The Internet of Things, Big Data and ITSM

Science fiction becoming science fact
Science fiction becoming science fact

I have noticed recently during my travels with EasyVista, that Hotel staff have begun to offer two or three WIFI codes on check-in, in recognition of the fact that we are all carrying multiple devices. Like sheep and rats, devices connected to the Internet outnumber humans.

The number of objects connected to the Internet actually surpassed humans back in 2008. According to Cisco 12.5 billion devices were connected in 2010 and they predict 25BN devices by 2015 and 50BN by 2020. Nowadays the average professional might be connected via their phone, tablet and PC. In a few years time you might also add their home thermostat, fridge, home media centre, home surveillance system, health monitoring system and so on.

The Internet of Things

This growing trend of everyday objects sending and receiving data over the Internet is known as the Internet of things or industrialized Internet.

Sensors can be embedded everywhere and programmed to either communicate with us, or communicate with each other.

Machine-to-Machine Communications (M2M)

RFID chips have led the way in devices communicating data about themselves – but this has been surpassed by the incredibly low cost and ease of access of simply providing devices with WIFI connectivity and management control with a cheap smart phone app.

In the absence of a usable WIFI connection, many devices can use a simple mobile phone SIM card to communicate with the wider world. M2M is a huge growth area for the mobile telecommunications industry, especially as connected devices are growing at a faster rate than humans and can provide significant strategic advantage to businesses that analyze and act on their activity.

Runbook Automation – If this, then that

Futurists have long predicted the fridge that can order it’s own food. But the Internet of Things is far from science fiction. Smart meters and apps on smart phones can already monitor and regulate heating in your home or remind you of tasks to be done based on location.

One of the most fascinating developments in the last couple of years is for devices and services to perform actions based on certain criteria. This is demonstrated perfectly via the free online service IFTTT (If this, then that). Simply connect your online services and use ‘recipes’ to automate tasks such as ‘Turn on the lights when I go into a room’. 16 years ago I travelled to Microsoft in Seattle. I had a meeting with Steve Ballmer, but while I was there, one of the execs showed me around ‘Microsoft house’. When you walked from the bedroom into the lounge, the building sensed nobody was in the bedroom, so the wall moved making the lounge bigger and the bedroom smaller. Perhaps a little too visionary, but it was clever.

It is only matter of time before these consumer-oriented services are standard in the enterprise; Zapier is an example of a corporate grade automation tool for joining together hundreds of different SaaS APIs. If the automation sounds too trivial for business consider that pharmaceuticals are building tablets that can signal when they’ve been swallowed or suitcases that can tell passengers their luggage has been loaded on the wrong flight.

Enterprise Automation

Early adopters for such automation are logistics companies using efficient freight routing or redirection based on real time congestion data to save fuel and time. Manufacturing plants are using sensors to adjust the position of component parts in the assembly process to improve efficiency and reduce errors.

The same logic can be applied to the delivery of IT Services:

  • Enterprise objects can have an online ‘information shadow’ similar to the additional reference material found on a Google map or an augmented reality. Printers have long been able to communicate their status over the network – this can be applied to all things a business owns.
  • Support can be provided in context. In an ideal world I only want to be reminded to buy batteries when I’m stood in the queue at the supermarket next to the batteries. The same filtering can be applied to support – for example knowledgebase information can be shown when customers are in a certain location, or using a certain process or device.
  • Devices can also create new knowledge or provide intelligent services. IBM’s Watson is already answering help desk calls.
  • Smart business equipment can report their own faults in real time, and use predictive analysis to prevent failures in the future.  Field service operations can be quicker and more efficient.

Automating a network of connected devices over the Internet is obviously not without risk. As with all IT Services, organizations need to be concerned with what happens with a system failure, or the ramifications of a vulnerability attack when business devices are automated and autonomous. Privacy of data and cultural shifts should also be considered, the UK retailer Tesco received complaints from packing staff for using armbands on staff to track worker productivity.

What this means for IT Service and support

What does this mean to those delivering and supporting IT services?

Ultimately businesses can harness data collected from the Internet of Things to provide better services and make better decisions based on real time data. All of these devices and online services create unprecedented volumes of data to analyze (known as Big Data). For IT Service Management professionals, new skills will be required to visualize these huge data sets, draw insights from the data exhaust and architect run book automation scenarios.

Traditionally IT support have used data from tickets or infrastructure to facilitate support – the great opportunity with the Internet of Things is to learn more about the users themselves and their behavior in order to provide exceptional support.

It also means that IT may just become BFF with marketing 😉

Review: Nexthink

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch If systems management monitoring takes care of servers, Nexthink presents you all you need to know about the end-user side of the coin.

Nexthink sits apart from the nuts and bolts of Service Management tooling, but offer guidance to analysts to help expedite resolution with real-time End-user IT Analytics, integrated into major ITSM tools to significantly reduce problem diagnosis times.

Strengths
  • Lightweight, non-invasive kernel-driven footprint on end-user targets helps define trouble spots in real time
  • Complements and integrates with existing IT Service Management deployments
Weaknesses
  • With so much technical capability, it needs a very strong balancing hand of strategy to get the best of a combination of this product, a service management suite, and server monitoring collaboration.
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Nexthink’s customer base ranges from Small (100 end users) to Very Large (250,000+)They are classified for this review as:Specialised tooling, requiring integration to ITSM.

