RollOut: Opalis Software's Integration Server

Integration Server 5.1 automates tasks to take human error out of the data center equation, improving consistency, minimizing downtime and freeing IT for higher-level tasks.

September 8, 2006

6 Min Read
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Face It, When Operations Managers subsisting on Red Bull and pretzels meet complex enterprise-management systems, mistakes happen. Run books, part of well-oiled IT operations forever, can help resolve problems. Done right, the books contain, shall we say, painstakingly detailed instructions to ensure IT best practices. Just launching diagnostic procedures may require operators to involve administrative experts across the IT silos of systems, networks, applications and line of business, a time-consuming and disruptive process, especially at 2 a.m. Run books also mandate scheduling the repetitive, mundane tasks orchestrated by operations managers to keep the IT engine humming.Opalis Software's Integration Server may be a harried operations manager's new best friend. We found it shortens downtime, reduces the likelihood of human error, improves consistency and frees IT from drudgery. It automates a host of manual procedures for monitoring, tracking and diagnosing problems, letting IT enforce the best-practice expertise that run books advocate and focus on higher-value projects.

Rivals in this newly monikered "run-book automation" space have made similar claims, but Opalis' special sauce is its Integration Server, which accomplishes its magic not by scripting but by understanding the native programmatic interfaces of various ESM (enterprise systems management) suites. Integration Packs for monitoring, service desk, data protection, data transaction and virtualization are available for products from BMC, CA, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft. Integration Packs let the Integration Server communicate with ESM systems and pass event variables, such as IP addresses and ticket numbers, automatically.

In contrast, competitors such as RealOps' Automation Management Platform and Quest Software's Zanzibar, require operators to integrate management and service-desk systems manually.

Sample Automated Diagnostic Process Click to enlarge in another window

Easier Said Than DoneAutomation products have it tough: They must understand the actions required by individual companies' run books while conforming to widely varying operator experience levels. To help bridge the skills gap, Opalis provides policy templates that go beyond being self-documenting visually; they also provide examples of common processes, such as opening an incident ticket or acknowledging an event once it's assigned to an operator. We found more than 200 of these well-annotated policies, and their graphical representations illustrated the workflow surprisingly clearly, making it easy to audit planned actions. Sure beats reading a script.

Automation products also have an identity problem: They often get lumped in--erroneously--with job-scheduling apps. The two have similarities, such as calendars, job flows and conditional processing for branching a flow of work depending on circumstance or return code. But rather than operating within an OS environment, as job schedulers do, run-book automation covers the operator's environment.

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Say a server is complaining about log space; operations needs to notify the in-charge administrator to execute a log cleanup. This requires interfacing with the OS, sure, but the operator also must open a ticket for the administrator to track the incident. When the logs are clean and the server is running correctly, the ticket must be updated, then closed. Opalis Integration Server automates all this. Job-scheduling apps have conditional branches and could run a job to clean up the logs, but the job must be started manually and the ticketing system wouldn't be updated.

Initial Expertise

We configured Integration Server in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs® with Integration Packs for BMC Remedy, Microsoft Operations Manager and a couple of other apps. We found that the devil is in the workflows from the policies unique to each IT organization that must be fully understood and implemented in the process. Expect to involve operations managers, IT and business managers, and data-center staff in the initial run-book automation process. Of course, the amount of cross-domain engagement will vary depending on the environment's complexity. The Integration Packs themselves were straightforward and intuitive.And the good news is, once you have Opalis Integration Server running, you'll avoid having to involve that domain expertise on an ongoing basis.

Once we got in the swing of using Integration Server, the simple drag-and-drop graphic environment quickly let us define a procedure for creating a BMC Remedy incident ticket from a MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) event. Once we defined the MOM event ID, a drop-down menu of the MOM event ID appeared in the Remedy icon. The two events were tied together without our having to cross-define the two fields. Sweet.

Points To Ponder

We were concerned about putting all our eggs in this automation basket. From a failover and high-availability perspective, Opalis Integration Server has standard HA functions, like a primary/secondary and pooled-processing environment. That's important if the entire data-center and monitoring enchilada is running in software.

We were also concerned about auditing what policies were enforced once automated. Fortunately, the graphical representation of the policies is surprisingly adept at representing the workflow, making it easy to audit planned actions. The 200-plus canned policies Opalis provides free of charge are well-annotated.Pricing starts at $50,000 for proof-of-concept installations, which includes two Integration Servers, two Integration Packs and two days of professional services. Pricing for additional Integration Packs ranges from $2,000 to $12,000, with volume discounts available. We questioned the professional services time, because Opalis makes a big deal about not having a professional-services business model. However, the company says new customers have asked for help starting the process. Enterprise pricing is driven by the number of servers monitored. Opalis gives quotes on a case-by-case basis.

Owners of earlier versions of Integration Server note that key additions to 5.1 include support for Oracle 9.x and 10.x; Deployment Manager, a central console for deploying Integration Packs, clients and patches; Business Impact Dashboards; and improved language support (Japanese, German, Spanish and French). n

Bruce Boardman, executive editor of Network Computing, tests and writes about network and systems management. Write to him at [email protected].

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