IT must do whatever it takes to make businesses lean, agile, and intelligent. Modern support services then too need to be able to empower the workers and IT personnel alike to maintain peak control of systems, and to keep the applications, data and processes performing reliably at lowest cost.
Not only are data centers supporting many types of converged infrastructure, and now increasingly virtualized technical workloads, too. They’re supporting big data requirements — as data continues to explode — but they must do this all efficiently, with increased automation as a key component of that efficiency.
To accomplish this high efficiency and to exploit the best in performance management and operational governance, enterprises must move now toward proactive types of support — to continue the ongoing improvement and to maintain systems with high expectations met.
In a special sponsored HP Expert Chat discussion on new approaches to data center support, remote support, and support automation, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, recently moderated an in-depth session with Tommaso Esmanech, Director of Automation Strategies at HP Technology Services.
Esmanech, with more than 16 years of HP IT support design experience, explained the latest on how HP is revolutionizing support to offer new innovations in support automation and efficiency. HP is redefining modern data-center support, enabling far more insights into performance and operation by placing a proactive edge on service and support capabilities.
The discussion was filled out by contributions from two other HP support experts, Andy Claiborne, Usability Lead for HP Insight Remote Support, and Paddy Medley, Director of Enterprise Business IT for HP Technology Services.
Here are some excerpts:
Esmanech: Our intent is to automate entire support processes, eliminate minor work, and improve production and activities for the entire enterprise. This involves finding solutions for software and hardware, and making hardware and software work seamlessly together by providing a best-in-class customer experience.
What we need to understand is that the world is changing. Customers are using devices that now are providing a new, innovative experience. Their front end is becoming easier. Customers demand integrated capabilities and are requesting a seamless experience, though the back end, the data center, is still complex, articulated, and provided by multiple vendors.
You have network storage and management software that needs to start working together. We began a the journey about 18 months ago in HP to make that change, and we’ve called it Converged Infrastructure. HP took on the journey, mostly because we’re the only provider in the industry that provides all the components to make the data center run seamlessly. We’re the only provider for data-center network solutions, storage, servers, and management software.
Let’s put this in context of support automation. When you have hardware and software working together and you’re supplying services within that chemistry, you achieve a powerful position for customers. Furthermore, if you’re able to automate the entire support and service process, you provide a win-win situation for you, our customers, our HP partners, and for HP, of course.
Support used to be very manual. A lot of the activities used to reside on site where a very qualified workforce, customer engineers and system engineers, would interact to resolve and manage situations.
In the early ’90s, we saw a change with infrastructure support moving from decentralized to centralized global and regional centers, moving routine activities into those centers and providing a new role for the customer engineers by focusing on value-added infrastructure and capabilities.
In the ’90s, we saw the explosion of the Internet. The basic task was to move to the Web sales, service, our system knowledge base, chat, support cases and case management. A lot of these activities were still manual, relying on human factor activities, to determine the root cause of a problem.
In 2000, we saw more growth of machine-to-machine diagnostics. Now, imagine that we can completely revolutionize that experience. We can integrate the entire delivery support processes, leveraging the machine experience, incorporating that with customer options of all the information with the customer in control, and really blending a remote support, onsite, phone, Web and machine-to-machine into a new automated experience. We believe that unimaginable efficiency can be achieved.
Gardner: As we talk about support automation, how is this actually reaching the customer? How do these technologies get into the sites where they’re needed, and what are some of the proof points that this is making an impact?
We have basically embedded more support capabilities into the DNA. We call it Insight Online. As of December 2012, we will be able to support in a similar fashion the existing installed base. This provides the customer a truly one-stop-shop experience for the entire IT data center.
Now that it is easier to utilize and take advantage of an automated support infrastructure, what are the key points? You don’t have to make, or necessarily have to make, a phone call. You don’t have to wait for a document provide a description. All those activities are automated, because the machine tells us how it’s feeling and what is its health status.
Furthermore, if we compare our support infrastructure to standard human interaction and technical support, we’ve seen a 66 percent improvement in problem resolution. All these numbers are great for your business.
How much does it cost in downtime? What if your individual servers are impacting your factory? For us, it’s about keeping your systems up and running, making sure that you meet the customer commitments, and delivering your products on time.
