I was talking with a co-worker the other day and we were chatting about Novell Operations Center, specifically Experience Manager (previously known as Business Experience Manager – BEM). We then remembered a story he told me a long time ago that I thought would be interesting to share.
Since this happened serveral years ago, some of the details are a bit fuzzy, but it starts out by this person (we’ll call him Bob to protect the shy) moving into a new home. Part of the set up with this neighborhood is that the internet is part of the association dues. For those not familiar with Home Owners Associations (HOA), here is a wiki link that provides a general overview (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeowner_association). HOA’s can be good and they can be bad, sometimes it is a coin flip 🙂
Anyways, in one of the HOA community meetings, many people were complaining about the internet being unavailable on a routine basis as well as being slow and that they have called the provider and while they do contractually commit to service levels, they don’t really report on it, it ends up being individual debates and case by case phone calls from the customer to the provider… a complete mess, it was hard for any single home owner to prove anything. The home owners were a bit stuck to, it was a bit of a monopoly type of situation, so switching internet providers was not really an option. At some point they remembered that Bob was a computer geek and asked him to work up a plan to deal with the issues.
What Bob did was, he installed Novell Operations Center (since this was many years ago, the product had a different name then) on one of his home computers. He configured the Experience Manager adapter to issue synthetic tests of some common websites on a routine basis. He set up the tests in a manner that if the specific test failed that it re-tried that test a few times before claiming some type of internet outage. The test is similar to opening a browser, going to www.novell.com and making sure the page comes up. Tests also track other details such as the time it takes for the web page to come up (response time) but we’ll get into that later.
Bob let the tests run for a few days, what he noticed was that intermittently throughout the day, it appeared that the connection to the internet was going down… an “outage”. He also noticed at certain times throughout the day (most of the day) that the connection speeds (response times of websites) were horrible. Armed with factual data, he then put the phone call into the provider as a representative for the neighborhood. From what I remember it was a complete denial from the service provider side, but when Bob brought out the testing results, specific outage times, outage durations, response times, etc… the conversation changed completely. In the end, the provider put better monitoring in place to ensure they were providing optimum service, they also had to do some work in the neighborhood to replace and/or upgrade some faulty/dated equipment. Magically this topic became less and less talked about in the community meetings.
The point of bringing up this real world scenario is that I have personally witnessed very large organizations outsource the management of their infratructure (outsourcing is not the issue). The provider had agreements in place for service levels, but they were the ones monitoring the levels and providing the reports. Outsourcing, while it saves money (sometimes), there needs to be management of the outsourcing as well as processes and tools to assist in managing the outsourcer. Novell Operations Center can be something put into the agreement (the provider must use it and provide views back to you the customer) or, Novell Operations Center can be installed on the customers premise specifically to be used by the customer to monitor the provider to ensure service levels are being met. Service levels may be around response times and availability of technologies or it can be around higher level Services like EMail, Timesheet Reporting, Payroll, etc. Novell Operations Center not only provides some monitoring features like Experience Manager does, it also integrates bi-directionally to several common management systems (from HP, CA, IBM, BMC, etc) in order to bring in monitoring data, correlate it and present it in a cohesive manner. Leveraging Novell Operations Center to monitor/manage the outsourcer arms the end customer with the data needed to measure the overall service.