Thursday, November 06, 2008

Implementing ITIL Requires Log Management and Analytics to Help IT Operations Gain Efficiency and Accountability

Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on the role of log management and systems analytics within the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Learn more. Sponsor: LogLogic.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, a sponsored podcast discussion on how to run your IT department well by implementing proven standards and methods, and particularly leveraging the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) prescriptions and guidelines.

We’ll talk with an expert on ITIL and why it’s making sense for more IT departments and operations around the world. We’ll also look into ways that IT leaders can gain visibility into systems and operations to produce the audit and performance data trail that helps implement and refine such frameworks as ITIL.

We’ll examine the use of systems log management and analytics in the context of ITIL and of managing IT operations with an eye to process efficiency, operational accountability, and systems behaviors, in the sense of knowing a lot about the trains, in order to help keep them running on time and at the lowest possible cost.

To help us understand these trends and findings we are joined by Sudha Iyer. She is the director of product management at LogLogic. Welcome to the show, Sudha.

Sudha Iyer: Thank you.

Gardner: We’re also joined by Sean McClean. He is a principal at KatalystNow in Orlando, Florida. It's a firm that handles mentoring, learning, and training around ITIL and tools used to implement ITIL. Welcome to the show, Sean.

Sean McCLean: Thank you very much.

Gardner: Let's start by looking at ITIL in general for those folks who might not be familiar with it. Sean, how are people actually using it and implementing it nowadays?

McCLean: ITIL has a long and interesting history. It's a series of concepts that have been around since the 1980, although lot of people will dispute exactly when it got started and how. Essentially, it started with the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) of the British government.

What they were looking to do was create a set of frameworks that could be followed for IT. Throughout ITIL's history, it has been driven by a couple of key concepts. If you look at almost any other business or industry, accounting for example, it’s been around for years. There are certain common practices and principles that everyone agrees upon.

IT, as a business, a practice, or an industry is relatively new. The ITIL framework has been one that's always been focused on how we can create a common thread or a common language, so that all businesses can follow and do certain things consistently with regard to IT.

In recent times, there has been a lot more focus on that, particularly in two general areas. One, ITIL has had multiple revisions. Initially, it was a drive to handle support and delivery. Now, we are looking to do even more with tying the IT structure into the business, the function of getting the business done, and how IT can better support that, so that IT becomes a part of the business. That has kind of been the constant focus of ITIL.

Gardner: So, it's really about maturity of IT as a function that becomes more akin to other major business types of functions or management functions.

McCLean: Absolutely. I think it's interesting, because anyone in the IT field needs to remember that we are in a really exciting time and place. Number one, because technology revises itself on what seems like a daily basis. Number two, because the business of IT supporting a business is relatively new, we are still trying to grow and mature those frameworks of what we all agree upon is the best way to handle things.

As I said, in areas like accounting or sales, those things are consistent. They stay that way for eons, but this one is a new and changing environment for us.

Gardner: Are there any particular stumbling blocks that organizations have as they decide to implement ITIL? When you are doing training and mentoring, what are the speed bumps in their adoption pattern?

McCLean: A couple of pieces are always a little confusing when people look at ITIL. Organizations assume that it’s something you can simply purchase and plug into your organization. It doesn't quite work that way. As with any kind of framework, it’s there to provide guidance and an overall common thread or a common language. But, the practicality of taking that common thread or common language and then incorporating it or interpreting it in your business is sometimes hard to get your head around.

It's interesting that we have the same kind of confusion when we just talk. I could say the word “chair,” and the picture in your head of what a chair is and the picture in my head of what a chair is are slightly different.

It's the same when we talk about adopting a framework such as ITIL that's fairly broad. When you apply it within the business, things like “that business is governance,” “that business is auditing compliance rules” and things like that have to be considered and interpreted within that framework for ITIL. A lot of times, people who are trying to adopt ITIL struggle with that.

