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IT Management Gets SaaS Options

More management tools are available in the cloud, but drawbacks abound.

IT management software has always been expensive and difficult to deploy. Respondents to our InformationWeek 2011 State of Enterprise Management Survey complain about product cost, integration struggles, and bolted-on functions that don't satisfy their needs--gripes we've heard for years. That ongoing frustration is creating a golden opportunity for SaaS-based IT management services. Upstart providers and established vendors alike are attacking cost and deployment issues head-on by offering system management and monitoring as services.

They have plenty of company. The overall SaaS market is surging, with some analysts predicting sales topping $12 billion this year. In our most recent InformationWeek SaaS Survey, we saw general software-as-a-service adoption jump 13 points year over year. It's clear that no previously on-premises-only software category is immune to incursions by SaaS providers, though for now IT management is more a slow creep than a full-on rush: 10% of respondents to our Enterprise Management Survey currently use SaaS for these functions. An additional 5% say they'll adopt within the next 12 months, and 21% are evaluating. These modest numbers are, in part, attributable to IT's overall gloomy view of these systems; respondents also expressed extreme skepticism about SaaS for enterprise management.

Vendors are working to overcome this lack of confidence. In April, startup Spiceworks, which offers IT device monitoring, help desk, and other management functions via the cloud, netted $25 million in a Series D round. Last year, Citrix snapped up Paglo, a SaaS platform for IT management, and renamed it GoToManage. And it's not just startups: Market leaders including HP and BMC have SaaS versions of some flagship management products. For instance, BMC last year launched an as-a-service version of Remedy, priced at $149 per user, per month.

Is IT management as a service for you? Areas to dig into include architectural challenges, security policies, application integration, and data storage and availability.

Are you using any SaaS Apps?

SaaS IT Architecture

In general, SaaS-based IT management offerings can be divided into two categories: hybrid and pure play. Hybrid systems typically require some kind of collector, whether a virtual or physical appliance or software agents, to be deployed on the customer's premises. Collectors gather from the network such data as device configurations and network topography.

For example, IT SaaS services from vendors AccelOps and GoToManage use an on-premises device to collect data from hardware and software systems, compress it, and securely transmit info on local operations to the providers' managed data centers. At the data centers, vendors provide application monitoring, operational data processing, and data storage. IT admins go to a Web portal to conduct status checks, run reports, and configure operational dashboards.

With a pure-play SaaS offering, the provider gathers IT data remotely. That requires the customer to open its firewall so that network devices and computers can be scanned. SAManage is an example of a pure-play SaaS provider.

The hybrid approach is most common because few corporate security policies allow external interrogation of internal systems. In addition, IT management software often requires administrative access to network and computer devices so it can get the most detailed information about these systems. Most IT shops are deeply uncomfortable with providing this access remotely. Having a virtual or physical appliance behind the firewall, and under IT's control, is more palatable.

While the hybrid model transfers storage and other requirements to the provider, you're still responsible for maintaining the collectors and ensuring that they're gathering data properly.

SaaS-Based IT Management

Become an InformationWeek Analytics subscriber and get our full report on SaaS-based IT management.
This report includes 15 pages of action-oriented analysis and 8 illustrative charts. What you'll find:
  • Detailed examination of the pros and cons of SaaS IT tools
  • Real-world input on SaaS management from IT pros
  • Pricing and features tables
  • Discussion of SaaS architecture benefits and drawbacks
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