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Visualization is about making sense of your IT infrastructure

May 01, 20064 mins
Data CenterData Visualization

* How do you visualize your IT infrastructure?

You know all about IT complexity – it’s part of your daily headache. You see that there is an increasing percentage of your hardware dedicated and tuned to one job: Web serving, database serving, app serving – but there is also the need to balance and expand capacity to meet new demands. Not only is the number of technologies in the IT infrastructure growing, there is also a new requirement to identify what IT services run on what infrastructure so that end-to-end performance can be improved. In the proverbial saying of Bill the Cat, patron saint of network gurus, “Ack!”

A picture is worth a thousand words and visualization turns the infrastructure maze of hardware, software, services, customers, staff and the relationships between them into a set of structured pictures or diagrams. Requirements for views vary widely with each group or even individual within a company having their own needs. The list can go on and on covering operations, service, business application, line of business, business service, executive, financial, customer, device, provider, and platform. One set of data supports many needs.

It’s helpful to be able to move from one view to another, perhaps drilling down from a service to the underlying structure, or moving from a view of a broken device up to the customers whose services could be impacted by the failure. An executive might want to see the corporate dollars tied up in pending transactions and be able to see how those are divided between lines of business or geographical regions. Technical staff, on the other hand, want details and metrics about components and their performance history.

Auto-discovery and mapping tools have existed for well over a decade to assist IT operations staff in visualizing their environment. Yet, advanced visualization tools have yet to evolve to support the diverse needs described above. One of the drivers for increasing these needs is the move towards IT service management (ITSM). IT is becoming more visible in the organization and business leaders are now interested in understanding what is happening with critical services, and accountability concerns for IT have escalated. Tools to support visualization must evolve.

There are several common ways people go about visualizing their infrastructure. We’re interested in how popular they are, and in getting a sense for how critical this function is in your company. Here are some of the common methods:

* Pen-and-paper: Most primitive, most easily lost or destroyed, hardest to update and share. But cheapest – if you don’t consider all those pesky issues.

* Spreadsheets: We would guess that this is the most common way of listing customers and their services, infrastructure by vendors, and perhaps lists of applications on servers. This method has the benefit of being able to be more easily modified and shared, and can even maintain the links between elements – as long as your spreadsheet doesn’t decide to lose or mess up the links… And it’s hard to call this a “visualization” tool; probably a tracking tool is more accurate.

Diagramming tools: Visio diagrams are popular, but Word hierarchy diagrams can do in a pinch. These are getting towards the visualization part, while still being easier to update, share, etc. They are static, though and don’t easily show how the pieces are related.

Mapping solutions: These are becoming more necessary with the increasing service and infrastructure complexity. Web-based or not, these have the ability to incorporate drills whether up, down, or sideways. To be ideal, one would want to have the maps connected to an auto-discovery tool as out-of-date maps can create more confusion than having no map at all.

What are you currently visualizing, and what solution are you using? Where are the black holes in your infrastructure or service visualization? We’d love to hear from you.