage (test, configure, and even reboot if needed), or do a one-to-one NATing with the local IP address of the device to a public IP from your vendor and then access it over the Internet directly.

Cost Reduction
Depending upon the type of service model adopted, enterprises can significantly lower their costs. According to a Gartner report, companies can cut labor costs by 10-60 % depending upon the delivery location. Going a little deeper, with IT infrastructure outsourced, a company directly saves on the cost of hiring more people to maintain its IT infrastructure. In cases where a company is using service providers' infrastructure, it also saves maintenance costs. 

Security Challenges
When somebody else is managing an enterprise infrastructure or an enterprise is using somebody else's infrastructure, then security and data protection are one of the major concerns. Security issues again vary according to the service model chosen. If an enterprise is using Internet for remote connectivity, then the first level of security is to go through a secure tunnel. Another commonly used option is to restrict any type of inbound connection from remote locations. In this case, whenever an event happens, that crosses a certain pre-defined threshold, it triggers an outbound connection which then connects the location to the NOC. To tackle security challenges, it is always a good idea to have stringent security policies and follow globally accepted best practices.

Outsourcing Your Infrastructure
Before going for Remote Infrastructure Management Services (RIMS), the first thing you need to do is to decide what you want to outsource. Usually the first thing to do is divide your IT infrastructure into service-enabled models. Once you have prioritized your services and decided what you want to outsource, the next step is to find the right partner. One challenge you are likely to face is whether to go for a multi-vendor approach or a single vendor approach. Chances are you have already outsourced a part of the IT infrastructure and you might not choose the same vendor when outsourcing other parts of your infrastructure. So, you need to ensure that the service provider you choose must gel with your existing eco-system.

When choosing a RIM service provider, make sure he specializes in that field, ie it should be his core business. Next ensure that the man power of your service provider is qualified and suits your needs. It's always a good idea to find out the service provider's track record, especially with enterprises in the same business.

Another good idea is to look at the service provider's infrastructure. How many delivery centers does he have? Further, what kind of DR and other policies does he use? What kind of certifications or compliances does he meet? After all, a service provider can also be hit by a disaster and they need to ensure your data must be safe with them. The next most important thing is to have stringent SLAs with the service provider. You can also ask him for adherence to standards and best practices followed across the globe.

Pricing Models
There is a lot of flexibility in pricing models of RIM but these largely depend upon the kind of solution a company goes for. Common pricing models offered by vendors include: Fixed pricing, Input based, outcome based and Unit based. Input based pricing model is usually based on time and material, cost per full time employee, etc. Output based service model is another preferred model around. This is largely based on services provided by the vendor, price per ticket raised, price per server used, etc. This one is commonly used in consulting projects. The Unit pricing model is losing in popularity because as the number of units increase, customers have to pay more.

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