With Insight Online, accessible through the Web, we now provide secure, personalized anytime/anywhere access to the information. We’re totally changing the dynamics from few who had access to those who need to have access to the information. That reduces high learning times that were necessary before, and moves to the user-friendly, innovative, and integrated content that our customers are requesting.
Furthermore, Insight Online is integrated in real-time with a back end. It’s not just a report or dashboard of information that is routinely updated. It truly becomes a management tool, when you can view the infrastructure.
One of the other key aspects with Insight Online, this new Web experience, is that we didn’t want to create a new portal. We had made a conscious decision in integrating it with the existing capabilities that you’re using to do basic support tasks like accessing a knowledge base, downloading drivers and patches, downloading documentation, and making the infrastructure run seamlessly. The access to the information has to be seamless.
We’ve also leveraged HP Passport, the identification methodology that you use within your HP experience, providing one infrastructure and not multiple access points.
Gardner: Tommaso, can you give us a bit more detail about how it all comes together, the server management and the support experience?
Esmanech: It starts with the connectivity on the customer side. We have a new Gen8 with embedded DNA that directly connects to the HP back end through Insight Remote Support. Through Insight Remote Support, we’re able to collect information and provide alerts about events, warranty, case-management status, and collect all the information necessary for us to deliver on the customer commitments.
In this new version, we’ve embedded new functions. For example, we allow you to provide identification on the HP service partner that is working on managing your environment. It could be HP, or it could be a certified HP service partner. We have authentication through HP Passport that allows and permits access to the information on Insight Online. Last but not least, we’ve been able to achieve a faster installation process, eliminating a lot of those hurdles that made it more difficult. It’s now significantly easier to adopt Insight Online.
What’s important to recognize is that as we collected the bulk of knowledge and information on how these patches are performing, Insight Remote Support does role matching and event correlation.
It not only provides, as we say, traffic-light alerts. You’re able to correlate an event with other events to propose a multipurpose action and, in the end, trigger the appropriate delivery and support processes. For example, we can automatically send the right part to you in case you need to manage the device. We link with the standard support processes.
When information is flowing from the customer side into HP support, they have access to the customer in Insight Online. We have access to a customer through our dashboard. This provides alerts and information about how the devices are performing and automatically links warranties. It informs the staff of when they’re going to expire, so you can take more proactive actions about renewing it. They also automatically link support cases to events, and with one click, you can navigate to the website.
One new feature of Insight Online is access for our HP partners. I talked about having to identify a partner that is actually working on the device? What we have is now a new partner view, again, through HP servers and Insight Online. This uses a new tab called My Customers, and now others can be part of the entire interaction by being able to manage devices on behalf of the customer.
You don’t have to install any of your own software. You don’t have to develop it. We are providing the tools to be more productive, right from the start, by installing the HP server, HP infrastructure, data network storage, and giving you new tools to give you more efficiency.
HP Support Center with Insight Online also provides access to multiple users. You could be an account manager, managing infrastructure, who is going to meet the customer and you want to talk about that infrastructure, how it’s performing. You log onto Insight Online and review the information.
Your HP partner can automatically view the information before even going on site and taking actions on a customer device. You will have everything accessible. If users complain that the infrastructure is not performing, you will view the management software and know what is actually going on.
You can actually gain that without having to be in the environment. It is kind of giving the life back, that is the way I would like you to see. Now, let’s also look at this in terms of security. You have information flowing from your data center back into HP and now accessible online.
Security and privacy
Gardner: Tommaso, one of the things I hear quite a bit from folks is that they’re trying to understand how this all works in a fairly complex environment, with many people involved with support. There are individuals working on the customer IT infrastructure internally, self-maintainers as well.
But they’re also relying on partners, and there are other vendors across other devices and equipment and technologies involved. So how does the support automation capability that you have been describing address and manage a fairly fragmented support environment like that?
Esmanech: It is indeed one of the questions we asked ourselves, when we started looking at how do we solve today’s problem? How do we give something more than just management software? It’s all about the users that need to access the information.
As I said before, access through a management console is limited to the few that can have access to that environment, because they’re within the network or they have the knowledge how to use the tools. With the new experience, by providing cloud-based service in support automation, we’re able to provide tools to the customer to enable access to the right people to do the right job.
HP shares devices or views devices or groups of devices with multiple users through the Web-based capabilities that we have with Insight Online. The customers then create groups. Also all customers manage. So you’re in control of setting up those groups, saying who has the right to view the information and what he is able to do with such information.
