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Learn IT: systems management

What is systems management?

Systems management is the creation and supervision of the information technology systems in an enterprise. This includes purchasing equipment and software, distributing it to where it is to be used, configuring it, maintaining it with enhancement and service updates, setting up problem-handling processes, and determining whether objectives are being met.

Within an enterprise, who is in charge of systems management?

Systems management is usually under the overall responsibility of an enterprise Chief Information Officer (CIO ). The department that performs systems management is sometimes known as management information systems (MIS) or simply information systems (IS).

What is the goal of systems management?

The goal of systems management is to provide a way for administrators to standarize IT components so that waste and redundancy are made visible and can be eliminated. In either a centralized or distributed environment, an effective systems management process enables the IT infrastructure to operate efficiently on a day-to-day basis.

Related Links:

Enterprise management strategy: managing the extended enterprise

John Moore talks about the goals of systems management in "Systems management seeks fresh ground."

Bloor Interactive provides an old (but still good) white paper called "An Overview of tools and Architecture in the Distributed Environment."


Is there a protocol for systems management?

No. Systems management requires a messaging layer that permits components to work together and a data layer to provide information about how the components are working together. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) is sometimes mistakenly called the systems management protocol because SNMP facilitates the exchange of information between network devices and works with data in the Management Information Base (MIB). The problem is, SNMP doesn't work in real-time, instead it retrieves data at fixed intervals by polling. It was not designed for the kind of systems management automation many organizations require today. Consequently, there are many vendors who support SNMP but also provide their own proprietary direct messaging and emergency action notifications.

What is policy-based management?

Policy-based management is an administrative approach to systems management that establishes rules in advance to deal with situations that are likely to occur. Policy-based management works by controlling access to and setting priorities for the use of IT resources. There are a number of software packages available to automate some elements of policy-based management. In general, the way they work is as follows: business policies are input to the products, and the software communicates to network hardware about how to support those policies.

Related Links: provides more information about policy management.

Ted Niblett and Debbie Lynd examine Policy-based user management in Notes/Domino 6.


Are there other kinds of systems management?

Yes. One of the most interesting management concepts is called autonomic computing. Autonomic computing, also called "self-healing" computing, is a self-managing computing model named after, and patterned on, the human body's autonomic nervous system. The goal of autonomic computing is to create systems that run themselves. Many industry leaders, including IBM, HP, Sun, and Microsoft are researching various components of autonomic computing.

According to IBM, there are eight crucial elements in an autonomic computing system:
   1. It must maintain comprehensive and specific knowledge about all its components
   2. It must have the ability to self-configure to suit varying conditions
   3. It must constantly monitor itself for optimal functioning
   4. It must be self-healing and able to find alternate ways to function when necessary
   5. It must be able to detect threats and protect itself from them
   6. It must be able to adapt to environmental conditions
   7. It must be based on open standards rather than proprietary technologies
   8. It must anticipate demand while remaining transparent to the user.

Other interesting management approaches come out of a relatively new IT initiative called Web services. They include Web-based management , which is the the ability to monitor and fix multiple platforms from a Web interface, and service-oriented management, an approach to management in which software components are exposed as services on the network.

Related Links:

Part two of "Previewing 'smart' systems takes a look at what specific vendors are doing with self-healing systems.

"A higher-level look at systems management" discusses the future of Web-based management. has an article entitled "What is service-oriented management?


What is a systems management tool?

A systems management tool is anything that provides a way for all the component parts of an information technology system to share data about the system in real-time and provides admistrators with immediate alert notifications. If there is a problem in one part of the system, it can have a ripple effect on other parts of the system. The main component of virtually every systems management tool is a central event handler that continuously gathers all the available information about the system in real time and flags the administrator when something goes wrong.

Related Links: takes a look at various Systems Management Tools and even provides an expert to answer your questions. has a resource called Systems Managment Basics

Deployment and installation techniques round out the Mobile systems management toolbox has a Systems Management Product and Vendor Guide

Matt DeBellis provides a real-world look at how "Remote management tools can save support time"


How do I pick the right systems management tool for my organization?

There are many systems management tools available to automate routine tasks that are time consuming, yet don't require specialized skills. Automating routine tasks not only keeps the information system running smoothly, it frees up key personnel so they can focus on more strategic initiatives.

Time and budget restraints drive most system management initiatives. Justification for system management costs generally fall into one of two categories: significant monetary savings, or significant improvement in service.

Experts caution against purchasing systems management tools that come with more features than you need. It's fairly common for organizations to go after a couple of "pain points" initially, and then consider the long-range advantages of implementing a particular solution later on. Total cost of ownership (TCO), including hidden costs for upgrades and training, should drive the decision-making process.

Related Links:

TechTarget asked Richard Ptak, Hurwitz Group analyst and co-author of Manager's Guide to Distributed Environments, to compare and contrast the top enterprise management suites and lay out a "Game plan for tackling the decision-making process."

We've created a checklist for you to use when evaluating systems management tools.
CHECKLIST: Assessing vendor systems management tools


How does network management, security management, and database management fit into systems management?

Network, security, and database management are sub-systems of systems management. Other sub-systems include data center infrastructure management, configuration management, security information and event management (SIEM) and performance management.

Related Links:

Storage pro Rick Cook writes about Implementing a storage-management policy.

Bruce Backa does a good job of answering the question, "Why have storage policies?" provides more information about security-management policies.

Fabian Pascal critiques the trend towards application-based data management in "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Systems Management Words-to-Go Glossary:

Browse through systems management vocabulary in a handy printable glossary.



After you've looked at the glossary, quiz yourself to see what you've learned about systems management

This was last updated in November 2010
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