Category: Blog

What’s In a Name? The Importance of Naming Standards in IT Operations

Star Trek, Smurfs, astronomy (and astrology!), dinosaurs, cartoon characters, celebrities, sports teams… what do all these things have in common? At some point in your IT career, you probably encountered a server or network device named according to one or more of those types of naming conventions.

But those days are long gone, right? Based on my recent experience, organizations are still struggling with standard naming conventions.

In terms of IT operations maturity1, standard device naming conventions are a fundamental building block. Every device with an IP address must have a system name, and that name should follow a standard convention.

Unfortunately for many of us, those standards are poorly documented or poorly enforced. The lack of enforcement results in lots of ‘stuff’ on the network that requires more effort to identify than simply knowing the device name. This absence leads to long-term and recurring effects that cripple the speed and efficiency of your IT organization.

The penalty we pay for the lack of a robust and consistently followed naming convention is amplified when it comes to monitoring and observability. Tools like SolarWinds Orion have become the de facto system of record or substitute for a CMDB for many organizations. Even if your organization is one of the seemingly few with a trusted CMDB, naming standards are critical to scalable device and application management.

Alerting and notifications, incident management, dashboards, reporting, capacity planning, chargeback, budgeting, forecasting, and automation are just some of the areas that suffer when strong naming conventions are absent.

In SolarWinds Orion, there is the concept of ‘Custom Properties.’ A custom property allows for creating additional attributes on devices, applications, and other entity types throughout the platform. Those attributes can be used to group, sort, filter, and otherwise improve the correlation of physical and logical entities for a wide variety of reasons. At Loop1, we have developed a list of 19 best practice custom properties that we recommend that strengthen the functionality of Orion operations. I’ll be talking about these in an upcoming blog post!

A well-defined, consistently applied naming convention helps make custom properties absolutely sing. We can quickly identify the right stakeholders for alerting, notifications, and incident management. Intelligent dashboards can be constructed to display precise and pertinent information that helps to deliver on the concept of end-to-end observability. We can build reports that are scoped to just the right teams and devices for analysis, capacity planning, and other advanced analytics. And perhaps most importantly, we can leverage advanced automation techniques.

In very large organizations, where automation and orchestration have become standard practices, the presence or absence of robust naming standards have either expedited or greatly complicated the creation and deployment of powerful, API-based integration and automation.

So, where does your organization fall on this spectrum? When you troubleshoot performance issues, do you find yourself referencing comic book superheroes? Or does your organization leverage large-scale automation and orchestration that benefits from a sophisticated, well-documented, and consistently implemented naming standard.

1 See Loop1 Monitoring Maturity Model L1M3 (pronounced LIME)

Bill Fitzpatrick, Loop1 Chairman and CEO

Bill Fitzpatrick
Chairman and CEO | Loop1

AUTHOR

An accomplished engineer with a gift for translating technical concepts into plain English and a sharp business sense, Bill Fitzpatrick is building on the success of Loop1 Systems to execute an ambitious vision for the future. Bill co-founded Loop1 Systems, a SolarWinds Authorized Partner, in 2009. He played an integral role in building the nearly 10-year-old business into what is today, a bustling, Austin-based company counting more than 200 of the Fortune 500 as clients. In the summer of 2017, Bill assumed full ownership of Loop1 Systems and has since laser-focused on one simple goal: to bring the truth to light for each Loop1 client.

Too Many IT Tools—what’s Your Number?

The number. Someone in your organization likely knows your number. Some talk about it openly and seek to make it better. Others avoid the topic as an uncomfortable reminder of failed projects doomed to incompletion due to unfinished migrations or unexpected integration failures.

I’m talking about the number of different IT operations tools owned across your organization. I’ve heard numbers as high as twenty-two and as low as five in the last two years.

The rapid expansion and adoption of so many tools is easy to understand. Over the last twenty years, the landscape of IT operations tools has exploded from a handful of network-centric solutions to hundreds of vendors and tools for every technology, team, and role in your organization. Teams found value in technology-specific tools, some providing only ‘monitoring,’ others offering improved ‘administration’ and a few promising both. The vast array of capabilities, often accompanied by aggressive sales and marketing, meant that individual technology teams often ended up with multiple tools within each silo. Factor in mergers and acquisitions, and tool sprawl expands further still.

Over the last twelve years, we at Loop1 have helped our clients with countless ‘tools displacement’ projects. More recently, that trend evolved into ‘Tool Rationalization’ projects, or ‘Tool Consolidation’ in more reactive organizations. The former conducts reviews of tools and capabilities to reduce costs while finding value in solutions best aligned to their needs. The latter are typically motivated by purely financial objectives and neglect to consider the optimal business outcome.

