The word infrastructure refers to the underlying base needed for the functioning of a community or society. It covers the network of transportation lines, communications systems, availability and distribution of water and power lines, as well as public institutions that directly support continuation such as educational institutes, libraries and defensive mechanisms.

IT infrastructure is the computer system foundation of an organization or company that facilitates the ability to deliver structural service to its own members, allies and affiliates. It is comprised of hardware, software, network resources and services required for the existence, operation and management of an enterprise IT environment.

IT infrastructure is:

  • Hardware: Servers, computers, data centers, switches, hubs and routers, etc.
  • Software: Enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), productivity applications and so on
  • Network: Network enablement, Internet connectivity, firewall and security.

IT infrastructures can be as simple as several connected computers outputting and supporting relatively simple administrative tasks to a network of computers with individual machines, or sets of (virtual) machines hosting management systems that control groups of other computers with applications operating an array of databases, routers and switches.

Whatever the case; today, it is practically inconceivable to imagine an enterprise or company of any size not having some sort of an IT infrastructure in place.

The incorporation of technological advancement in business is essential and the past 30 years have proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

IT service management (ITSM)

IT infrastructure changes rapidly. As hardware, software and network innovations are ongoing and rarely aligned to one another; key components of an IT infrastructure undergo periodic overhaul.

Although including the disciplines of Business service management (BSM) and IT portfolio management for IT strategy and planning as well as financial control, ITSM is focused on the operational concerns of information technology management rather than on innovative technological development.

In order to continue aligning IT services to business needs in an efficient way, IT service management will utilize the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) to structure its direction. Although the term ITIL may also be the name of the commercial product, ITIL , it is most often used as a generic term to describe best-practice standards within ITSM. For example, the Microsoft systems equivalent of ITIL could be Microsoft Operations Framework or MOF.

ITIL provides IT service management with a set of guidelines that establishes a minimum standard for IT service competency and compliance. It gives a company a baseline from which it can plan, implement and measure its processes and procedures. ITIL guidelines facilitate:

  • Reduced costs
  • Improved value creation
  • Improved IT services by following best-practice models
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved flexible equilibrium of service provisioning and growth, i.e. system scaling
  • Improved quality control and value-assessment of services provided
  • Standardized internal and external communications processes
  • More efficient service delivery and therefore improved customer satisfaction (including business to business relations)

As organizations grow, their geographical footprint increases. This can be within the same region and country or it can be global. Whatever the case, the new offices, factories and production centers need to be provisioned appropriately. As a consequence installing, configuring and managing IT infrastructure will become increasingly complex and expensive.

In an effort to reduce costs, companies look to centralizing IT infrastructure resources to single headquarter locations or datacenters. Having the IT infrastructure management centered at a single location brings numerous benefits:

  • Cost reduction in IT infrastructure resources such as file servers, e-mail servers, web servers, application servers, back-up systems and databases that can all be shared through the company’s network
  • Cost reduction in IT support, as centralized locations enable management and control of more applications and data by less personnel.
  • More efficient and reliable data back-up and recovery. This also applies to application and database administration which is made easier when processed and managed from a consolidated point.
  • Improved data and hardware protection as a centralized control center means IT resources are less vulnerable to theft, loss and misuse
  • Enhanced control and compliance as centralized data and applications are easier to monitor, store and access.

Virtualization and Cloud technology provides the best of both worlds, namely network enablement and connectivity as well as a centralized management center. It is rapidly gaining traction in the modern IT business world.

IT ecosystem and productivity

Ecology is the scientific study of interactions of organisms with one another and with their physical and chemical environment. An ecosystem is a community of living organisms living in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment interacting as a system.

The ideal digital or IT ecosystem is self-organizing, automatically scaling and sustainable. It is regarded as a cyclic or see-saw state of harmony or balance in terms of service output, data collection and processing, as well as efficient software and hardware provisioning of the IT environment.

There are many opinions about the impact of technology. Some of those are without nostalgic sentiment. Whatever the case, the fact is that technology permeates every level of human social-economic interaction and culture.

The past 30 years have changed business methods and practices irreversibly. Media and entertainment have already undergone fundamental changes in their business models and so have banking and telecommunications. Production lines and facilities aim to automatize as much of their systems and machinery as possible.

Innovations in technology and connectivity have directly contributed to increasing overall operational productivity in every business sector. Communications are now instantaneous. Digital data has become a commodity. Email, intra- and internet enable movement of vast amounts of information between people and organizations, resulting in the following benefits:

  • Telecommuting and Teleconferencing turn time zones and geography into minor hurdles, as colleagues can connect from different locations and at different working hours. In-person meetings can be facilitated by using webcams and Voice over IP or VOIP audio, allowing businesses to extend their reach to include global customers and services.
  • Customer Service has been improved tremendously through technology. Besides the phone; internet shops, websites and businesses can use email to answer questions and offer online chat options to help customers. Social media, internet review sites and instant messaging allow for easy customer interactivity and empower the customer by granting them a ready-to-use accessible platform from which to praise or criticize a company’s practices and/or services publically and in an uncensored manner.
  • Marketing has been given considerable leverage through technology. Internet and technology has given marketing a host of new tools from mass emailing, website banners, landing pages, as well as individual-specific advertising with the aid of search engines and the controversial use of cookies.

