IT Management

What is Enterprise Systems Automation? An application that automates a system activity can be considered a component of Enterprise Systems Automation (ESA). This includes: workload automation, automated operations, system performance monitors, application health checks, network performance monitors, change management, data governance and automated software deployment (DevOps). The common thread running through ESA products is the need to monitor the platform (operating system and hardware), automate a resolution when a problem is detected and generate alerts for problem notification and resolution tools.

Software products created to manage operating systems have naturally evolved, along with their individual platforms, to address the needs of a specific operating system and environment. As more systems embrace automation software, the information silos, disparate terminology and device-centric displays present a growing challenge to your development and operations staff.

Sharing floor space with mainframe computers, the DEC PDP/11 minicomputer series was introduced in the 1970s and desktop PCs entered the workplace in the early 1980s.

Larger companies have been living with heterogeneous systems for more than 30 years, but even the smallest businesses are now dealing with software and users that cross multiple operating systems and devices. With BYOD gaining acceptance in enterprise level IT, it can be argued that any business enterprise operating today needs to be well versed in Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, iOS and Android operating systems and their respective devices in addition to the server platforms used.

Information Silos

When ESA products coexist on a platform, they often require access to similar information that is stored for their own uses, creating information silos. This adds to the growth of big data by duplicating the information they need to: create alerts, react to events and provide for their own analytics. One example from the z/OS world is the Job Control Language (JCL) Job Log. The JCL Job Log includes a record of console messages that may also be recorded in the System Console Log and tracked, suppressed or acted on by Automated Operations that also creates its own log containing the same messages. The entire JCL Job Log may also be stored by Workload Automation software to provide automated job restarts and copied by Data Governance software for archiving. There are routinely three or more copies of the JCL Job Log stored on the system.

Disparate Terminology

The terminology of IT has also evolved along platform lines. The terms: Directories and Regular Files on UN IX/Linux, Folders and Files on Windows and Data Sets and Members on z/OS all refer to collections of artifacts and individual artifacts that exist in data storage. Each platform tends to create its own “language” based on the developers and users of the platform. Apple’s tag line: “there’s an app for that,” is a classic example of platform-centric terminology that has given rise to a new distinction between an “app” and “application software.”

The Apple App Store opened in July 2008 and “app” was named Word of the Year in 2010 by the American Dialect Society.

Device-Centric Displays

User Interfaces (UIs) vary across platforms, too. Large servers generally use command line input and terminal monitor outputs. This is most notable in UN IX/ Linux-based servers. Text-based menu systems such as IBM’s ISPF (Interactive System Productivity Facility) have added “point and shoot” fields to support the use of a mouse, and subsequently, touch-screen devices. End-user desktop and notebook systems for UNIX/Linux and Windows provide a graphical display with colorful icons and imbedded audio/visual content. Android and iOS operating systems are designed similar to the aforementioned desktop and notebook systems, but geared toward a smaller display device with a diagonal screen size of 4 to 10 inches. The proliferation of varying display sizes created a need to provide Internet sites that support larger screens (generally referred to as “full site” or “desktop” mode) and small screens (called “mobile”). In addition, the mobile device market has given rise to the app— software clients that are customized to small screen devices represented by smart phones and tablets.

Suggestions to Promote Synergy

Integrating products that share a common platform by creating centralized databases and file repositories for system and software information reduces the total size of data being stored on the platform. In addition, providing cross-platform access to system data extends this concept of data repositories where larger server systems can and should act as repositories for data generated by networked servers, desktops, notebooks and mobile devices. The use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to access specific product strengths or enhance product capabilities also extends a product’s reach to new platforms without duplicating core programming.

Creating a common language for ESA is not a likely development. Vendors must determine what terminology best supports an intuitive U I, allowing new users to grasp the software concepts and quickly benefit from its implementation on a specific device. Mainframe vendors should be careful not to impose mainframe vocabulary on their distributed systems ESA products. And, while some software vendors have adopted a Windows-centric vocabulary (the Windows desktop being the current standard for cross-platform user interfaces), it may be wise to look to mobile apps for the next generation of user interfaces and terminology. As a result, CIOs and vendors must be prepared to provide the appropriate training to create development and support personnel that are comfortable across all the platforms where their products are installed. When provided with the proper training, developers and users can adapt quite readily to the concepts and terminology of any system.

Providing platform and device-specific interfaces, not based on where the software runs, but where end users need to access it is essential. Just as websites are evolving into desktop and mobile versions, software needs to be aware of the devices that may access it. For many, this means providing a web-based product interface that adapts to the device type as well as text-based menus for direct server access, but your mobile users are likely to ask, “Is there an app for that?”

Conclusion

While a few vendors have product lines, in the realm of ESA, that employ some or all of these techniques, it’s more likely that CIOs are dealing with a mixture of legacy software products acquired over time from multiple vendors and new applications developed to address specific issues on a particular platform. It is also the nature of the industry that software vendors, through mergers and acquisitions, find themselves supporting divergent products and development teams that they must integrate into their product lines. Software vendors must make hard decisions about which tool best represents their vision for a product line and commit to integrating the development teams to achieve synergy across products and platforms. CIOs, faced with a decision to migrate off of an application they have used successfully for years because the vendor has chosen to stabilize or drop support of that product in favor of another, should factor in the vendor’s commitment to addressing the issues presented here.