If we are a healthcare industry, we understand that we are talking about incidents or we understand that we are talking about the problems. We understand they we are talking about certain things that are identified in the ITIL framework, but we have to align ourselves with rules within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Or, if we are an accounting organization, we have to comply to a different set of rules. So it's that element that's interesting.

Gardner: Now, what's interesting to me about the relationship between ITIL and log and systems analytics is that ITIL is really coming from the top-down, and it’s organizational and methodological in nature, but you need information, you need hard data to understand what's going on and how things are working and operating and how to improve. That's where the log analytics comes in from the bottom-up.

Let's go to Sudha. Tell us how a company like LogLogic uses ITIL, and how these two come together -- the top-down and the bottom-up?

Iyer: Sure. That's actually where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. As we have already discussed, ITIL is generally a guidance -- best practices -- for service delivery, incident management, or what have you. Then, there are these sets of policies with these guidelines. What organizations can do is set up their data retention policy, firewall access policy, or any other policy.

But, how do they really know whether these policies are being actually enforced and/or violated, or what is the gap? How do they constantly improve upon their security posture? That's where it's important to collect activity in your enterprise on what's going on.

There is a tight fit there in what we provide as our log-management platform. LogLogic has been around for a number of years and is the leader in this log management industry. It allows organizations to collect information from a wide variety of sources, assimilate it, and analyze it. An auditor or an information security professional can look deep down into what's actually going on, on their storage capacity or planning for the future, on how many more firewalls are required, or what's the usage pattern in the organization of a particular server.

All these different metrics feed back into what ITIL is trying to help IT organizations do. Actually, the bottom line is how do you do more with less, and that's where log management fits in.

Gardner: Back to you, Sean. When companies are trying to move beyond baseline implementation and really start getting some economic benefits, which of course are quite important these days from their ITIL activities, what sort of tools have you seen companies using? To what degree do you need to dovetail your methodological and ITIL activities with the proper tools down in the actual systems?

McCLean: When you’re starting to talk about applying the actual process to the tools, that's the space that's the most interesting to me. It's that element you need some common thread that you can pull through all of those.

Today, in the industry, we have countless different tools that we use, and we need common threads that can pull across all of those different tools and say, “Well, these things are consistent and these things will apply as we move forward into these processes.” As Sudha pointed out, having an underlying log system is a great way to get that started.

The common thread in many cases across those pieces is maintaining the focus on the business. That's always where IT needs to be more conscious and to be constantly driving forward. Ultimately, where do these tools fit to follow business, and how did these tools provide the services that ultimately support the business to do the thing that we are trying to get done?

Does that address the question?

Gardner: I think so. Sudha, tell us about some instances where LogLogic has been used and ITIL has been the focus or the context of its use. Are there some findings general use case findings? What have been some of the outcomes when these two bottom-up, top-down approaches come together?

Iyer: That's a great question. The bottom line is the customers, and we have a very large customer base. It turns out, according to some surveys we have done in our customer base, that the biggest driver for a framework such as ITIL is compliance. The importance of ITIL for compliance has been recognized, and that is the biggest impact.

As Sean mentioned earlier, it's not a package that you buy and plug into your network and there you go, you are compliant. It's a continues process.

What some of our customers have figured out is that adopting our log management solutions allows them to create better control and visibility into what actually is going on on their network and their systems. From many angles, whether it's a security professional or an auditor, they’re all looking at whether you know what's going on, whether you were able to mitigate anything untoward that's happening, and whether there is accountability. So, we get feedback in our surveys that control, and visibility has been the top driver for implementing such solutions.

Another item that Sean touched on, reducing IT cost and improving the service quality, was the other driver. When they look at a log-management console and see this is how many admin accesses that were denied. It happened between 10 p.m. and midnight. They quickly alert, get on the job. and try to mitigate the risk. This is where they have seen the biggest value return on investment (ROI) on implementations of LogLogic.

