The next BriefingsDirect performance management discussion uncovers how Redcentric PLC in the UK tackled a major network management project due to a business merger. We'll hear how Redcentric used an advanced configuration database approach to scale management of some 10,000 devices across two disparate companies and made them accessible as a single system.
To learn more about how two major networks became merged successfully using automation based on systems data, we're joined by Edward Jackson, Operational System Support Manager at Redcentric in Harrogate, UK. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tell us a little bit about your company and this merger. What two companies came together, and how did that prove to be a complicated matter when it comes to network management?
Jackson: The two companies coming together were InTechnology and Redcentric. Redcentric bought InTechnology in 2013. Effectively, they were reasonably separate in terms of their setup. Redcentric had three separate organizations, they had already acquired Maxima and Hot Chilli. And the requirement was to move their network devices and ITSM platform base onto the HP monitoring and ITSM platforms in InTechnology.
Itâs an ongoing process, but itâs well on the way and we've been pretty successful so far in doing that.
Gardner: And what kind of companies are these? Tell us about your organization, the business, rather than just the IT?
Jackson: We're a managed service providers (MSPs), voice, data, storage, networks, and cloud. You name it, and we pretty much deliver it and sell it as part of our managed portfolio..
Gardner: So being good at IT is not just good for you internally; it's really part and parcel of your business.
Jackson: It's critical. We have to deliver it and we have to manage it as well. So it's 100 percent critical to the business.
Gardner: Tell us how you go about something like this, Edward, when you have a big merger, when you have all these different, disparate devices that support networks. How do you tackle that? How do you start the process?
Jackson: The first phase is to look at the data and see what we've got and then start to do some data cleansing. We had to migrate data from three service desks to the InTechnology network, and to the InTechnology ITSM system. You need to look at all the service contracts. You need to also look at all the individual components that make up those contracts, and effectively all the configuration items (CIs), and then your looking at a rather large migration project.
Initially, we started to migrate the customer and the contact information. Then, slowly, we started to re-provision devices from the Redcentric side to the InTechnology Managed Services (IMS) network and load it into our HP management platforms.
We currently manage over 11,000 devices. They are from multiple types of vendors and technologies. InTechnology was pretty much a Cisco shop, whereas at Redcentric, we're looking at things like Palo Alto, Brocade, Citrix load balancers and other different types of solutions. So it's everything from session border controllers down to access points.
It was a relatively challenging time in terms of being able to look at the different types of technology and then be able to manage those. Also, we've automated incidents from Operations Manager to Service Manager and then notifying customers directly that there is a potential issue ontheir service. So it's been a rather large piece of work.
Gardner: Was there anything in hindsight that you did at InTechnology vis-Ã-vis the data about your network and devices that made this easier? Did Redcentric have that same benefit of that solid database, the configuration information? In doing this, what did you wish you had done, or someone else had done, better before that would have made it easier to accomplish?
Jackson: Unfortunately, the data on the Redcentric side of the business wasnât quite as clean as it was on the InTechnology side. It was held in lots of differnet sources, from network shared drives to Wiki pages. It all had to be collated. Redcentric had another three service desks. We had to extract all the data out of them as well. The service desks didnât really contain any CI information either. So we had to collate together the CI information along with the contacts and customers.
It was a rather mammoth task. Then, we had to load it into our CRM tool, which then has a direct connection automatically using Web Services and into Service Manager. So it initially creates organizations and contacts.
We had a template for our CIs. If they were a server CI or a network CI, it would be added to a spreadsheet, and would use HP Connect-IT to load into Service Manager. It basically automatically created CIs against the customer and the contacts that were already loaded by our CRM tool.
Gardner: Is there anything now moving forward as a combined company, or in the process of becoming increasingly combined, that these due diligence efforts around network management and configuration management will allow you to do?
Perhaps you're able to drive more services into your marketplace for your customers or make modernization moves towards perhaps software-defined networking or other trends that are afoot. So now that you are into this, you are doing your due diligence, how does that set you up to move forward?
Jackson: It opens up a new sphere of opportunity. We were pretty much a Cisco shop, but now we have obviously opened up to a lot more elements and technologies that we actively manage.
