National Defence puts data centre software on patrol

The Department of National Defence has latched on to a software solution to constantly scour its central data centre and instantly alert system administrators of technical problems.

IT officials within DND said they cannot even

begin to quantify how much time and money the Patrol software — developed by Texas-based BMC Software Inc. — saves the department. Cost-savings are increasingly important as IT budgets across the board are constantly squeezed and managers are forced to do more with less, said David Pearce, director of national information systems at DND.

“”The bottom line is that there are no additional (IT) resources to work with,”” he said. “”(Nevertheless), the requirement keeps going up and up to deliver (IT services) to the field and to the users out there.””

Users include those stationed in 40 different locations around the globe, including the Golan Heights and Afghanistan, said Pearce, adding “”we need to have tools in place that effectively provide the support”” demanded of them.

Patrol is capable of monitoring every part of the system from DND’s data centre at Canadian Forces Base Borden in southern Ontario to any of the overseas stations that the centre serves. The system comprises a big part of the secure wide-area network that is maintained by one of DND’s sister organizations that specializes in setting up overseas communications centres. Users log on to the secure network much like the Internet.

If Patrol detects a problem with CFB Borden’s portion of the network, it will instantly alert system administrators in Ottawa via pagers and automatic phone calls, Pearce said.

As PATROL sends out the alert, it also locates the problem, which speeds up the repair job, he adds.

“”If a CPU, memory or disk failure occurs, then Patrol can start the recovery action right away,”” said Robert Quevillon, manager of client services at DND.

The same is true “”if a database runs out of file space, or some of the processes in the server takes over the machine and the (server’s) response time becomes terrible,”” added Quevillon. “”Those system administrators would know instantly.””

Especially important for overseas stations are human resources databases, says Quevillon. If a problem ever arises with these, it is serious business. But it’s also something that can usually be fixed before the client becomes aware of the problem, he said.

Before the software was deployed, the administrator of an NT or UNIX box would have to log in every morning to check the system, spending two or three hours looking at everything to make sure it was okay, Quevillon recalled.

“”We use the tool to take away the drudgery of the day-to-day logging in and checking everything,”” Pearce agreed. “”Without these tools, it would take three times as many people. With an automated tool like this … we’re able to manage a lot more and grow without having to grow in people. It’s an avoidance of cost as opposed to a savings in cost.””

Pearce emphasized that Patrol does not completely take away the human element to systems monitoring. In fact, the software is only as good as the people who run it. Accordingly, there must be at least one person within DND who knows how Patrol operates.

But because of the software’s reliability, more IT workers can be redeployed with diagnostic tools to go fix problems located by Patrol instead of watching a screen all the time, Pearce said.

Patrol is compatible with Windows 2000, NT and AIX. The software’s common feel also makes it easier for someone to look at certain parameters of a problematic part of an operating system without recognizing the specific commands for each platform, added Pearce.

Meanwhile, Human Resources Development Canada has been using BMC’s Perform and Predict solutions, which provide real-time historical analysis with graphical reports, as well as predictive modeling that illustrates resource constraints for users and applications. Statistics Canada is also said to be using BMC solutions.

BMC is a $1.3-billion enterprise management software provider focused on helping government customers manage its IT resources. In particular, BMC announced last April a business service management strategy that aims to link IT resources to management solutions.

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