Gardner: Sean, the most recent version of ITIL, Version 3 focuses, as you were alluding to, on IT service management, of IT behaving like a service bureau, where it is responsible on almost a market forces basis to their users, their constituents, in the enterprise. This involves increasingly service-level agreements (SLAs) and contracts, either explicit or implicit.

At the same time, it seems as if we’re engaging with the higher level of complexity in our data center's increased use of virtualization and the increased use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) type services.

What's the tension here between the need to provide services with high expectations and a contract agreement and, at the same time, this built-in complexity? Is there a role for tools like LogLogic to come into play there?

McCLean: Absolutely. There is a great opportunity with regard to tools such as LogLogic from that direction. ITIL Version 2 focused on simply support and delivery, those two key areas. We are going to support the IT services and we are going to deliver along the lines of these services.

The ITIL Version 2 has started to talk a lot about alignment of IT with the business, because a lot of times IT continues and drives and does things without necessarily realizing what the business is and the business is doing. An IT department focuses on email, but they are not necessarily looking at the fact that email is supporting whatever it is the business is trying to accomplish or how that service does.

As we moved into ITIL Version 3, they started trying to go beyond simply saying it's an element of alignment and move the concept of IT into an area where its a part of the business. Therefore it’s offering services within and outside of the business.

One of the key elements in the new manuals in ITIL V3 is talk to service strategy, and its a hot topic amongst the ITIL community, this push towards a strategic look at IT, and developing services as if you were your own business.

IT is looking and saying, “Well, we need to develop our IT services as a service that we would sell to the business, just as any other organization would.” With that in mind, it's all driving toward how we can turn our assets into strategic assets? If we have a service and its made up of an Exchange server, or we have a service and it’s made up three virtual machines, what can we do with those things to make them even more valuable to the business?

If I have an Exchange server, is there someway that I can parcel it out or farm it to do something else that will also be valuable?

Now, with LogLogic's suite of tools we’re able to pull that log information about those assets. That's when you start being able to investigate how you can make the assets that exist more value driven for the organization's business.

Gardner: Back to you, Sudha. Have you had customer engagements where you have seen that this notion of being a contract service provider puts a great deal of responsibility on them, that they need greater insight and, as Sean was saying, need to find even more ways to exploit their resources, provide higher level services, and increase utilization, even as complexity increases?

Iyer: I was just going to add to what Sean was describing. You want to figure out how much of your current investment is being utilized. If there is a lot of unspent capacity, that's where understanding what's going on helps in assessing, “Okay, here is so much disk space that is unutilized. Or, it's the end of the quarter, we need to bring in more virtualization of these servers to get our accounting to close on time, etc. That's where the open API, the open platform that LogLogic is comes into play.

Today, IT is heavily into the services-oriented architecture (SOA) methodology. So, we say, “Do you have to actually have a console login to understand what's going on in your enterprise?” No. You are probably a storage administrator or located in a very different location than the data center where a LogLogic solution is deployed, but you still want to analyze and predict how the storage capacity is going to be used over the next six months or a year.

The open API, the open LogLogic platform, is a great way for these other entities in an organization to leverage the LogLogic solution in place.

Gardner: Another thing that has impressed me with ITIL over the years is that it allows for sharing of information on best practices, not only inside of a single enterprise but across multiple ones and even across industries and wide global geographies.

In order to better learn from the industries' hard lessons or mistakes, you need to be able to share across common denominators, whether its APIs, measurements, or standards. I wonder if the community-based aspect to log behaviors, system behaviors, and sharing them also plays into that larger ITIL method of general industry best practices. Any thoughts along those line, Sean?

McCLean: It's really interesting that you hit on that piece, because globalization is one of the biggest drivers I think for getting ITIL moving and going on. More and more businesses have started reaching outside of the national borders, whether we call them offshore resources, outshore resources, or however you want to refer to them.

