Intricate, dynamic, and sprawling. Those are just a few common descriptors of the contemporary tech landscape. When applications and services—1,000s of them—are distributed across 100s of providers, enterprises face obstacles regarding how to address a variety of IT challenges.
If understanding your IT landscape is increasingly complicated, managing it is even more so. Effective management requires complete, accurate, and up-to-date visibility into all technology assets. IT visibility encompasses a view of the data center, the public cloud, employee devices (whether used at the office or at home), and beyond. Visibility also requires the ability to adapt to change. As has been particularly apparent through the high-speed responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, change can be swift and dynamic. The rapid adaptations to work from home (WFH) are driving significant changes in IT infrastructure—all of which must be visible in order to be managed.
Benefits of IT visibility
Having visibility into you’re the right data supports various strategic business initiatives:
- Cloud migration: As organizations move forward with digital transformation, the cloud is the vehicle of choice. According to the Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report, the vast majority (93 percent) of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy and 87 percent have a hybrid cloud strategy, but optimizing spend is a significant—and costly—challenge: organizations are over budget for cloud spend by an average of 23 percent. IT visibility supports the journey to the cloud and can help manage the processes and prices by assessing apps and services to determine how suited they are for running in the cloud; prioritizing how these should be migrated; determining what should be rehosted, replatformed, or rearchitected; and maintaining supportive, continuous technology asset management before, during, and after cloud migration.
- Mergers and acquisitions (M&A): M&A events are most successful when supported by broad, deep visibility into the technology assets of both companies. Such visibility can help assess risk during due diligence and mitigate risk throughout the integration process; determine how to integrate business units and corporate functions; and integrate IT assets, identify duplication and wasted spend, and ensure compliance with regulatory standards. Not only does IT visibility streamline and support these internally-focused business objectives, it supports customer-facing activities by ensuring that there’s no degradation in the services that customers rely on.
- Spend optimization: The right data can help budget and forecast your IT spend (including comprehensive totals for on-premises and cloud spend), identify waste, and analyze costs by factors such as accounts, applications, cloud providers, or data centers. License positions can also be optimized, tracking license costs and ensuring compliance with license terms.
- Governance and security: By supporting automated processes and policy enforcement, IT visibility maintains robust governance. It also supports strong security by identifying software vulnerabilities and prioritizing remediation.
Find the right data
In order to have a clear view into your IT landscape, you first need to know what you’re looking for. The goal isn’t to amass huge amounts of data, but to collect the right data.
Some data might be hidden within your enterprise; other may be in outside sources. Internal sources include on-premises discovery tools, public/private cloud discovery tools, your configuration management database (CMDB), system management tools, software license management tools, directories, human resources systems, and purchasing and financial systems. Also look to external sources, such as market data, security position data, and public cloud providers.
Evaluate each of the following:
- On-prem hardware assets: For servers, storage devices, and network devices, collect server/device IDs, product names, models, vendor name(s), processing or storage capacity, location, owner, cost, and environmental specs (space, power, and cooling requirements). Be sure to track end point hardware, including desktop and mobile devices. If you have a private cloud, include all of the hardware assets that support it.
- On-premises software assets: Your on-prem assets offer critically important data, too. Know how to access data from operating systems, app data, virtual machines, and containers. For each of these, collect licensing data (terms and conditions, user entitlements, and renewals) and security vulnerabilities. Additional data needs include hardware or OS requirements, memory and/or processor allocation, user or group IDs, and owners. As above, if you have a private cloud, include software assets that support it.
- Public cloud assets: Scattered across providers and delivered in different formats, these assets are likely the most difficult to track. These are also constantly changing, requiring a continuous approach to tracking data. For SaaS apps and IaaS/PaaS data, track product names, version, vendor names, usage (how often, by whom, and features used), owner, cost, user IDs, security vulnerabilities, and licensing data. For containers, collect container ID, processors and memory allocated, software compliance, applications installed, binary code, libraries, configuration files (for software programs), owner, user/group IDs, security vulnerabilities, and licensing data.
- Interdependencies: Beyond details of the assets you have, visibility into the application dependencies among assets is essential. How do the assets fit together to support business services, especially those that are business-critical? Difficult, but essential, understanding app dependencies is the top challenge of cloud migration. Application dependency maps show all assets that communicate with a singular application that you’re evaluating. Business services maps show which applications communicate to drive a business service, such as a customer relationship management system (CRM), thereby eliminating irrelevant applications from the visualization.
Use the right data
Once you collect data from disparate systems, deduplicate it to eliminate redundancies. Data normalization (e.g., replacing multiple names for the same product and using a consistent naming convention) is another important step toward consolidation. Once complete, make the data easily accessible in a central repository. That repository can then be leveraged to analyze data, as required by different audiences; generate reports or dashboards that aid the goals of various stakeholders; and feed data into enterprise systems that power process automation, among other uses.
Having a single source of truth, with a consolidated view, can provide robust insights for all stakeholders. Automating data collection can replace resource-intensive manual processes, helping you maintain an accurate, complete asset inventory—a must in the current hyper-dynamic IT environment. Understanding how disruptive technologies (cloud, containers, microservices, and serverless architectures, for example) may be limiting your visibility can help cut through the confusion and inform your cloud security and governance strategies, reducing the risk of an audit. Clear visibility provides a fact-driven basis for decisions about your IT architecture and can reveal information (such as shadow SaaS) that may be obscuring your total tech spend. “What if” scenarios, which assess the implications of moving to the cloud, can help ensure a successful migration, while minimizing business disruptions. Overall, enhanced visibility into your IT assets improves decision making across your enterprise, facilitating IT cost reduction.
Cyndi Tackett, vice president of product marketing, Flexera