Who among us can argue that automated network monitoring isn't necessary when you consider how much the role of IT has expanded in recent years? Uptime on workstations and servers has been relegated to a secondary role and is considered the norm. While enhancing business processes and functions has become more of a primary focus.

The result is that today's IT pros control everything from telephone systems, on premise security, timekeeping and workstations to software compliance, backups and disaster recovery. Add Wi-Fi, connected devices, the cloud and the internet into the mix and you begin to see that today's IT function looks more like the bridge on a Starfleet ship.

All we are lacking is access to perimeter defense weaponry, the odd Klingon warrior and teleportation tech. We can control everything else from the comfort of our plush command chairs.

Is this a positive progression? Sure, why not? But it means that it's no longer feasible to rely on manual real-time analysis of potential threats, making automated monitoring a natural progression. However, a recent report from Freeform Dynamics, sponsored by Ipswitch, indicates that IT pros are unsure about business intelligence systems, citing security and funding concerns as well as lack of knowledge as key barriers to adoption.

Given the expansion of IT, companies need to get past their tendency to rely on manual solutions and implement automated solutions that provide tangible benefits.

"Automated monitoring should be implemented in such a way that it informs the business of what is going on. It should provide IT teams with the necessary information to quickly respond to issues, and more importantly, to be able to proactively identify problems," says Tom Freer of Sonar Technology, a provider of hardware, software and staffing solutions for monitoring IT systems.

Automated Monitoring: Getting Started

According to Freer, an automated monitoring system needs to perform the following key functions:

  1. Provide IT with accurate and timely information on network events and issues.
  2. Effectively communicate problems so that IT teams can understand the potential impact.
  3. Offer complete visibility and access to all systems to quickly solve problems.

Trends observed by Freer indicate a "shift away from manual monitoring" given that the process is "prone to error and even more prone to problems being missed. It also requires much more overhead in terms of management ensuring that tasks are completed."

Unfortunately, as Freer points out, the introduction of automated monitoring is not without issues, with new adopters often overwhelmed by alerts and the subsequent returning of alert parameters. Not having the time and resources to invest in putting automation in place is another common problem.

Balance This!

Contrary to layperson belief, the use of automation does not remove human diagnostics or threaten our jobs.

"Regardless of the sophistication of a monitoring solution, the human element is still necessary for it to respond and action events. The automated component of monitoring still drives massive amounts of data and this can be overwhelming for IT departments of managed services providers who are trying to respond to and identify events," notes Freer. He adds, "someone still needs to assess the alerts, identify the impact and notify those that need to take corrective action."

Therefore, in any network environment, regardless of the level of automation, humans are still needed to make the final decision on which actions should be taken in response to alerts. Diagnostics are performed, we discuss solutions around the water cooler, criticize our "superiors," complain about our minuscule IT budgets and relish the fact that Cylons (or similar robotic replacements) are highly unlikely to steal our jobs. Can a machine execute all of these activities?

Hell, we don't even trust our network users with basic admin functions. So, whatever the AI or robotics industries come up with in the future, we have simply seen too many movies to allow autonomous control in any area.

"Someone still needs to make a decision on what the alert threshold is, when to action a task and, at the very least, ensure automated responses are running and completing as needed. This will mean fewer hands-on requirements in the foreseeable future but not a complete removal," argues Freer.

In conclusion, automated monitoring is key to improving productivity and, with the correct alert threshold, it can free us up for essential tasks that drive business processes and objectives. The alternative? We spend our days reviewing systems logs manually — a tedious chore that is prone to human error.

Which approach makes sense? The choice is yours.


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