Windows Insider

System Center Key for 'Mature' Windows IT

To get the most out of System Center, you can't just implement it -- you have to dedicate your shop to automation (it will be worth it!).

Dig deep into the inner psyche of any IT consultant and you'll find a bit of a voyeur. Not the bad kind, mind you. Curiosity is what makes the difference between the good IT consultants and the indifferent ones.

Spend enough time inside other people's datacenters and you'll find you hear the same complaints voiced everywhere. Spend more time, and you'll begin seeing patterns emerge between where the clients are maturity-wise and what they're complaining about. The difference is maturity.

That measurement of maturity is so useful a yardstick that the smart people at Gartner built an entire model to describe it. Called the "Gartner IT Infrastructure and Operations Security Model," this tool is the good consultant's Rosetta stone for quickly identifying the problems clients are experiencing and exactly what issues they're complaining about. Microsoft even has a blog post that includes a handy cheat sheet: bit.ly/i2b2l0.

Armed with the model, a consultant can walk into virtually any client's office and immediately know what the client is thinking, which projects it's considering and which ones have been successful (or unsuccessful).

I use Gartner's model all the time when I'm asked to consult on Microsoft System Center technologies, specifically Operations Manager (SCOM) and Configuration Manager (SCCM). IT is unique among all industries in that its highest goal is to automate itself out of existence. The best-run IT shops are those with the most automation in place, combined with the smoothest processes that facilitate their use.

And yet out of all the technologies I've consulted on in my long career, System Center is unique. SCOM and SCCM are both notorious in that clients get excited about the products, call in the consultants, get hyped about the applications and quickly forget about them once the daily toil returns.

Two forces seem to drive this scenario. First, completing an initial configuration for software such as SCOM and SCCM nets an environment little more than an empty framework. The installation is but the very first step. It's the ongoing use of that framework where these tools create their value.

Too often, in the excitement of bringing in new technology, IT professionals fail to realize that these tools actually require hard work. They're an investment in future gains. The day the consultants leave, it becomes your job to continue populating them with useful automations. That motivation takes effort.

Those who are successful are the shops that dedicate specific people to System Center administration -- and only System Center administration. The successful ones also mandate culturally that they now dedicate themselves to automation.

The second driving force goes back to Gartner's maturity model. Encompassing six discrete phases, Gartner's model defines an IT environment as existing somewhere between survival (at least) and mature and partnered with the business (at most). An IT shop that's not yet mature enough isn't likely to succeed with System Center. At fault isn't necessarily the IT staff, but the culture.

As that IT shop evolves its culture through Gartner's awareness and committed, proactive, and service-aligned phases, it becomes more capable of recognizing System Center's true value. In fact, the automation functionality System Center provides eventually becomes a necessity for that shop to keep maturing.

Not to fear, though, if you see your IT shop as immature in Gartner's eyes. There's a third observation I've come to embrace that presents a path to maturity. That observation is that the mere presence of System Center itself sometimes becomes a driver toward greater maturity. Call it maturity by software osmosis. In a few of those IT shops calling back the consultants for a re-re-reinstall, every misstep along the way nudges IT pros ever closer toward real automation's -- and real maturity's -- tipping point.

It might take an install or two to get there, but voyeuristically watching that evolution is what makes consulting so worthwhile

About the Author

Greg Shields is a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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