As we become more global, businesses are looking to leverage other areas. The more you do that, the larger you grow your business in trying to make it global, the more critical it is that you have a common ground.

Back to that illustration of the chair, when we communicate and we think we are talking about the same thing, we need some common point, and without it we can't really go forward at all. ITIL becomes more and more valuable the more and more we see this push towards globalization.

It’s the same with a common thread or shared log information for the same purposes. The more you can share that information and bring it across in a consistent manner, then the better you can start leveraging it. The more we are all talking about the same thing or the same chair, when we are referring to something, the better we can leverage it, share information, and start to generate new ideas around it.

Gardner: Sudha, anything to add to that in terms of community and the fact that many of these systems are outputting the same logs. I’s making that information available on a proper context that becomes the value add.

Iyer: That's right. Let's say you are Organization A and you have vendor relationships and customer relationships outside your enterprise. So, you’ve got federated services. You’ve got different kinds of applications that you share between these two different constituents -- vendors and customers.

You probably already have an SLA with these entities, and you want to make sure you are delivering on these operations. You will want to make sure there is enough uptime. You want to grow towards a common future where your technologies are not far behind, and sharing this information and making sure that what you have today is very critical. That's where there is actual value.

Gardner: Let's get into some examples. I know it's difficult to get companies to talk about sensitive systems in their IT practices. So perhaps we could keep it at the level of use-case scenarios.

Let's go to Sean first. Do you have any examples of companies that have taken ITIL to the level of implementation with tools like log analytics, and do you have some anecdotes or metrics of what some of the experiences have been?

McCLean: I wish I had metrics. Metrics is the one thing that seems to be very hard to come up with in this area. I can think of a couple of instances where organizations were rolling out ITIL implementations. In implementations where I am engaged, specifically in mentoring, one of the things I try to get them to do is to dial into the community and talk to other people who are also implementing the same types of processes and practices.

There’s one particular organization out in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. When they started getting into the community, even though they were using different tools, the underlying principles that they were trying to get to were the same.

In that case they were able to start sharing information across two companies in a manner that was saying, “We do these same things with regard to handling incidents or problems and share information, regardless of the tool being set up.”

Now, in that case I don't have specific examples of them using LogLogic, but what invariably came out in this set of discussions was what we need underneath is the ability to get proactive and start preventing these incidents before they happen. Then, we need metrics and some kind of reporting system where we can start doing the checking issues before they occur and getting the team on board to fix it before it happen. That's where they started getting into log-like tools and looking at using log data for that purpose.

Iyer: That corroborates with one of the surveys we developed and conducted in the last quarter. Organizations reported that the biggest challenge for implementing ITIL was twofold.

The first was the process of implementation, the skill set that they needed. They wanted to make sure there was a baseline, and measuring the quality of improvement was the biggest impediment.

The second one was the result of this process improvement. You get your implementation of the ITIL process itself, and where did you get it? Where were you before and where did you end up after the implementation?

I guess when you were asking for metrics, you were looking for those concrete numbers, and that's been a challenge, because you need to know what you need to measure, but you don't know that because you are not skilled enough in the ITIL practices. Then, you learn from the community, from the best-of-breed case studies on the Web sites and so forth, and you go your merry way, and then the baseline numbers for the very first time get collected from the log tools.

Gardner: I imagine that it's much better to get early and rapid insights from the systems than to wait for the SLAs to be broken, for user surveys to come back, and say, “We really don't think the IT department is carrying its weight.” Or, even worse, to get outside customers or partners coming back with complaints about performance or other issues. It really is about early insights and getting intervention that seems to really dovetail well with what ITIL is all about.

McCLean: I absolutely agree with that. Early on in my career within ITIL I had a debate with a practitioner on the other side of the pond. One thing we had a debate about was about SLAs. I had indicated that it's critical to get the business engaged in the SLA immediately.

