HP Gets Down to Business with VantagePoint

In the old days it must have been easy: Typewriters and adding machines were the extent of business technology. Now, with the pervasiveness of computers throughout the enterprise, managers are forced to consider how all this technology will impact their business.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP, www.hp.com) is offering help. The company's new monitoring tool VantagePoint, a version of its OpenView, is designed to describe technical systems in terms of business needs.

While technical considerations drive IT management, VantagePoint aims to help managers make technology decisions from a business perspective. The tool monitors performance, functionality, and other technical considerations from the perspective of business-driven management, says John Peters, product marketing manager at HP.

Many monitoring tools currently exist for the enterprise space, but HP is one of the first to design one from a business perspective. "Most management tools are strong in technology but weak on the business side," says Stephen Eliot, an analyst with GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com). He says, "Managers are beginning to realize that computing infrastructure can make or break a business."

Larger enterprises typically have several systems, each with its own demands from the users. VantagePoint allows administrators to customize the software to reflect an organization’s business model. Line of business machines and critical systems receive higher priority and scrutiny than support systems. For example, an Internet retailer would give its Web server higher priority than a laser printer in the mailroom. "VantagePoint offers a high flexibility approach to managing the institutional framework," Peters says.

The institution, rather than the technology, takes precedence in VantagePoint’s perspective. When the software shows a system alert, it relates the technological event to the business need. "I think VantagePoint’s strength is the ability to provide root cause and relational information," Eliot says.

In addition, VantagePoint’s alerts are initially general indications. When an operator begins to solve the problem, he can use the software to dig deeper within the network to diagnose the problem. "VantagePoint drills right down to the nitty-gritty of network infrastructure," Peters says.

VantagePoint also allows administrators to proactively evaluate the network. By establishing rubrics based on performance, throughput, and thresholds, administrators can establish monitoring events that allow them to identify taxed systems before a crisis occurs.

The current shortage of IT personnel often presents a challenge to administrators, who often have undertrained employees. VantagePoint provides a solution for shops with inexperienced staff in two ways. First, problems with common systems are addressed in the software. For example, if an Exchange server goes down, the alert will be accompanied with suggested procedures for remedying the situation. Second, managers can supply the system with procedures unique to the organization, helping to train staff in in-house protocol.

Is this a threat to the IT department? Ray Paquet, an analyst at GartnerGroup, doesn't think so. "IT is best left in the hands of experts," he says. Eliot agrees, saying, "It's tough to replace IT, but it can help the staff save time."

To model business structures on a technical system, VantagePoint uses hyperbolic trees, a relational framework also used by the Library of Congress. The hyperbolic tree allows information to be displayed in complex hierarchies. This lets users move to more specific areas.

VantagePoint Performance combines the functions of two earlier HP products, OpenView MeasureWare and OpenView PerfView. The new business modeling system led HP to combine the products. "I think the bundling is pretty logical," Paquet says. He believes it provides advantages from both marketing and technical perspectives.