There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the difference between monitoring and management. This week, I received an email with the title “Revolutionizing Energy Management”. Interesting, I wonder what management solution this company provides for energy. The content of the email went on to talk about a brand new meter that provides real time power load information. While I’m sure this company’s meter is very innovative (names purposely omitted to protect the innocent), it was clear that this company did not understand what the word “management” even means.

I’d like to point out the difference between management and monitoring. There are a LOT of tools for monitoring but much fewer for management.

Monitoring is the process of being aware of the state of a system. It involves observing the current situation and typically necessitates a measuring device or meter. Monitoring typically results in a large set of data, un-correlated and un-analyzed. The data is not tied to your business objectives but is just data, it is that simple. It is up to you, as the human, to figure out what all this data means.

Management, in contrast, is the act of getting a system to deliver a desired goal/objective. It involves managing and allocating resources, organizing resources to execute a task, designing and re-designing systems, and optimizing a system to produce useful outcomes. Monitoring is a key component to management; after all you need credible information to make decisions.

When we look at the data center, there’s no shortage of examples of monitoring and management tools. To illustrate the high level description of these terms, let’s look at systems management versus systems monitoring. Since Wikipedia is the source of all true and credible information in the universe, I’ll reference them for this example:

A System Monitor is a process within a distributed system for collecting and storing state data.

Systems Management refers to enterprise-wide administration of distributed systems including computer systems

There’s a huge established market for commercial and open-source tools for both system monitoring and systems management. And if you have a small data center, you can probably get away with open source system monitoring tools and accessing a few different systems to perform planning and analysis tasks. If you run a 10MW data center with 100,000sqft and 20,000 servers, system monitoring tools are just one piece of the puzzle to create a comprehensive plan. System monitoring tools keep your operations team abreast of key risks, but they’re not enterprise-wide and there’s too many to manage (intentional word choice).

While you may use system monitoring tools like IBM Director, HP Insight, APC InfraStruXure, Nagios, and Hyperic, you also use systems management tools like IBM/Tivoli, BMC, and JCI Metasys. The problem with the modern data center is that every hardware vendor now provides a monitoring tool, and if you have a typical data center, that means there’s not a vendor that you don’t like (or buy from). Now there’s 37 monitoring tools to manage, and a colossal time sink for your team. Introduce the uber-monitoring tools, that monitor the monitors. It is the first step to management, but they’re not management tools. Management tools like Tivoli or BMC help you strategize about deploying services, evaluate their performance and efficiency, and then automate deployment and maintenance of these applications.

Then why do vendors talk about management when their products really provide monitoring functionality? There’s two answers to this question. First, they’re not trying to fool you, and there’s just a misunderstanding about the difference between monitoring and management. Fair enough, I misuse tons of words every day. (Don’t worry, IT isn’t the only industry that misuses monitoring and management.) Second, these vendors are trying to promote their product using a buzzword that implies it provides more value in order to fetch a higher price tag (marketers for centuries have used “words that sell”).

This is the more likely outcome, since management impacts business processes (which means big impact on financial returns) whereas monitoring ensures that you’re notified when things go wrong (also very important that the “trains run on time”). The difference, however, is that keeping the trains on time is generally not valued as highly as creating corporate and business strategy that drives improved efficiency, process changes, and bottom line measurable impacts. Think of it this way: It is harder to quantify the risk of an outage (and the probability that the outage will even occur) than it is to quantify an alternative way of doing business or running applications.

When you’re looking to improve the business value of your data center through energy management tools, here’s a short checklist of things you should look for:

  • “Enterprise-wide” scope: Consolidating information from all of the monitoring tools, so you have a central repository and a single pane of glass. Not just facility data, not just IT data, but information about all of the data center’s operation. After all, the data center is there to run applications; how can you evaluate their performance without facility and IT data in one place for analysis?
  • Performance reporting, so you know which users, applications, and systems are to blame for the greatest inefficiency
  • Configuration management, so that everything is accounted for (often done with integration to a CMDB or asset database)
  • Planning for future needs, capacity, or resources
  • Historical data tracking to validate goals and project future resource needs to continue meeting goals
  • Analyzing allocation and actual use of resources to evaluate efficiency
  • Ability to implement new business strategies/processes
  • Automating data center strategies (where applicable) to drive optimization (and free your time to work on other projects)

Don’t be fooled by monitoring vendors that talk about “management”. Let me leave you with an observation: In every case that I can remember, the vendor that sells hardware provides monitoring tools, whereas software companies have always been the provider of management tools. Drill down to find out what analytics, reporting, business impact, and process improvements these tools actually provide.