Several years ago, after playing a pickup game of basketball, I felt some discomfort around my right shoulder. Six days after my basketball game, the discomfort I was feeling in my shoulder escalated to the point where it hurt to breathe. At this point, it was time to go to the emergency room. Once I arrived, there was a sense of urgency coming from the emergency room staff as they hooked me up to an EKG.

Within minutes, it was determined my heart was fine so I was sent for a chest X-ray. Shortly after the X-ray, they performed an MRI on my chest. Finally, I was given the news; I had pneumonia with pleurisy. I had fluid in my right lung. As a result, I spent a week in the hospital and I was treated accordingly. Without X-ray and MRI technology, things could have gone really bad for me.

Recently I evaluated a fascinating technology; IT Operations Analytics (ITOA). The best way I can explain ITOA is to compare it to an X-ray or MRI. It is a technology that will give you a deep look inside the inner workings of your network. ITOA uses pattern discovery techniques that will help identify issues on your network that you would not otherwise identify. Much like an X-ray or MRI, you will have a deep visual view of your network that will help quickly identify problem areas. It also may help you see potential problems occurring on your network before they become evident.

After installing this technology on 1,000 devices, we immediately noticed several issues. For example, we looked at applications crashes across the network.

We also looked at ‘applications crashes by device’ and compared that data to the ‘top application crashes’ information.

As we continued to navigate through the different modules in the console, it was apparent the information we were looking at was extremely valuable. Although we only had 3 days’ worth of historical data, we were able to cross reference data and make some preliminary assumptions of problems affecting the entire network. ITOA vendors caution against making such assumptions, so we contained our excitement, but make no mistake; we were ITOA’s newest converts.

We were excited because IE9 crashing just once on one PC would probably go unnoticed by IT services. IE9 crashing on one device numerous times could still potentially be missed, unless the end-user opened a support incident with the IT department. IE9 crashing several hundred times on 50% of your devices would certainly be a problem in the eyes of IT support. ITIL Service Desk systems are designed to recognize multiple incidents with the same issue as a ‘problem’.  However, ITIL Service Desk systems are reliant on the end users to open the incident, which is how IT support usually becomes aware of a problem.

By adding ITOA technology to an ITIL service desk solution, we noticed how we could see the problems in real time. We saw the potential of identifying issues before the users even experienced a problem. We could see the vision of how this would allow us to proactively post issues to the support desk notice boards so that we could focus on a resolution.

We imagined how we would be able to help so many end-users who suffer in silence. Those who accept lagging performance as the norm. Those who simply learn to deal with an application suddenly freezing once or twice a day, sometimes causing loss of productivity. Most likely angering the end user, making it unpleasant for their co-workers who are sitting nearby. We could see how using this type of technology could make people happy and nice again…maybe I am a little too excited, but as I said; we saw the hopes and dreams that could come from using ITOA technology.

We were able to see how we could use this type of technology to ‘rule out’ problems. When I went to the emergency room, an EKG ruled out a heart attack. Once that was ruled out, the medical staff focused on something else.

Never underestimate the power of ‘ruling out’ something while troubleshooting network problems.

The ITOA product we used in our evaluation also had a security module. In the short time we had to collect data from the network, we picked up web traffic to and from specific countries.

After looking at this data, we notified the security team who are now investigating. ITOA solutions allow you to raise alerts and send them to your ITSM solution so that the appropriate team is assigned to investigate suspicious activity. Furthermore, ITOA solutions can enhance the security posture on your network by analyzing and reporting suspicious activity coming from end-user devices.

As we continued our journey through the console, we were able to see devices with potential hard drive problems, devices that had hard resets, devices with application crashes, and devices with less than 3 GB of space available.

We were also able to go back in time by looking at the historical data to see when devices were added to the ‘Devices with Problems’ list. For example, we noticed out of the 29 devices that had a potential HDD failure, 2 were added within the last 24 hours. We went deeper into the findings and we could see the model, the user, and all the information about the device that our ITAM Asset Management system had collected. We learned that all the devices were still under warrantee.

Pattern Discovery Methods

Pattern Discovery Methods used by ITOA solutions include rapid rule-based analysis of wire data, hypothesizing of specific probability distributions to explain the occurrence of application and infrastructure performance statistics, discovery and analysis of system topologies, keyword search and string analysis of polystructured text/log files, and slicing and dicing of data organized in high-dimensional cubes.

Gartner stated in Seven Errors to Avoid That Undermine IT Operations Analytics…“applying many different pattern discovery techniques to the same dataset will yield better results than applying one or two. Hence, it is advisable to favor solutions that offer a broad range of techniques and, with regard to one's own practice, better results will usually be obtained by looking at a given dataset thorough the lenses of multiple pattern discovery mechanisms.”

As I spent time looking at how industry analysts view the ITOA technology space, it was evident the amount of data collected by this type of technology would be enormous. According to most analysts, the level of skill that will be required to provide accurate analytics will be that of a data scientist.

For companies planning to implement ITOA technology, Gartner stated in a gated report:

“Plan to Add Data Scientists to Your IT Operations Staff over the Next Two Years at Normal IT Operations Professional Remuneration Levels”

Gartner also noted in their report titled Two Distinct ITOA Submarkets Provide Different Benefits to Enterprisesthat in 2013, one out of every 5,000 master's-level degrees was awarded for studies related to data science; however, by 2015, that ratio is likely to rise to 10 out of every 5,000.–yetanother indication of how this IT marketspace is becoming main stream. Data scientist’s compensation will soon align with that of IT professionals.


I strongly believe it is time for larger companies to start looking at ITOA technology as a part of their ITAM and ITSM solutions. The ROI will be apparent very quickly to companies that evaluate these technologies. However, it is important to hire people that can interpret the data so you can maximize the return on your investment. Finally, make sure the solution you choose will integrate into your ITAM and ITSM solutions.

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