Hands-Free ManagementBy David Baum
Automate data management with Oracle Enterprise Manager, and free your IT department to focus on business.
With the daily issues of running a round-the-clock data center, IT departments can lose sight of what makes their companies competitive and successful: greater agility, better service quality, and lower operational costs. System administrators manage increasing numbers of servers, storage devices, and networking gear—the physical system components for the databases and business applications that run the company business operations. As computing grids, virtualized software environments, and more-modular applications add to the data center landscape, IT pros struggle to assess how problems with system components affect user goals, such as routing purchase orders and generating management reports.
According to Richard Sarwal, senior vice president of systems management products at Oracle, as applications have become more modular—often exposed as discrete services that are decoupled from the underlying infrastructure—traditional systems management solutions can no longer meet these essential business requirements. With Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g Release 3, however, companies can move beyond merely managing databases and grids to encompass many additional aspects of the infrastructure.
"Traditional systems management frameworks do a great job of managing individual components in the data center, because that's their heritage," says Sarwal. "But today's business owners and process managers want service-level agreements [SLAs] based on the key performance indicators of the business rather than on isolated performance statistics. Oracle Enterprise Manager lets them define these SLAs and create dashboards that offer an executive view of application services."
DBAs at Colgate-Palmolive welcome these enhancements. With worldwide revenues exceeding US$10 billion, this global leader in the consumer packaged goods industry has half a dozen people supporting users in more than 90 countries. As part of this task, they manage more than 100TB of Oracle data. "Almost every Colgate employee relies on Oracle in one way or another—whether they're active, heads-down users or merely people doing casual database lookups," says Arthur Fleiss, an IT architect with Colgate. "With a database infrastructure of this scale, management is an ongoing challenge."
Traditionally, Colgate's DBAs have spent more than 50 percent of their time on routine tasks such as space management, performance tuning, and patch management. Increasingly, Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g automates their routine tasks, which helps them gain a broader perspective on the data center operation.
"The whole idea with systems management is to make it common and standard, so DBAs have a single point of entry to important management functions," Fleiss says. "Oracle's automatic self-tuning, automatic alerting, and automatic space-management capabilities are making us more efficient. The more routine functions we can automate, the more time we have for business-critical activities."
Jean S. Bozman, an IDC analyst who specializes in clusters and virtualization technology, says Oracle's emphasis on "application-centric" systems management points to an increasing awareness of the need to visualize what's going on in the cluster or grid to make the work of protecting applications easier. She calls this process "virtualization with visualization."
"Oracle Enterprise Manager goes a long way toward helping companies realize this goal, since it enables the automation of repetitive activities—even in complex data center environments," she says.
Automation and visualization of the grid fit well with Colgate's goal. As Colgate's Fleiss puts it, his team wants to establish a single pane of glass in front of all of Colgate's databases, providing one common point of entry and one cohesive set of tools. "Regardless of how people use Oracle data, we want to manage it consistently," he says. "We still do some things with homegrown tools. But, little by little, we're going to rely on [Oracle] Enterprise Manager to replace these other management utilities."
Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g doesn't just simplify routine management tasks; it fosters innovation by facilitating application management, service-level management, configuration management, compliance, and lifecycle management. Michael Simpson, chief technology officer and senior vice president of research and development at McKesson, likes this direction because it enables IT managers to focus on the health of their business applications, rather than the underlying infrastructure. McKesson is the world's leading provider of healthcare supply, information, automation, and care management solutions designed to reduce costs and improve the quality of care. The company's technology segment is one of the leading IT vendors in the United States, with software and hardware technology installed in more than 70 percent of the nation's hospitals.
"Today's hospitals wrestle with extremely diverse IT environments, often with more than 100 business applications running in a heterogeneous infrastructure," Simpson says. Oracle Enterprise Manager allows system administrators to diagnose and treat those applications and computers as one system, starting from the database tier with Oracle Real Application Clusters and rolling upgrades, through the middle-tier applications and business logic, all the way to the front-end application set.
"In the past, we managed each of those tiers with separate management systems," says Simpson. "Now, with Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g Release 3, we can manage all of our systems as if they were one, regardless of the platforms and applications involved."
While most Oracle data-management functions can be accessed at the command-line level, Oracle Enterprise Manager consolidates and simplifies a DBA's view of them. This is particularly useful for novice users of the Oracle environment.
"When you use Oracle Enterprise Manager, you don't need to be an expert on how everything happens in the background. It aggregates information, and it gives you insights you might not have come up with on your own," says Christo Kutrovsky, a senior DBA at the Pythian Group, in Ottawa, Ontario.
As a leading global provider of remote DBA services for companies and institutions such as ReserveAmerica, FreshDirect, and the University of Pennsylvania, Pythian has clients that depend on just about every type of Oracle software. Thus, any time Pythian can improve its management efficiency, the gains are amplified across numerous installations. "We are always on the lookout for management tools that will save time or improve productivity," Kutrovsky says.
Oracle's application-centric management approach keeps DBAs focused on business activities rather than performance metrics, so minor issues don't distract them, adds Kutrovsky. He also values Oracle Enterprise Manager because it improves communication between developers and DBAs. Information systems are constantly changing, he notes, and many of these modifications ripple through the entire IT environment. Oracle Enterprise Manager lets Kutrovsky's team know which business functions are affected, how important they are, and how to remedy the problem.
Similarly, once Oracle Enterprise Manager is installed, DBAs won't get confused or overwhelmed if they receive an unexpected barrage of errors, warnings, or alerts—which is often the case after developers update an application. "With traditional systems management tools, you're not always sure if those alerts are critical to your business operations, because the alerts don't have the same ties to the associated applications," Kutrovsky says. "Oracle Enterprise Manager ties it all together."
Clarity of Purpose on the Front Lines
Oracle's management software not only monitors service-level violations, it helps system administrators determine how those problems affect business operations and take corrective action. Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g Release 3 orchestrates these management tasks with attention to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and other industry regulations. For example, SOX 404, which governs internal IT controls, requires public companies to track IT configuration changes.
"When DBAs work on applications and databases that contain sensitive data, they are at risk of violating configuration requirements," says Oracle's Sarwal. "If you have lots of servers and continue to add more every month, and you have not automated configuration management, you risk violating the requirements."
Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g can monitor and track these additions over time, helping administrators understand the impact of configuration changes and verify compliance in the event of an audit. For example, by saving a configuration baseline before and after applying a change, and then comparing those baselines, administrators can confirm that no unexpected configuration changes have been introduced. Thanks to a growing list of management packs, plug-ins, and connectors, Oracle Enterprise Manager can monitor packaged applications, custom applications, and SOA applications—running on Oracle or non-Oracle infrastructure—throughout the entire lifecycle, from development and testing to deployment and maintenance.
All this is important in the event of an audit, but McKesson's Simpson says the immediate value comes with simplifying activities on the front lines of the data center.
"We have several thousand hospital customers, and when they call us for support, it's imperative that we understand their entire configuration—including McKesson applications, Oracle applications, and third-party applications—so we can solve the issue quickly," says Simpson.
"Oracle Enterprise Manager provides details on everything," he says. "For example, if there is a patch for a particular bug fix, it will let us know so we can get that customer back up and running as quickly as possible."
In the end, that's what data management is all about.
David Baum (email@example.com) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.