Another important aspect is the security when employees move on. It’s part of life. You have somebody working for you, and tomorrow he’s going to move to another organization. You don’t want that individual to have access to your information any longer. So we’ve given the ability to control who is accessing information and eventually removing the user’s right to go into HP Support Center Insight Online and see your environment. So it’s not only providing access, but also controlling access.
Let me take another look how things are changing. We have this easy-to-adopt Insight Remote Support. You have this new access methodology and you have all this knowledge, information, and content flowing from the customer environment into the hands of the right people to keep the system up and running.
If you are under warranty, which is the minimal requirement to take advantage of this infrastructure, you still have a self-solve capability. You have to figure out what you have to do in some cases. While there’s information provided, it’s still up to you.
We’ve created a new portfolio of services that is taking advantage of this new knowledge and infrastructure to provide new value to the customer.
On the technology side, we need to look at proactive care service. First of all, a technical account manager is assigned as a single point of contact for the software. Several components and reports are sent or made available to the customer. Incorporated incident reports are reviewed with a technical account manager.
This allows them to decide configuration, performance, and security, match it against best practices. It allows them to understand what is the current version of software to keep the infrastructure up and running at the optimal level.
I want to close with few takeaways. First of all, products and services have come together to provide an innovative and exciting user experience, helping to guarantee a 24×7 coverage, and providing access to anywhere/anytime cloud-based and secure support, while managing who can receive such information.
We’ve embedded this also with a new portfolio to take advantage of old HP expertise and knowhow. Now, partners, customers, and HP experts work together to dramatically increase uptime and achieve efficiency at 66 percent.
Medley: The good news is, Dana, is that what we’re trying to do with the solution here is to make it as pervasive as possible and to eliminate licensing issues. HP SIM is essentially a product attribute. Once a customer purchases a storage server from HP or they’ve got such device that’s under service contracts, they are actually entitled to HP SIM by default.
With iLO, iLO really comes in two formats, the standard format and advanced format. The standard format is effectively free, and the advanced format is for fee. The advanced format has additional facilities, such as supporting virtual media, directory support, and so on.
Gardner: We have a question here directed at Insight Remote Support. It’s about the software. They’re asking, is it included, and is it difficult to install?
Medley: The preface of the first answer applies to this answer as well. What we’ve done with our overall solution is make it as easy to install as possible for the huge amount of human factor effort in behind that. At its most basic level, what’s required is Insight Remote Support software, and that needs to be installed on a Windows-based system or a VMware guest or Windows guest. That’s pretty pervasive.
The actual install process is pretty straightforward and very intuitive. As I said, it’s an area where we’ve gone through extensive human factors to make that as easy as possible to install.
The other part of that is if the customer has Insight Manager already installed, they’ll actually inherit its features, and there is an integration point there. For instance, if Insight Manager has already discovered a number of devices on the customer’s environments, we’ll inherit those with Insight Remote Support, and for pertinent events occurring in those systems, we’ll try to trace them through Insight Manager into Insight Remote Support and back to HP.
Gardner: Andy Claiborne, as users are working to modernize their infrastructure and virtualize their environment, they’d like to implement support automation like Insight Remote Support, but they feel the cost is too high. What does it cost to implement this?
Claiborne: Previous versions of Insight Remote Support were very challenging to get installed, especially at large customer sites. Trying to address that has been one of the key features that we’ve been trying to bake into our latest release of our support automation tools.
If you have just a couple of Gen8 ProLiants that you want to deploy in your environment and support using our support automation solutions, those systems are able to connect directly to HP, and that capability is just baked into their firmware. So it’s really straightforward to set those up.
If you have a bunch of legacy devices in your environment, you’d have to set up what we call a hosting device, which is one system that sits in your environment that listens to all of your devices and sends service events back to HP. For our latest release, we’ve dramatically reduced the amount of time that it takes to set up, install, and configure the hosting device and implement remote support in your environment.
In the labs, we have cases that used to take our expert testers 45 minutes to get through. Our testers can now get through them in five minutes. So it should be a dramatic improvement, and it should be relatively easy.
Gardner: Here’s a related question … How soon can we recover the upfront cost of implementing HP support automation? I think this is really getting to the return-on-investment (ROI) equation.
