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Choice is a two-edged sword

Jul 21, 20044 mins
Data Center

* The good and bad of management choices

When it comes to management, choice can be a good thing and a not-so-good thing.

On one hand, having a variety of options to select from when choosing a management tool provides a better opportunity for selecting the “right” tool for your environment. I’ve talked about this topic in previous articles.

On the other hand, too many choices can be confusing. As many administrators know, having to support a boatload of applications also produces a management nightmare.

There are a plethora of factors that affect our choices of tools – both applications and management tools. Some of these factors are the feature sets available; integration, merger and acquisition activity of vendors; total cost of ownership and more. As consumers of these tools, we have a voice in promoting those products that “stand out” from the pack, those that are innovative and truly useful. It is through the choices we make, much like voting, that our voices can be heard.

For example, the recent Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) security issue has prompted some users to seek alternative browsers. So in those cases, the strong integration of IE with other Microsoft software is outweighed by the security risk that these users perceive IE to introduce into their environment. This same logic can be applied to the choice that some IT consumers are making for Linux over Windows. Of course, besides the security issues, there are also licensing costs and total cost of ownership concerns (due to the frequent patching requirements of Windows).

On a related note, one reader says that instead of investing in more management tools, he spends his money on products that don’t require as much management because they work, are easy to use and are more reliable. While I don’t totally agree with this approach (no matter how reliable a piece of equipment is, it will inevitably break and you still need management capabilities to detect and fix it), our reader does have a good point. Hardware and software choices can significantly affect the size of the management task, both positively and negatively. So choose your infrastructure components well, based on reliability and ease of management.

A potential downside to choice – one that is having a significant effect on management – is user choice. Users may choose to download software, such as instant-messaging clients, that could introduce potential security weaknesses. Or they may change configuration settings. Or even remove software that is installed to protect the PC and the enterprise from security breaches.

Licensing is one issue that raises its ugly head in this situation – but more important are the security concerns. Users who happen to alter file-sharing privileges may open up opportunities for malicious outsiders to get to corporate data on their machines. This area of user choice can be a Pandora’s box for IT managers. And it’s for this reason that endpoint compliance is becoming an area of increasing awareness. Endpoint compliance is making sure that your endpoints comply with corporate policies related to security, configuration, software and more.

Finally, too many choices can be confusing and overwhelming. Much like the difficulty that you might have at the dessert bar at a buffet dinner – where it’s tempting to take one of each, but you know your waistline just can’t afford it. Many IT shops have too many tools with overlapping functionality. The selection of tools when there are too many choices can be confusing, particularly when trying to dig underneath the veneer of the marketing descriptions to see which tool really is the best for your company. A word of advice: streamline your tool choices – too many tools can provide a chaos of data to sift through.

So while these aspects are not exhaustive examples of the two sides of choice, it’s clear that we need to pay attention to the effects (both downstream and upstream) of our choices.