In our Loop1 Monitoring Maturity Model (L1M3), pronounced ‘lime,’ we provide a model that supports both the cost-savings of fewer tools and the increased cost savings of fewer vendors.

The essential component of our maturity model that explicitly addresses both tool rationalization and tool consolidation is what we call “Feature Awareness.” Lack of feature awareness, or failure to fully understand the capabilities of a given tool, is what leads to teams owning tools with overlapping features. Extend that issue across all of your technology teams, and it’s no surprise that organizations end up with far too many tools and far too little understanding of capabilities.

The sheer number of tools, each with a range of possible integrations or vendor-specific limitations, exasperates IT professionals, DevOps, and administrators. Staff who spend countless hours attempting to correlate all of the IT tools data for business use while also managing the IT environment. Incident detection and incident resolution are entangled in the web of teams and tools that lack the time and training to make the tools useful.

Spiraling tool spending contributes to the bad reputation of  ‘Silos’ in IT. But I disagree. Silos are valuable. They represent the strength of expert knowledge, deep experience, and powerful troubleshooting skills. The problem isn’t the existence of IT silos. The problem is a lack of communication between silos. We need ‘Fully Meshed Silos.’ Silos that share information openly and easily across integrated and correlated tools platforms.

Fortunately, over the last 15 years, SolarWinds has assembled a robust, comprehensive, integrated, and automatically correlated set of tools unique in the industry. The Orion platform offers each of your teams the functionality and visibility they need as a natively and intelligently integrated tool easily shared between all of your teams.

From storage to network, virtualization, servers, database, containers, applications, and ITSM, SolarWinds Orion is the single platform that truly serves all teams while simultaneously creating the fully meshed fabric of IT tools data.

Sound too good to be true? Get in touch. Our team can give you a tour of Orion AppStack and PerfStack, as well as other features of the SolarWinds solution that can empower your teams to collaborate and operate, driving excellence in your business.

See for yourself the path to highly effective teams, and how to create your own ‘Fully Meshed Silos’.

Bill Fitzpatrick, Loop1 Chairman and CEO

Bill Fitzpatrick
Chairman and CEO | Loop1

AUTHOR

An accomplished engineer with a gift for translating technical concepts into plain English and a sharp business sense, Bill Fitzpatrick is building on the success of Loop1 Systems to execute an ambitious vision for the future. Bill co-founded Loop1 Systems, a SolarWinds Authorized Partner, in 2009. He played an integral role in building the nearly 10-year-old business into what is today, a bustling, Austin-based company counting more than 200 of the Fortune 500 as clients. In the summer of 2017, Bill assumed full ownership of Loop1 Systems and has since laser-focused on one simple goal: to bring the truth to light for each Loop1 client.

How important is our history?

How important
is our history?

History:  1) Tale, Story. 2) A branch of knowledge that records and explains past events. 3) An established record.

In IT, we are accountable for our performance. If something goes wrong, we can’t blame our tools, and we can’t blame our resources. You would never blame the shovel for not digging a hole deep enough. It’s not the shovel’s fault. It’s our choice on which shovel we choose to use, how much effort we put into digging the hole—if a shovel is even the right tool? The shovel can’t make these decisions, but we are accountable for the outcome.

So how do we know if we are making the right decisions? Every day we work hard. We focus on what is in front of us. That is why history is so important. If a catastrophe should occur, we need to

a) identify what the outcome of the catastrophe was
b) collect evidence surrounding the catastrophic event
c) research and debate the evidence to realize the cause, and
d) build a plan to assure the catastrophic event does not occur again.

Many of us are accountable only to ourselves for audits, but many are also accountable to governing authorities. You are required to hold history so that evidence can be reviewed and decisions made if something unfortunate occurs.

When we relate this to the performance of our systems and networks, not including our records of traps and syslogs, we are self-governing on these points.

I want all the history!” OK, this might be a bit much.

I don’t think I need more than a day.” OK, this may be too little.

It depends on your application of the tools and the environment you work in. We have to challenge ourselves with a few key questions:

  • Will I be audited? (straight off, this will define a window of time that you need to keep history and at what collection rate)
  • Performance Bottlenecks: How far back would I need to review performance data to understand a trend?
  • Security Compromise: How far back would I need to review logs to understand what led up to a security event?
  • Hardware Failure: If the event is a hardware failure, how far back do you need to review logs to clarify the source of the failure?

