Lessons Learned in Building an ITSO Discipline

    By John Miecielica

    Ideal resource utilization could be said to be the balance that should be present between the CFO wanting to make sure we are fully utilizing the infrastructure they have paid for versus the CIO wanting to sleep at night and not deal with angry customers due to performance issues. In other words, ITSO is all about striking the right balance.

    This begins with reporting. The purpose of reporting, of course, is to provide information to stakeholders. The data can come from IT metrics, business metrics and service mapping, and can either be pushed as reports via email or set up in a central repository so that those wanting reports can take the data they need.

    Tip: I have found that the self-service mode is a better method to set up a repository for people to come in and get the reports and data they need. Otherwise, you end up consuming too much time manually preparing and sending out reports. This reporting methodology allows others closer to the application to participate in the process, is easier to manage than pushing reports, and frees up time for what matters – analysis. By making your data broadly available to more people, they help you look and can sometimes spot things you might overlook.

    But reporting is only one aspect. Performance management helps to minimize resource consumption as well as ensure availability and stability. It performs functions such as infrastructure performance testing, application performance testing, SWAT calls, trouble tickets and management escalation. This leads to infrastructure and application tuning recommendations aimed at stabilizing the environment.

    Tip: Once you start up new storage, networks and/or servers, test it thoroughly before putting on the application. Once the underlying infrastructure has passed, then conduct application testing on top of the infrastructure that works.

    Capacity Planning Goals

    The overall goal of capacity planning is to have zero un-forecast issues related to capacity. The way to get there is to utilize IT metrics, business metrics and cost metrics to answer key questions:

    What do you need
    When do you need it
    Why do you need it
    How long before it will be required

    Armed with that data, management can make informed investment decisions taking into account budget considerations.

    It is then up to the capacity planner to take the investment decision of management and figure out how they are going to address the capacity issues detected. For example, should they buy a new frame or add to an older one? Generally speaking, management will tend to provide better funding for heavy growth, high revenue, high profit areas whereas lower priority applications will often be forced to make do with little or no funding.

    The scope of ITSO encompasses physical servers (mainframe, Unix, Linux, Windows), virtual servers (VMware, Hyper-V, IBM LPARs, Oracle LDOMs), the network, storage, applications and the data center. It does this in an ever-evolving technology climate in which it has to keep pace. Despite rapid growth and application development, it has to continually identify workloads, consolidate them where feasible, prevent server sprawl, and continue to measure effectively within heavily virtualized and cloud-enabled environments.

    Steps to Establishing an ITSO Discipline

    Set the vision and overall mission. My advice here would be to not shoot too high to begin with. It is better to limit scope to gain trust. By picking some low hanging fruit and establishing some fast results, you will then find you have the support needed to advance some higher goals.

    A good first step then is to find out what kind of reports people really need and provide those to them. If you have done your homework correctly and identified reports that really add value to line of business managers, you will find your services more in demand.

    Another area where a fast gain can be achieved is in the budget planning process. If your data is of real help to management in determining what areas of IT to invest in, it will gain more respect from executives and consequently more funding.

    Tip: Probably the best place to start is performance management. It is a good way to keep what you do relevant every day as you are solving the very issues that impact the bottom line. In addition to starting small, I advise others to put time into finding an executive sponsor. Your efforts will have little impact until someone at a high level gets behind them. The key to convincing someone on the value of capacity management is to find out what drives him/her whether that might be organizational health, risk or improving efficiency.

    By finding early wins, you can add to your stable of champions by solving their various issues. Once you have a few wins under your belt, figure out how to make those wins scalable.

    Building a Team

    The most important element of any ITSO discipline is the team itself. Identify the roles/skills needed, some of which are primary core skills while others are more secondary.

    Core skills begin with in-depth experience of capacity management and performance management. These team members have to know applications, not just infrastructure. Further, they have to be knowledgeable in at least one OS (you need a complement of staff that gives you full coverage of all OSes in use in the organization), including architecture and engineering. In addition, you need people who have (or can develop) an analytic mindset and individuals with great communication skills. After all, you have to communicate to executives, IT managers, line of business heads and users.

    Secondary skill sets would include such things as software maintenance, facilities engineering and application engineering. Don’t be afraid to fill secondary roles from other teams.

    Even with all these skills in place, however, failure is inevitable if you don’t take the time to know your audiences and learn to speak each of their unique languages. The enterprise capacity planner speaks a different tongue from that of the application analyst, the application manager, the IT manager or the CxO. The application manager, for example, cares about apps and only wants to hear about things in his/her specific language. IT management talks a separate language entirely, anchored on business performance.

    And then there are the terms preferred by those operating at the C level. They take a much broader view of the enterprise grounded in the concepts of revenue and expense. Therefore you have to frame your conversation in those terms. For example, invest X in capacity to grow Y%. Alternatively, you can couch your arguments in terms of protecting revenue. It simply can’t just be about utilization or response times. Examples of things not to say include % Utilized, Stretch Factor, % Busy and Queue Length. These terms should be translated into the appropriate language of the group to which you are communicating. Tie everything back to something the audience will understand like the success of a project or maintaining service levels for a large new customer.

    Bad Ideas

    From my experience, here are a few items that didn’t work well in forming an ITSO discipline. It’s a bad idea to try to get the entire vision approved at once. Instead, pick off small parts and then add to it as you achieve success through your initial efforts. It’s also not smart to develop a separate performance management discipline (i.e. separate tactical from strategic). This leads to different interpretations of data and varying thresholds being set. You have to be on the same page as the rest of IT and the line of business managers to figure out how to centralize efforts around one set of data and find agreed upon thresholds that are shared.

    To expand that point, don’t separate ITSO into technology silos such as the server, storage, application and network teams who deal with their own spheres. While some pieces of the network can function separately, much of it is integral to application delivery and therefore cannot exist independently.


    Critical success factors for ITSO include staying relevant every day, developing as many champions as possible (you can never have too many) and initiating self-service reporting. Additionally, it is vital to automate as much as you possibly can, and to be prepared to readily share data, analysis and information. The end goal is to provide consistent and accurate ITSO management which impacts the bottom line on a daily basis. By achieving that purpose, your work will be embraced by IT, the business and the executive structure. This will enable you to expand your efforts throughout the enterprise and eventually establish a pervasive ITSO framework.


    John Miecielica, Director of Product Management, TeamQuest. He can be contacted at john.miecielica@teamquest.com.