Volume 8, Number 19 -- May 13, 2008

Aldon Responds to Business Pressures on IT Departments

Published: May 13, 2008

by Dan Burger

Lifecycle management is intertwined with business process management, which is another way of saying best practices for project management. It supports organizational structure and skill requirements through procedures that control IT department processes and change by monitoring workflow and the quality of service. We've come a long way from software change management, which is hugely important in application development environments, but just one aspect of lifecycle management the way it is viewed by Matt Scholl, president and COO at Aldon, which announced one new and two upgraded products last week.

"The IBM AS/400 (IBM i, System i, iSeries) has always been a self-contained environment that offered extreme automation for programmers and administrators," Scholl says. "Application lifecycle management attempts to deal with the whole spectrum of process and inventories under IT's purview. What you manage is not limited to an AS/400 object. It now encompasses the people, requests, and issues, requirements, tasks and projects, code and files, and network components. The stages managed extend beyond the coding to the initial user request, to the delivery of solutions into a production environment, to the ongoing monitoring of production. And you need to have the ability to assess progress across the three main disciplines in IT, which are services, development, and operations. Finally, for the AS/400 folks, you need to measure and monitor your impact relative to all of the other possible platform permutations; you're likely to work with non-AS/400 team members these days. It's a big world to manage."

To help IT departments get into that bigger management picture, Aldon has introduced new configuration managements tools. Most notable is the Aldon CMDB (configuration management database).

Aldon CMDB integrates and automatically imports data using "discovery tools" that access asset databases to locate applications, servers, and network devices that are inventoried on SQL Server databases. That IT infrastructure information is imported using a CSV or text file.

The configuration management database provides two primary benefits: the visibility to monitor all IT assets, and the capability to monitor ongoing changes occurring across IT operations. Both are considered important to improving business process management.

Scholl describes the CMDB as a tool for managing and mapping the entire IT infrastructure. "It can identify all the laptops and the configuration items involved with an SOA (service oriented architecture)," Scholl says. "It can also tie those things to any SLAs (service level agreements). It can tell you if you are in compliance with your SLA."

As organizations grow, their IT departments have a tendency to sprawl, making IT service management more difficult to control. The existing dependencies on IT assets collide with increasing requests placing a burden on some of those assets. To better manage those assets requires baseline configurations and the ability to audit ongoing change. IT operational processes must be put in place and a way to maintain adherence becomes critical.

That's where the CMDB comes into play. It provides a view of all data and the existing interdependencies and it reports on what will happen to the business if any configuration changes. This type of monitoring and mapping is important to security auditing, change management, process re-engineering, and compliance work.

Among the capabilities the CMDB offers are: an enterprise-wide analysis of IT infrastructure changes across multiple applications and databases; mapping of configuration items, IT projects, and their dependencies; tracking of hardware and software changes; alerting IT staff of unauthorized changes or access; and the generation of pre-defined, customizable reports that can be used for compliance auditing.

Integration with Aldon's other lifecycle management products is part of the deal with CMDB, and one of those products is the latest version of Aldon's service desk, Community Manager 8. The simultaneous release of Community Manager 8 and Aldon CMDB is no coincidence. The integration between the two products required that it happen that way.

At the core of Community Manager is a service desk. It handles all the user requests for IT services within an organization. Those requests are recorded here and the IT people use it to figure out how to respond to requests. In other words, it manages the requests whether they are from a development operation or another IT-related issue.

Hundreds and maybe thousands of users throughout large enterprises are making requests that IT has to deal with. Responding in a meaningful way is complicated and centralizing these requests is important if you are actually going to do better project planning.

"When we bring the configuration management database into it," Scholl says, "we identify an even bigger problem. Now it's not only who's working on it, but what are they touching--laptops, applications, services? If they touch those things, then what other things are dependent on those particular items and how does it affect those dependencies?"

Scholl uses his own company as an example. Aldon has an outsourcing operation and an internal operation. About 40 percent of its staff works out of their homes, and they are scattered around the world.

"We have customers asking for a particular feature and we have a number of ways to deal with that request," he says. "An existing product may resolve the issue. We may be able to do deal with it through scripting. We may need to have something developed. We may need to have tech services research it.

"All I know is that a request has been made and it needs to be resolved. When I go back to the initiator of the request, I need to know who is going to be dealing with it and when it is expected to be done. It's not sufficient to say 'IT has it.' You need to give an up-to-date status of who is working on it, when it is expected to be completed, and why you believe that."

The organizational features are something that would come in handy when dealing with regulatory compliance mandates. Workflow, for instance, is automatically documented for auditing purposes. And reports can be run at specified times and automatically e-mailed to pre-identified recipients.

The upgrades to Community Manager 8 can be seen in the areas of user interface and workflow.

Ease of navigation is improved by virtue of a modernization of the tabs and toolbar features and the capability for users to somewhat customize their start-up screens, which is known as the My Preferences page. This was one of the benefits of redesigning the UI using AJAX. AJAX provides a performance boost by exchanging small amounts of data with the server and eliminating the reloading of an entire Web page each time the user requests a change. It also makes a call to a script or database without leaving the page, meaning that for CMDB administration, changes are committed to the database as they are made.

AJAX also made possible the improvements in creating dashboards by bringing in drag and drop components, access to assignments, metrics, and RSS feeds.

On the workflow side, the features include sub-task sequencing, an automation tool that combines multiple fields, a tool for performing cost analysis and project requirements, and several service level agreement metrics and reporting tools.

Aldon CMDB and Community Manager can reside on the same Windows server in most cases; however, large installations may require each to have its own server. Community Manager is compatible with Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and other e-mail products that are SMTP and POP/IMAP compliant. It also supports PDAs including Pocket PC, RIM Blackberry, and Palm.

Connectivity to the IBM System i is accomplished through Aldon's Lifecycle Manager product. And that brings us to Lifecycle Manager 5.3, the latest release of its software configuration and change management software. This product is all about controlling the software development process, increasing developer productivity, improving code quality, and meeting regulatory and best practices requirements.

The majority of Aldon customers are AS/400, iSeries, and System i shops that have used this product since the days when it was referred to as simply software change management. The application development environment in these shops, as Scholl described it, has always been very self-contained and extremely automated, and Aldon improved upon that with software that managed the movement of code and objects along their promotion path.

The key upgrades in Lifecycle Manager 5.3 include search functionality; enhanced reporting that allows uses to see files that failed to populate; and accelerated performance, which is largely due to completion dialogs that clarify when operations have been completed and the capability to work with managed objects through the GUI.

Lifecycle Manager pricing begins at $4,000 per user and volume discounts are available. The CMDB starts at $10,000 for the server license and $150 per user. Community Manager 8 pricing begins at $1,055 for a single user, with multi-user discounts applied. The first discount begins after 10 users. For more information, visit www.aldon.com.


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Editor: Alex Woodie
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
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