Managing the cost of ownership of IT systems is an important aspect of life for corporations today and higher awareness of this issue has been growing for the past two years. This dates back to the findings of various analyst firms - notably the Gartner Group and the Meta Group - that owning a PC without proper management practices in place could cost a company more than $40,000 (#23,000) over a five year period. Since then much work has been done by suppliers to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) of Wintel desktops, yet the TCO factor extends beyond the desktop level to now include an analysis of the cost of servers and networks as well.
Several different approaches to controlling TCO have emerged, although all methods clearly have the same goal of bringing costs down. This includes adding toolsets and methodologies to systems and network management suites.
In addition, the development of new methods is also taking place. For instance, Novell is now promoting its directory based system for reducing TCO.
There are also a number of initiatives specific to the desktop which have arisen over time (see box 1). We have also seen the rise of both the network computer and the NetPC, stripped down desktops which were developed in response to the fuss which attended the revelation of how high the TCO could become.
A number of key factors become clear regarding TCO, many of which are related to reducing the cost of end user operations and associated administration and support. This activity accounted for 56 per cent of costs overall.
While only one aspect of total systems deployment, PCs still present the biggest cost headache, running at around 70 per cent of the expense which can potentially be removed. It has also emerged that bringing in tools in isolation is not a solution. Companies will need to develop a management infrastructure as well, tackling the often thorny issues of asset management, change management and automating software distribution, among other factors.
Asset management is a fundamental starting point.
The benefits from taking such an integrated management approach to counter rising TCO costs has recently been tackled by research firm IDC. In a report titled "Creating Value from Integrated Systems Management", IDC concludes that over #300,000 per 100 users can be saved over a five year period from providing improved availability, enhanced automation and the like.
While the desktop is the most eye-catching item on the TCO hitlist, it is the application as a whole which should be targeted to reduce costs, according to Martin Saunders, Unicenter TNG product manager at Computer Associates. This bigger picture covers the network as well as all relevant devices.
"Managing the cost of the application is the key thing, which means looking at end to end performance and response times, such as access to a database, in addition to the overall user experience. It is hard to validate effects unless these are seen in a wider context," says Saunders.
In fact, Saunders asserts that this process is the main driver behind CA's development of Unicenter, which he describes as having a management agent architecture monitoring PCs and taking an application by application view. Functions include an asset management module to gauge the full IT inventory, which is a crucial first step towards discovering potential TCO savings. Unless the full IT estate is itemised and, importantly, contained within a single asset register then identifying potential savings becomes far more difficult.
Saunders claims a high degree of integration within the Unicenter TNG environment, meaning that asset management tools can be linked with software distribution facilities to lower the cost of upgrades. And specific users can be identified in the asset base, showing particular configurations which can be locked down. After all, as Saunders puts it, "rogue installations" on corporate PCs represent a significant contribution to the build up of ownership costs.
Maintenance and support, along with other so-called soft costs, make up much of the TCO factor. For instance, sending out staff to manually upgrade PCs is a wasteful exercise when automated delivery of upgrades is available. Equally, unless a remote control function is added to a management console, someone from the helpdesk has to physically visit a workstation to solve difficult problems. This is another feature CA, as well as other vendors, has added to existing management software.
Educating the management in user companies is the next key step in the battle to control TCO, according to Saunders, focusing on applications and a wider perspective than individual platforms. He reckons this message is now being heeded by users. Senior non-IT people in organisations can see the competitive edge which technology can bring. IT management says it can deliver the solution, but it will bring another management complication and a TCO hike. The challenge is clearly to draw these two factors together, aligning systems more closely with the business and thus bringing down TCO.
Uptime is another important aspect of understanding the TCO equation, in Saunders' view. Even if checks show that an application is 97 per cent available over a period of time, that three per cent downtime is never spread evenly. So some users could experience up to 25 per cent non-availability of the application, taking a view which includes the server, network and database, according to Saunders. He believes the key is to devise service level agreements which focus on the application.
As part of its end to end management focus, CA is also pledged to providing working interfaces for all other relevant products to be mapped into Unicenter TNG, such as the Insight Manager software provided by Compaq with its servers. The trick for CA is to position itself as providing an enterprise management framework, regardless of the parts which make up that framework.
Network Associates is another vendor which has taken the broader systems and network view regarding TCO. It offers a single management suite called Net Tools, capable of addressing two levels of TCO, according to Frank van der Lecq, product marketing manager at the company. One area covers networks, servers, components and desktops with an emphasis on the help desk. The second slant is security, protecting networks from intrusion, virus outbreaks and other operation inhibitors.
"Problem avoidance is the key aspect for us and our software provides total visibility of everything on the network, including all traffic and troubleshooting too. Savings on the cost of ownership could be as high as 40 per cent to the end user, in particular if the entire suite is adopted," says van der Lecq.
The issue of whether the NC, or other thin client concepts such as the NetPC has been considered by Network Associates. Van der Lecq believes that the NC can represent a reduction in TCO at first glance, although other factors have to be considered. And the key here is the cost and complexity of running a "thick server" to feed the centralised data and application feeds to users equipped with desktops lacking local processing capability.
Such a server has to be backed by high availability features, including system redundancy. The server's uptime becomes fundamental, otherwise no processing or output of documents can take place. And the battle on the TCO front is here being played out between the Sun Microsystems and Microsoft camps, according to van der Lecq. He feels Microsoft may have the biggest headache here as its successive versions of NT Server contain ever larger amounts of code. For instance, NT 4 has around 12 million lines of code, while the forthcoming NT 5 will boast between 25-30 million lines of code. This fact raises complexity levels and therefore could impact the management task.