IT infrastructures have become so integral to business operations that a downed service(s) or outage will at the very least greatly impact production, or in the worst case, completely halt production.

It is in a company’s best interest to do everything it can to strive for and maintain a robust IT ecosystem. The ramifications of system component breakdown is not only costly but will often carry longer term negative consequences. In the event that, even with all precautions in place, an outage should still occur, it is of vital importance to be able to look through event logs and identify root issues. This helps to prevent future problems and provides a real advantage to a company’s long term strategy and continuity.

Monitoring IT infrastructure

Computers are machines and in order to operate at peak efficiency, they need routine maintenance. This also applies to the numerous virtual machines that are used. Computer systems will always need occasional remediation as well. Monitoring IT systems allows preemptive action to be undertaken towards potential problems before they can adversely affect the business or enterprise. If and when a problem incident occurs, most monitoring will provide the technician with information to minimize the amount of time needed to restore the system.

Response time is key in ITSM. The ideal monitoring tool would be to get all the monitoring data that is needed to make strategically-informed decisions without in anyway affecting the monitored service.

There are 2 main types of monitoring, one of which can be split into 2 sub-categories:

  • Agent-based monitoring: An agent runs inside the application and intercepts application behavior by collecting and analyzing relevant performance data.
  • Agentless monitoring
    • Local mode: have something running on the same physical (or virtual) machine that is able to gather data using either middleware capability to export it, e.g. log files or application programming interface (API) or using performance metrics calculated from base infrastructure capabilities.
    • Appliance mode: running at a remote location a specific software or hardware component that is separated from the target environment but still gathers the relevant data through the network or similar methods to local mode.

Agent-based monitoring provides the best level of detail. No matter how good an agentless tool is, the simple fact of the matter is that having an agent inside the monitored component or application enables detailed granular insight into its workings. However an agent requires resources such as memory and CPU time, which in turn raises maintenance cost.

An agentless tool provides little or no impact to the target environment and will not drain local resources. It may however need to have some dependency on the monitored application or component, e.g. if using API or log files the tool may have to adapt to the extracted data. Because agentless monitoring relies on gathering data indirectly through the OS framework or network it also requires more thorough data analysis and evaluation.

There are 4 elements to consider when monitoring an IT infrastructure. Their relative importance will vary according to what is relevant to the particular industry or business sector. Very large industries will have ITSM strategies for all of these 4 factors:

  • Monitoring at the hardware level
  • Monitoring at the OS health/Subsystem level health
  • Monitoring application components on premise
  • Monitoring the application components in the cloud

Cloud computing is a relatively new facet in IT infrastructure. It focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of shared resources. The foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of a converged infrastructure and shared services.

There are enough resources and articles on the internet to decide which management monitoring system is best or most efficient. Industry size and purpose will determine which system best fits the need. The ideal monitoring system will take new technologies and extending systems into account.

Direct benefits of monitoring IT infrastructure

It is evident that all enterprises depend on secure, reliable servers, network devices and business applications. In order to maximize IT infrastructure efficiency, a proactive approach is better than a reactive approach. Identifying and resolving issues before they impact user experience or data security is in the best interests of enterprise continuity and reliability.

The benefits of monitoring have everything to do with cost cutting and long term business strategy. These are:

  • Maximize return on investments (ROI) for business application delivery

A large IT infrastructure is a large ongoing investment. Monitoring application effectiveness grants instant access to data trend analysis and provides data warehouse capability suitable for enterprise reporting across the board. As IT systems start becoming more complex and interconnected, effective capacity management becomes a must for ROI tracking and astute resource planning strategies.

  • Anticipate and resolve hardware and software issues before they impact production

This is arguably the core purpose of system monitoring. Preventing unplanned or unforeseeable performance and capacity issues that disrupt or halt the production of services or manufactured products is of crucial significance. Monitoring IT infrastructure insures visibility for timely intervention, allowing process-tiered alarms for the array of vital components of the relevant enterprise system. Whether it be network, memory, storage, power and/or environmental factors such as cooling, monitoring the IT infrastructure ensures effective mitigation of failing hardware and software.

  • Maximize personnel efficiency

Personnel is always the biggest asset of any business. It is also usually the largest overhead cost. Using the correct IT monitoring tools means that staff can focus on essentials rather than firefighting. Project-based approaches have proven to be more efficient and enable a more effective utilization of personnel talent and skill-set, efficient IT systems software and applications enable logged timelines and accurate project reports.

  • Maintain quality and service levels

Maintaining service quality requires visibility. Performance deficiencies may remain unseen while inadvertently eroding customer and partner confidence. IT monitoring provides a large collection of metrics that can be analyzed and used for detailed service and compliance reports. This guarantees that a business is meeting standard service requirements.

  • Maintaining system control and growth

IT system monitoring is the cornerstone of best practice IT management. It lays the foundation for future expansion of automation, scalability and directly contributes to system reliability and resilience.