Service-level Management Carves Niche in NT Environments

According to analysts and vendors alike, the world of distributed computing is driving the need for service-level management (SLM), the ability to assess, diagnose and redress network, system and application problems at any location within an enterprise. Additionally, analysts and vendors maintain, the prevalence of the Windows NT operating system, coupled with NT’s own much-publicized scalability and reliability deficiencies, is one of the major impetuses spurring the acceptance of SLM software in many environments.

More than anything else, SLM software helps IT organizations make good on the stipulations of service level agreements (SLA). SLAs are guidelines devised by IT to establish acceptable user response times for specific applications, define a realistic recovery window for the resolution of application or service problems, and create a delegation of authority so that individual IT staff members can take ownership of problems as they occur.

"Service-level management goes back to a very basic premise, and that’s that you have a supplier of a service and a consumer of a service and you want to define that service and the expectations thereof appropriately," says David Burns, vice president of marketing with SLM vendor Luminate Software Corp. (Redwood City, Calif.,

In the mainframe and Unix worlds, where disparate applications and services typically are consolidated onto a single box or small number of boxes, SLAs were traditionally a matter for experienced IT staff members. In the Windows NT world, where application and service execution is inherently distributed, it’s sometimes impossible for IT to effectively redress end-user grievances in the event of an application or service error, simply because IT often can’t be certain where the problem is in the first place.

"Unix is functional and scalable, so you can trust a lot of services to it simultaneously and know that they’ll all be available," says Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide operating environments research for International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass, "NT isn’t trusted in the same way, and so enterprises have a tendency to put the database on this machine and the application on this machine and place message queuing on another machine. And so you end up with a lot of servers lashed together to do work that would typically be accomplished on a single Unix server."

It’s this reality, Kusnetzky and other analysts maintain, that’s really driving the need for SLM software solutions in the enterprise. Companies such as Computer Associates Int’l Inc., Tivoli Systems Inc. (Austin, Texas, and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) have traditionally produced system management software suites that provide base-level SLM capabilities. But a number of industry vendors such as BMC Software Inc. (Houston,, Compuware Corp. (Farmington Hills, Mich.,, Vital Signs Software Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.,, Candle Corp. (Santa Monica, Calif., and Empirical Software Inc. (Richmond, Va., are offering comprehensive SLM solutions.

Additional SLM acceptance has been spurred by the success of vendors such as Boole and Babbage Inc. (San Jose, Calif., and Luminate Software, both of which produce SLM applications specifically for the ERP arena, which has proven to be particularly ripe for SLM software solutions.

ERP software is one of the primary market forces driving the acceptance of service-level management software. In the three-tiered application structure typical of many ERP suites, transactions often touch a number of different network nodes and encounter a variety of hardware devices in the process. Add to this the fact that ERP applications often require a great deal of custom tweaking, and IT departments often have more than they can handle in managing ERP environments.

"A lot of the requirements are being driven by the ERP packages, and it’s because of the complexity of the [ERP] implementations, which makes it challenging to maintain overall availability," observes Steve Foote, vice president of research strategy with consultancy Hurwitz Group (Framingham, Mass., "It’s also because of the performance of these things in the initial deployments, and there’s a considerable amount of tuning and tweaking in order to get the performance within tolerances that the end user is going to accept with regard to individual transactions."

Luminate’s Burns anticipates that the demand for SLM solutions will continue to grow unabated. "What we think is that NT is going to become more important to SAP and to ERP in general because the big companies have already made their ERP decisions. Now the smaller companies are going to get into the fray," he observes, noting that smaller IT organizations have a tendency to employ lower-cost Windows NT-based solutions over more expensive mainframe or Unix approaches. "You’re still going to end up with a pretty large number of users on a Windows NT system, so managing that workload is going to become even more important."