Despite all the fuss about TCO, however, van der Lecq reckons that users buy new systems based on productivity issues as opposed to the requirements for cost reduction. He cites Gartner research which has pinpointed a user preoccupation with more productive tools as the key driver behind new investments.
The Novell approach to tackling TCO takes a number of forms, but the main emphasis is now on using the LDAP compatible directory to centralise end-user profiles and associated support. While the company's well known NDS engine is a key element of this drive, Novell is also making sure compatibility exists between its own product and other LDAP software, according to Peter Joseph, corporate strategist at Novell UK. Apart from the ManageWise LAN software which Novell has been selling for some time, the vendor has also more recently added a remote desktop management product called ZenWorks, flowing on from the earlier introduction of Border Manager.
ZenWorks represents the automation of desktop management functions, according to Joseph. This covers software distribution, remote control of the desktop and the capability to generate help desk ticketing, among other features.
The Border Manager product, soon to appear in version three, controls access to the public Internet and Web, providing what Joseph calls a granular approach to permitting what resources a person can get to via the browser.
This has an impact on TCO by restricting any visits to non-work related sites on the Web, keeping individual users focused on the job in hand.
It is the NDS story which Novell promulgates on the TCO front, however.
"Everything goes into the directory, producing what we call a digital persona of each user. This locks down particular resources. This is an important way to drive down costs and the directory becomes an asset register in its own right, defining the workstation and all user related policies," says Joseph.
Users do not, however, buy products simply to get better TCO, according to Joseph. The trick here from Novell's point of view is to deploy the directory in an innovative manner - an approach which the company sees users responding positively too. And while arguing that this is not a contest between vendors, Joseph argues that the Microsoft directory solution will be domain based and not as scaleable as its own solution. He claims that a US user has already built a single directory containing details of around 20,000 users.
One of the key benefits Novell is claiming for its directory based route to reducing TCO, is the ability of administrators to move resources for individual users across the network to any location required - activated by a simple log on command. What users can and cannot do is defined, specific devices can also be attributed to users and the cost of management is centralised, according to Joseph. The application itself determines what Windows functions are activated. And Novell is promising complete integration between its NDS version for NT and other LDAP engines.
TCO will remain an important issue in the foreseeable future and it is important for a strategy to be in place before major inroads are made into areas such as electronic commerce. The vendor community does not see any additional problems arising from a shift to Ecommerce in terms of TCO, if the basics have already been addressed. A simple truth still applies. Computers and networks will never be cost free to run, but the expense of managing and running a networked environment need not run out of control.
STANDARDS TO REDUCE TCO
There are a number of standards now available which can help reduce the impact of TCO, which have come into being since analyst firms blew the whistle on the mounting expense of owning PCs back in 1996. The arrival of the NC has also focused attention in the Wintel camp about the importance of reducing TCO and providing tools to achieve this end. Arguably the concept of the NC was born out of the furore surrounding the high cost of PC ownership.
Several initiatives have emerged covering the desktop, with the concept being delivery of a Zero Administration client. Much of this focuses on the NetPC, the development to counter the sealed box, server centric design of the NC. For instance, Intel has come up with the Wired for Management concept, while Microsoft itself has developed the Zero Administration for Windows idea. In addition, there is the Desktop Management Interface (DMI), which can be built into applications to provide hooks to higher level management software. An example of the functionality available from this clutch of standards is the Wired for Management initiative. This allows for remote monitoring and an inventory data collection capability.
Remote access and control features are also included, as well as power management of a desktop which also involves the option of switching a machine on or off.
CASE STUDY - GREENALLS
Like many companies, Greenalls has a broad base of operations and has seen a massive rise in the introduction of PCs throughout its organisation.
The company includes a wide range of activities, from a white spirit distillery, to a hotel chain, pubs and restaurants, a franchising operation and a leisure group. Originally a major AS/400 user, Greenalls has more recently seen an increase in the usage of Windows NT. At the help-desk level, the company has brought in the Total Service Desk software from Network Associates to help reduce the TCO bill.
John Simpson, PC support and help desk manager with Greenalls Group IS unit, reports that originally desktops represented around 30 per cent of his team's workload. Now the support requirements on the PC front account for between 50-60 per cent of the support requirements. This has prompted a repositioning of the skills base at the help desk, according to Simpson, but the issue of controlling TCO within the company is complicated by the diversity of Greenalls' business interests.
"All businesses within the Greenalls group are autonomous and require separate configurations for the PCs. The help desk can support this diverse range, but there are support overheads. Some standard elements have helped the cost of ownership effect to some degree, such as using NT 4 and Compaq hardware, as well as Windows 95 for the clients and Office 97," says Simpson.
Greenalls' help desk has devised a strategy to control the TCO factor, which includes both tools from Network Associates and Symantec, with its PC Anywhere remote control software. Simpson reckons the deal with Network Associates has proved beneficial, due to the level of integration between the help desk environment and additional tools. In fact, Simpson is looking at the zero administration client (ZAC) software from the vendor, which enables remote control of a desktop, licence tracking and an automated software inventory capability.
"If you can get updates in real time, you inevitably get reduced overheads and lower TCO. Also when an upgrade is rolled out you can know in advance whether the inventory can accept it. We are looking to roll ZAC out across the network, although we are currently exploring it for the group headquarters. It is not an official project yet, just a trial," says Simpson.
Yet Simpson is fully aware of the benefits available from remote control of the desktop, but it is absolutely necessary to consider all the intricacies and no vendor has all the answers. To this extent the asset management function has still to be automated at Greenalls. Before this can happen, however, business processes must first be streamlined, according to Simpson.
The goal his group is moving towards involves complete automation of all support processes.
On the networking front, Greenalls has outsourced management of its network infrastructure, which represents an earlier attempt to control the overall TCO. Energis has the contract to manage the company's WAN, including all hubs and routers.
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