Commercial Summary

Vendor Nexthink
Product Nexthink V4
Version reviewed V4.3
Date of version release February 19 2013
Year founded Founded in 2004.Turnover is not disclosed but 100% yearly growth. Today 2 million users’ licenses sold
Customers 400
Pricing Structure # IT users with perpetual or subscription license. On premise Enterprise product and Cloud/SaaS offering (Q2 2013)
Competitive Differentiators Nexthink provides unique real-time end-user IT analytics across the complete infrastructure.This perfectly complements existing performance monitoring systems to drive better ITSM initiatives; end-user IT analytics are used to:

  • 1) Diagnose and isolate problems in real-time for service desk to become more effective and responsive for higher customer satisfaction
  • 2) Continuously compute metrics and KPIs for proactive actions so IT operations can improve service quality for higher business agility and productivity
  • 3) Configuration and change management is fully under compliance control.
Additional Features Nexthink’s product does real-time discovery, dependency and relationship mapping, real-time activity monitoring, alerting and reporting on all object and data analytics available.

It doesn’t rely on any external product or data to function. However integration methods exist to enrich Nexthink data with external data sources (E.g. Active Directory, Event database, CMDB), to export Nexthink data/analytics to other tools to create end-to-end correlated views/results (CMDB, ITSM, Security Events Management).See an example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSstzl_KMdc

Independent Review

Credit should be given to Nexthink for putting themselves up against “traditional” ITSM Vendors, as their product does not do traditional Incident Management and Problem Management.

What it can do, however, is significantly shorten the amount of time it takes to resolve an incident and/or problem, by showing end user data in real time.

Nexthink have established major partners and product integrators with companies like BMC, HP and ServiceNow and provide a button on their ITSM consoles to allow analysts to view the data when required.

It almost presents itself as the super-hero of incident and problem diagnosis.

But following that super-hero position for just a moment, it is easy to get carried away with the technical potential of a shiny mapping, real-time toy.

It is much more than that, and it needs a sharp strategic mind to position it – remembering the key drivers of any ITSM related deployment.

The potential to drive down incident resolution time, and more importantly problem root cause analysis time makes it a compelling accompanying tool alongside an ITSM tool, to achieve tangible business efficiency benefits.

Widening the scope to look at the effects of IT Transition projects, and again the potential business benefits of understanding what specifications end user machines need to be to ensure speedier access to services, for example, could reap significant rewards.

Systems Monitoring vs. Real Time End User Monitoring

Nexthink acknowledge that infrastructure monitoring is an established discipline.

There are all manner of event and systems management tools that can also integrate into service management tools to present an organisation with enterprise level management.

What Nexthink do is focus on the end user perspective.

A kernel driver that is deployed out to end user machines, and loads into memory on boot-up.

Real-time data is then loaded up to a central server which can then be interrogated as and when required.

Incident & Problems Scope

Forrester research has shown that 80% of the time during the lifecycle of an incident is spent trying to isolate the problem itself.

Source: Forrester (http://apmdigest.com/5-it-operations-challenges-%E2%80%93-and-1-main-cause)

Nexthink offer a way of shortening that timeframe, mapping out relationships between failing components to see where the problem has occurred.

For example, a user may ring with a general issue of a slow response time.

Ordinarily, a support analyst would then have to drill down through applications, servers, configuration mapping to see what may be affected and how.

Nexthink can demonstrate where the issue lies and could isolate the failing link in the chain a lot more rapidly.

Nexthink’s own interface can even be used to directly query the user’s asset to assist with the diagnosis.

The information gathered can also be used to supplement the CMDB in the ITSM tool.

All this could then be used to drive more accurate logging and categorisation, and linking to any subsequent processes to resolve the situation.

The knock-on benefit is improved resolution times, potential workarounds and knowledge-base material, not to mention improved reporting.

When Nexthink is integrated with an ITSM tool, the support analysts will work off the ITSM console, but they will have a Nexthink button to be able to access the real-time analytics data.

Looking in the context of incidents and problems, whether major or otherwise, the ability to have multiple teams looking at the related end user data in terms of applications and services is invaluable.

Conclusion

There is a lot to appeal to the technical heart, looking at the depth of analytical data possible.

Key points to remember though – it takes everything from the end user point of view, and is not geared to sit on servers themselves to do that level of monitoring.

Taking just Incident and Problem Management, it is easy to see how the investigation can be shortened as an incident call comes in.

But looking at Problem, it can take proactive root cause analysis to another level.

If that is then combined with ITSM tools and their own abilities to manage multiple records (in the case of Major Incidents or Problems) then it is a powerfully complementary part of a company’s overall ITSM strategy.

Nexthink Customers

Screenshots

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

In Their Own Words:

Nexthink provides unique real-time end-user IT analytics across the complete infrastructure. This perfectly complements existing application performance monitoring systems to drive better ITSM initiatives.

End-user IT analytics are the path to better IT quality, security and great efficiency and cost savings.

Nexthink provides IT organizations with a real-time view of the IT activity and interaction across the complete enterprise, from the end-user perspective. This unique visibility and analytics give IT the capability to truly evaluate and understand how organizations are performing and rapidly diagnose problems or identify security risks. Nexthink uniquely collects in real time millions of events and their respective dependencies and relationship to IT services from all users, all their applications, all their devices, all workloads, and all network connections patterns (server accessed, ports, response time, duration, failure, timeouts, etc.).

Nexthink helps IT connect, communicate and collaborate to achieve their major initiatives and improve their business end-user’s IT experience. Nexthink is complimentary hence integrates well with traditional application performance management (network and server), help desk, operations management, and security tools and eases ITIL change and release management processes.

Further Information

Group Test Index

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.