We have a lot of software-based type of firewalls and load balancers that we didnât previously have -- session border controllers, etc and voice products that we didnât deliver previously -- that we can deliver now due to the fact that we've opened up the network to be able to monitor and manage pretty much anything.
Gardner: Any words of advice for other organizations that may have been resisting making these moves. You were forced to do it across the board with the merger. Do you have any advice that you would offer in terms of doing network management and modernization sooner rather than later, other than the fact that people might just think good enough is good enough, or if it's not broken, donât fix it?
Jackson: When you're looking at a challenge like this, you have to make sure you do your due diligence first. Itâs down to planning, an "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail" kind of thing, and itâs very true.
You need to get all the information. You need to make sure that you normalize it and sanitize it before you load it. The clichÃ© is garbage in, garbage out, so thereâs no point in putting bad information into a system once again.
We have a good set of clean data now across the board. We literally have 150,000 CIs in our CMDB. So itâs not an insignificant CMDB by any stretch of the imagination. And we know that the data from the Redcentric side of the business is now clean and accurate.
Gardner: How about proving this to the business? For MSPs it might not be as critical, but for other enterprises, this might be a bit more of a challenge to translate these technical benefits into financial or economic benefits to their leadership. Any thoughts about metrics of success that you've been able to define that would fit into a return on investment (ROI) or more of an economic model? How do you translate network management proficiency into dollars and cents or pounds or euros?
Jackson: Itâs pretty difficult to quantify in a monetary sense. Probably the best way of quantifying the success of the project has been the actual level of support that customers have been given and the level of satisfaction that the customers now have. They're very, very happy with the level of support that we have now achieving due to Redcentrics ITSM and business service management (BSM) systems. I think, going forward, it will only increase the level of support that we can provide our customers.
As I said, It's quite difficult to quantify in a monetary sense. However, when churn rates are now as low as 4 percent, you can basically say that you're doing something good.
Fundamental to the business
In terms of things like the CIs themselves, the CI is fundamental to the business, because it describes the whole of the service, all the services that we offer our customers. If thatâs not right, then the support that we give the customer canât be right either.
You need to give the guys on support the kind of information they need to be able to support the service. Customer satisfaction is ever increasing in terms of what we are able to offer the migrated customers.
Gardner: How about feedback from your help desk, your support, and remediation of people. Do they find that with this data in place, with it cleansed, and with it complete that they're able to identify where problems exist perhaps better, faster, and easier. Do they recognize whether there is a network problem or a workload support problem, the whole help desk benefit. Anything to offer there?
Jackson: About 80 percent of the tickets raised in the organization are raised through our management platform, monitoring and performance capacity monitoring. We can pretty much identify within a couple of minutes where the network error is. This all translates into tickets being auto raised in our service management platform.
Additionally, within a few minutes of an outage or incident we can have an affected customer list prepared. We have fields that are defined in Service Manager CIâs that will actually give us information regarding what devices are affected and what they are connected to in terms of an end to end service.
We run a customer report against this, and it will give you a list of customers, a list of key contacts and primary contacts. You can convert this into an email. So for a network outage, within a few minutes we can email the customer, create an incident, create related interactions to that incident, and the customer is notified that there is an issue.
Gardner: Thatâs the sort of brand reinforcement and service quality that many organizations are seeking. So that's enviable, I'm sure.
Is there any products or updates that could make your job even easier going forward?
Jackson: We're looking at a couple of things. One of them is HP Propel, which is a piece of software that you can hook into pretty much anything you really want. For example, if you have a few disparate service desks, you can have a veneer over the top. They'll look all the same to the customers. They'll have like an identical GUI, but the technology behind it could be very different.
It gives you the ability then to hook into anything, such as HP Operations Orchestration, Service Manager, Knowledge Management, or even Smart Analytics, which is another area that we are quite keen on looking at. I think thatâs going to revolutionize the service desk. It would be very, very beneficial forRedcentric..
There are also things like data mining. This would be beneficial and also help the auto creation of knowledge articles going forward and giving remedial action to incidents and interactions.