For the past two decades or so, several leading IT management vendors have tried to convince us that organizations should invest in a single unified management platform for supporting all of IT management needs.  Setting aside for the moment the fact that such an animal does not and cannot possibly exist (no vendor has the capital to develop every possible IT management product– I don’t care who they are), the value proposition of a single vendor uber-solution is flawed.  Sure, it sounds great to have one centralized console for accessing all automated support functions, and being able to deal with one vendor and one product set may seem like it will simplify management processes, but in reality this is not likely to be the case.   Primary deterrents to all-in-one solutions include:

  • Cost-Effectiveness – The larger the management platform the more expensive it will be to implement (infrastructure costs and product licenses) and support (staff and maintenance costs).  Although organizations will be paying for a large number of features, they may actually only use a few of the capabilities, so the value in the investment is greatly diminished.
  • Quality of Solutions – Let’s face it, no single vendor offers the best solutions in
    every management category.  They may lead the pack in some areas (i.e. endpoint management, security, service desk, virtualization support, configuration management, etc.), but appear lacking in others.  When organizations adopt an all-in-one platform, they get a mixed bag of outstanding and mediocre product sets, averaging out to a modicum of adequacy.
  • Vendor Lock-In – Once an organization has invested heavily in an all-in-one solution, it’s very difficult for it to switch to an alternative platform if it proves inadequate.  Since the solution impacts multiple support organizations and services, a consensus on the product replacement will be necessary to justify the expenses involved and anyone who’s dealt with a group of IT managers knows how challenging it is to get them to agree on anything(including where they should go out for lunch!).   Although one management team may require better automation tools, another may be wholeheartedly resistant to change.

Now – just to be clear – there’s nothing wrong with the basic concept of a unified management solution.  The problem is with relying on a single vendor for all management capabilities.  To gain true value in an automated IT management investment, a modular approach should be employed where best-of-breed product sets are adopted that fully integrate to provide a unified management experience.  Full integration implies the solutions are accessed via a common management interface and utilize common resources (such as agents, logs, and data repositories).  In this way, organizations can choose which solutions are optimal for their operations and need only purchase those capabilities they require.  Solutions may come from one vendor or multiple vendors as long as they are directly integrated.  Should one product set prove inadequate, it can be replaced without affecting other IT management processes.

Of course, the key to all this is enabling integration and many of the most popular IT management solution vendors have acknowledged this by enabling strong integration with partners.  If direct integration is not available, indirect integration through a federated CMDB or CMS system can also provide a unified management experience without committing to a single vendor.

The important lesson here is to look for integration options when investigating a management platform.  Even if those integrated capabilities are not required today, they may be needed as business requirements expand, so having the flexibility to grow support capabilities with solution choices from multiple vendors should not be underestimated.  Buy what you need, no what a single vendor tells you you need.

Vendors are greatly encouraged to develop partnerships with solution providers that will compliment and extend the value of their product sets, and many have done so with great success (wink to Microsoft).  Although this does present a challenge for vendors that may need to partner with competitors to provide integration options, the result will be better products and more flexible solutions sets.  If indeed vendors are serious about enabling a unified management platform that is business focused, then they must get past the tempting desire to control it all and acknowledge there is room for multiple players and solution diversity. (I sure hope VMware is reading this.)

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