Monitoring vs Managing IT Services/Assets


The monitoring and managing of critical IT services/assets is necessary in any modern organization. Not everyone, however, has the same thing in mind when they discuss monitoring and management improvement initiatives.

Leveraging IT services monitoring and management to meet business goals requires clarity about what these functions serve. Only then is it even possible to discuss what is needed for the organization, what is desired by the various stakeholders, what is possible given current resources, and where things should go if and when further resources are allocated.

Let’s attempt to bring some clarity to this critical IT function. Today I’m going to define monitoring and management and provide a few examples.

What gets monitored and managed?

IT services and assets that are typically monitored and managed include web and database servers, cloud and virtualization environments, network devices and connectivity, third-party providers ((e.g. credit card processors, SaaS vendors)), and storage platforms and networks. ((Anything IT is responsible for, should have visibility into, and is likely to be asked to make changes to.))

What is monitoring, really?

Monitoring IT services/assets is primarily a passive activity. Its aim is to know (or tell you) what is going on and – if looking at historical data – when. It typically involves not only real-time data, but also historical data. Monitoring is safe and non-intrusive, with the exception of polling data too heavily or triggering a software bug. As more data is gathered and as the targets are refined, it can help you discern why something is going on, not just whether it is or when it is.

Monitoring is useful for detecting problems/events/changes, identifying patterns, planning changes ((e.g. When is the server least utilized? How much room do we have to grow?)), identifying correlated events, and isolating root causes. In more mature installations, it can become a tool for accountability and the refinement of service level metrics.

What is management, really?

Managing IT services/assets is inherently not a passive activity. Its aim is make changes and fixes to meet business needs. These adjustments are made through the management functionality built in to the devices and software being managed ((e.g. web management interfaces, command-line interfaces, SNMP, APIs)). This occurs either directly or using intermediate management tools. ((Most environments have a bit of both.)). In addition to the management functionality and tools used, management is about optimizing the work flows ((e.g. processes, procedures, policies)) for cost or responsiveness (to the business) and aligning the risks associated with making these changes and fixes with appropriate levels for the business.

Monitoring and Management Solution Examples

In its most basic form, monitoring consists of using an off-the-shelf solution such as PingdomWhatsUp Gold, or Nagios to see if your servers are online. A form of management would be something like a deploying a new server with a Chef recipe, using the software update sub-system of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to keep the software on your organization’s computers up-to-date and patched security-wise, or the work flow associated with even manually deploying a new server.

Sometimes monitoring solutions also include some management capabilities, but they’re really two different functions. Both concepts go hand-in-hand, but serve different purposes.

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