His first answer was no, it doesn't have to happen that way. I was flabbergasted. You provide a service to an organization without an SLA first? I thought “This can't be. This doesn't make sense. You have to get the business involved.”

When we talked through it and got down to real cases, it turned out that what he was saying is that it’s not that he didn't feel that the SLA didn’t need to be negotiated with the business. What he meant was that we need to get data and reports about the services that we are delivering before we go to the customer, the customer, in this case, being internal.

His point was that we need to get data and information about the service we are delivering, so that when we have the discussion with a business about the service levels we provide, they have a baseline to offer. I think that's to Sudha's point as well.

Iyer: That's right. Actually, it goes back to one of the opening discussions we had here about aligning IT to the business goals. ITIL helps organizations make the business owners think about what they need. They do not assume that the IT services are going to be there or its not an afterthought. It’s a part of that collective, working toward the common success.

Gardner: Let's wrap up our discussion with some predictions or look into the future of ITIL. Sean, do you have any sense of where the next directions for ITIL will be, and how important is it for enterprises that might not be involved with it now to get involved, so that they can be in a better position to take advantage of the next chapters?

McCLean: The last is the most critical. People who are not engaged or involved in ITIL yet will find they are starting to drop out of a common language. That enables you to do just about everything else you do with regard to IT in your business.

If you don't speak the language and the vendors that provide the services do, then you have a hard time getting the vendors to understand what it is the vendors are offering. If you don't speak the language and you are trying to get information shared, then you have a hard time getting forward in that sense.

It’s absolutely critical for businesses and enterprises to start understanding the need for adopting. I don't want to paint it as if everybody needs to get on board ITIL, but you need to get into that and aware of that, so that you can help drive its future directions.

As you pointed out earlier, Dana, it's a common framework but it's also commonly contributed to. It's very much an open framework, so if a new way to do things comes up and is shared, that makes sense. That would be probably the next thing that's adopted. It’s just like our English language, where new terms and phrases are developed all the time. It's very important for people to get on board.

In terms of what's the next big front, when you have this broad framework like this that says, “Here are common practices, best practices, and IT practices.” If the industry matures, I think we will see a lot of steps in the near future, where people are looking and talking more about, “How do I quantify maturity as an individual within ITIL? How much do you know with regard to ITIL? And, how do I quantify a business with regard to adhering to that framework?”

There has been a little bit of that and certainly we have ITIL certification processes in all of those, but I think we are going to see more drive to understand that and to formalize that in upcoming years.

Gardner: Sudha, it certainly seems like a very auspicious pairing, the values that LogLogic provides and the type of organizations that would be embracing ITIL. Do you see ITIL as an important go-to market or a channel for you, and is there in fact a natural pairing between ITIL-minded organizations and some of the value that you provide?

Iyer: Actually, LogLogic believes that ITIL is one of those strong frameworks that IT organizations should be adopting. To that effect, we have been delivering ITIL-related reporting, since we first launched the Compliance Suite. It has been an important component of our support for the IT organization to improve their productivity.

In today’s climate, it's very hard to predict how the IT spending will be affected. The more we can do to get visibility into their existing infrastructure networks and so on, the better off it is for the customer and for ourselves as a company.

Gardner: We’ve been discussing how enterprises have been embracing ITIL and improving the way that they produce services for their users. We’ve been learning more about visibility and the role that log analytics and systems information plays in that process.

Helping us have been our panelists, Sudha Iyer. She is the director of product management at LogLogic. Thanks very much, Sudha.

Iyer: Thank you, it's a pleasure, to be sure.

Gardner: Sean McClean, principal at KatalystNow, which mentors and helps organizations train and prepare for ITIL and its benefits. It’s based in Orlando, Florida. Thanks very much, Sean.

McCLean: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks for listening and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Download the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Learn more. Sponsor: LogLogic.

Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast on the role of log management and systems analytics within the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2008. All rights reserved.

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