As a strategist, I’m often asked if we should toss the history out and start with a new fresh database for the monitoring product or push through and try to retain the history. My answer is always, “If the data is not at risk or abused, keep it.” Here’s the catch though, data is only as good as you are intentional with it. Be intentional with what you bring into your monitoring. These tools should be the heartbeat of your IT organization. They help scale your investments and enable you to drive excellence in your organization to your customers.

If the database is corrupt for whatever reason, archive your database for reference and build anew. Start over. However, take measures to assure integrity to your database and the historicals you are archiving. Your history can represent the difference between stumbling through your day or being intentional and purposeful—hitting all your roadmap goals and achieving and driving excellence.

Let’s go be amazing!  Wisdom + Data + Effort = Excellence!

Jason Henson | Global Director of Technical Solutions
Loop1

What goes into your scorecard?

What goes into your
scorecard?

What’s in your Scorecard?” Scorecards are a fundamental part of measuring performance and guiding activities and decision-making across an organization to drive business value.

Your scorecard should tell a story and provide a framework for measuring your success.  Before building a scorecard, though, you first need to challenge yourself: what is your definition of success? What requirement is your team responding to? Each company has a Vision Statement for the value they plan to bring to the world. Their contributions make a positive difference and drive success for their customers, stakeholders, and themselves.  A successful business will use metrics to measure the impact of their efforts aligned to the goals for the organization.

Focusing on IT is our responsibility.

We provide a service to our organization and, in the world we live in today, that service impacts directly or indirectly the experience of our customers and stakeholders.

When you look at your goals and measure your team according to your definition of success, what metrics are you looking at? Is it mean time to repair (MTTR) for tickets?  Is it goal completion for your team roadmap? Can you relate your efforts to revenue for the business? At some level, your team does impact revenue.  Work these metrics into a scorecard and then identify how to report on those metrics.

If it’s MTTR, where are you tracking your trouble cases?  Are you relating your uptime versus the cost of downtime?  Do you know the direct or indirect cost to your business for each minute of service downtime for application and network availability?  Can you connect these metrics to customer satisfaction and attrition or employee satisfaction and attrition?

Now that you can see these metrics think about the tools you are using to collect this information. Think about the strategy you use to derive conclusions from the data pulled into your tools?

In the end, you should have a series of metrics that you report on weekly. The trends derived from those metrics should be numbers you can evaluate to ensure your team is organized and continues to deliver measurable value to your organization.

And, as you review these numbers, you and your team should be challenging your activities to ensure you are on track to achieve your goals and deliver on your commitments to the business and your customers.

Jason Henson | Global Director of Technical Solutions
Loop1 

The Jack of All Trades – What is it and do you need one?

The Jack of All Trades
What is it and do you need one?

In the ever-changing landscape that is IT, there is a growing pressure to diversify skills. While organizations and people have varying degrees of success with this, the reason for that pressure is clear: teams need to be able to cover more ground with fewer people. The trouble with this is that diversifying skills necessarily takes away from advancing one’s skills in their chosen (or directed) specialization.

Enter: The Jack of All Trades.

This is the member of the team whose specialty is to not be specialized. They’re the person that has a better-than-even chance of knowing the answer to any and every question you can throw at them, perform every job on the team to an acceptable level in the absence of the primary, speak knowledgeably and eloquently to leadership about the team’s duties, objectives, and challenges, and, most importantly, recognize and acknowledge the limit of their own competence. This is the person that is simultaneously the team’s backup, mentor, and spokesperson.

As the world of IT has evolved into a more dynamic industry, the number of required skills and competencies are growing rapidly and, as a result, driving up the demand for people with these skills. The trouble that organizations are slowly becoming aware of is the Jack of All Trades is more of a personality type than a skillset. Cross-training team members is never a bad thing, but the results are usually not as fruitful as organizations would like because the individuals with the drive and desire to truly handle a bit of everything are usually already doing it all on their own. Basically: Jacks of All Trades are not trained; they’re born.

Any team that has someone that meets this description has undoubtedly felt their impact, but it’s vital that leadership recognizes their importance and invests in their development and retention. Teams that do not have a Jack of All Trades would do well for themselves to find one even if they don’t have a hole to fill in headcount; every member of the team will benefit, as will every customer that the team services. And if leadership is the reason that a team hasn’t been able to search for and hire a person whose role is to not have a specific role, then shame on them; they’re failing their team, their customers, and their organization by depriving them of one of the most valuable assets a team can have.

Phillip Everett | Sales Engineer
Loop1 

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