March 19, 2008

IT managers can turn to peers at CMG for solutions

Author: Lisa Hoover

Making changes to your existing infrastructure is fraught with decisions. What's the best way to consolidate servers? How can we better manage the resources we have? How will the changes we're planning impact service and performance? Sandbox environments only provide theoretical information. Vendor solutions can number into the dozens, so it's easy to get overwhelmed. The Computer Measurement Group (CMG) understands that, so for more than 30 years it has been amassing a huge database of knowledge so you can learn from the successes -- and failures -- of others.

Dr. Michael Salsburg is the director of the nonprofit organization whose membership tops 1,000 IT professionals worldwide. While they come from a variety of industries, all the members have one overriding goal: to help guide peers making decisions about capacity management and system performance.

"Our goal is to have a community of people who other IT people can go to, and who have a knowledge of how to manage infrastructures in a service-oriented fashion," Salsburg says.

CMG was formed in 1975, and while technology has certainly changed since then, the group's goal hasn't. "Nowadays, computing is distributed over several different computers and servers and continents, but it's still the basic idea of being able to measure, analyze, and predict service levels. We want to be the community that people will come to to get information."

That information typically comes to members in two forms: papers written by other members, and an annual conference. Salsburg says CMG members typically contribute upwards of 100 papers a year, which means a huge database of information is available. "With CMG, you can go and find papers about real user experiences," he says. "It's invaluable to see how people have done what you're thinking about, to see what their rules of thumb are, what failed, what worked -- everything."

What if there isn't a paper covering your particular issue? "If they don't see a paper, then maybe they're off in a new territory and we're hoping that they'll write a paper," he says. "But sometimes you can find an author that's written something similar and you can contact that author directly. People are always happy to talk and give their ideas."

As someone who has contributed papers to CMG, Salsburg says he understands the commitment involved in volunteering to submit one the group. "It's a lot of work, I know. And it's essentially work you're expected to do on your own time, since most companies won't pay for it. Also, you're putting yourself out there for the peer group referring process, which can be quite humbling."

Conferences and networking

Salsburg is quick to credit CMG's volunteers as being at the heart of the group. He notes that it's their effort that makes the group's annual conference such a success each year. "It's a big job. By the time we get there in December, we're exhausted."

The conference moves to different venues each year and will be held in Las Vegas this December. "Turnout is usually around 700 people, and there's also lots of vendor interest. People can go to talks, then go right out and talk to vendors. It's really a one-stop conference for many people."

There are a number of educational tracks as well, including topics such as forecasting and modeling, measuring, and analysis. Salsburg says the vendor-hosted training is also a big draw at the conference.

Conference Chair Jaqui Lynch says the conferences are a great way for her to learn about the latest industry tools and techniques. She notes that while the conference is a great networking opportunity, just being a part of CMG helps her connect with other IT professionals like herself.

"The people I have met through CMG are wonderful, and they are always willing to answer questions or help a fellow CMGer when they can," Lynch says. "Nowhere else do I find such a wide range of knowledge in the areas of systems management, performance, and capacity across platforms. I have also learned a great deal about the right way to approach server consolidation projects from things I have learned at CMG."

Veteran CMG member Martin Brake agrees. A member since 1982 and the current assistant conference chair, Brake credits the group as being instrumental in the success of his career. "CMG has been my primary source of education in the field of performance and capacity planning for the past 25 years. The knowledge I have gained from CMG conferences has been instrumental in my career growth and has directly contributed to the success of many of the projects I have architected for my clients over the years. These projects have included migrations from mainframe to distributed solutions, WebSphere application performance reporting across the enterprise, and architecting solutions for Java application virtualization and the reduction of the total cost of ownership for business application owners."

In a field that's so highly competitive, it would be easy to understand if people's egos occasionally got in the way of providing good advice to each other, yet Brake hasn't found that to be the case. "The biggest impact that CMG has had on me professionally is the friendships and business relationships that I have been fortunate to establish over the years.

"No matter how diligent anyone pursues knowledge it is not possible to know every aspect of every piece of the architecture across the enterprise. It became clear to me that the complexity of networks, multiple operating systems (mainframe and distributed), middleware, and a variety of database and storage solutions could best be solutioned by a team, and that is what I have with CMG; a team of fellow CMG members who have a vast array of expertise. Through the use of their knowledge I can provide a solution that is not only timely, but has been validated by the experience of that fellowship of subject matter experts."

Like Lynch, Brake points to networking as a compelling reason to be a member of CMG, particularly IT shops running Linux. "As Linux has become a more acceptable OS platform for business critical applications, your business is likely to explore that solution as well, if they aren't already doing it. Capacity planners and performance specialists have been dealing with the issues of open source along with server consolidation and virtualization, so why not take advantage of their experiences and learn the challenges and solutions from individuals who have already been down that path?"

Salsburg says that even companies that aren't looking to make major changes to infrastructure can benefit from CMG's expertise by helping bridge the gap between IT staff and other parts of the company. He says that between differing vocabularies and a lack of understanding about technology, IT departments sometimes have difficulty communicating about what the business side of a company wants versus what the IT staff can provide.

"The rest of the business doesn't want to know how a watch works, they just want to know what time it is," he says. "The way to really manage expectations from the rest of the business is to very clearly identify what services IT is delivering to the business. This is core CMG stuff. It's where we can help."

Salsburg says he has also seen an uptick recently in CIOs looking for information about "green IT" and virtualization solutions. "There's a movement now toward [both concepts] and CIOs are being driven to look at them. There is just no way you can take all these servers and consolidate them into a virtualized environment without the kinds of information that CMG provides for capacity planning, combining workloads, and so on. That is also core CMG expertise. The same for green IT -- capacity planning and consolidation. Any CIO who is considering consolidation needs the tools and techniques that we have."

What's the number one question CMG members wants answers for? "People new to performance and capacity management who want to know how to get started. CMG is where people learn the fundamentals and get the training."

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