Claiborne: We look at two aspects. What does it cost to deploy it, and what benefit do you get from having remote support? As we said, the cost is greatly reduced from previous releases.
The benefit, as Tommaso mentioned, is in looking at our case resolution data across thousands of cases that have been opened, we see a 66 percent reduction in problem resolution time. When you think about just how incredibly expensive it is if one of your critical system goes down and how much that costs every second that that system is down, the benefits can be huge. So the payoff should be pretty quick.
Gardner: Tommaso, a user asks, Why is Insight Remote Support mandatory for proactive care?
Esmanech: If you think about the amount of data that we need to collect to deliver against the proactive care, if we were to all do that activity manually, that would definitely make the value proposition of proactive care through event and revision management, almost impossible to manage or to adapt as a value proposition. So we separate those. Through the entire support processes and collection of the data, we’re able to provide a price quantity that is very interesting and a great value proposition for our customers.
A customer can choose as a part of our portfolio, foundation care, but of course, the price point and the value it will provide is going to be different.
Gardner: Here is a question that gets to the heart of the issue about your getting data from inside of other people’s systems. They ask, our company has very strict security requirements. How does HP ensure the security of this data?
Esmanech: That is really one of the most-asked questions. After we start talking with the security experts at the customer sites, we’re able to solve all the problems.
Our security is multilayer. It starts with information collected at the customer site. First of all, the customer has visibility into everything that we collect. When we collect it and transfer it to HP’s back end, all that information is encrypted. When we talk about providing access on Insight Online through the Web, the access goes through HTTPS, so it’s encrypted access of information.
For a password, for example, a minimum set of characters is required for an alphanumeric password. Also, the customer has knowledge and information about who is accessing his and viewing his devices. Last but not least, we have certified our environment end-to-end for eTrust, which is one of the most important certifications of security for these type of services in infrastructure.
Gardner: A user asks, Do I need a dedicated server to run Insight Remote Support?
Claiborne: If you’re running Insight Remote Support, you have this hosting device in your environment that listens to events from all of your devices in the environment. That doesn’t need to be a dedicated server and it doesn’t need to be running on HP hardware either. You can run that on any computer that meets the minimum system requirements, and you can even run that on a VMware box.
We end up doing a lot of our testing in the lab in VMware systems, and we’ve realized that a lot of you out there are probably implementing VMware systems in your customer environments. So VMware is supported as well.
The one thing to remember, though, is that this box is the conduit for service events from your environment to HP. So you need to make sure that the box is available and turned on and that it’s not a box that’s going to be accidentally powered off over the weekend or something like that.
Gardner: What is the difference between Insight Online and Insight Remote Support?
Esmanech: That’s come up before. The easy way to describe these is that Insight Online is the Web access of Insight Remote Support. It’s part of the entire support of the information ecosystem. While we do recognize that Insight Remote Support has a management console, where you can view events and view the devices, that’s limited to access within the environment, within the VPN, and only to the few people that know how to manage the environment.
You also have to recognize that Insight Remote Support goes beyond just a management console. It has event correlation and it collects all the data. As Andy said, it’s a conduit back to HP. The conduit back to HP leads to Insight Online. The way it is now, there are two systems, and they’re part of the same ecosystem.
Gardner: Tommaso, you mentioned self-solve services. What are those, and what did you mean?
Esmanech: The term self-solve we define as those activities and capabilities for which a customer can find a solution of the problem by himself. For example, if you were going on a website for support, you’re accessing that knowledge base, finding articles and information on how to troubleshoot or solutions to the problem. If you were just loading drivers, it’d be component of self-solve.
By themselves, they’re not services that we sell, but they’re part of our services support portfolio. It’s about doing business.
Some of the self-solve capabilities may be available to customers with contracts, versus customers who have a warranty, or or don’t even have an HP device, but we give the customer the ability to solve problems by themselves.
Gardner: Next one to you, Paddy. This is sort of a big question. They are asking, can you predict HP support automation’s future direction for the next 10 years? Can you look at your crystal ball and tell us what people should expect in terms of some of the capabilities to come?
Medley: We’re seeing a number of trends in the industry. We talked earlier about the converged infrastructure of storage, servers, and networks into single tabs and converged management of that environment.
We’re seeing a move to virtualization. Storage is continuing to grow at a pervasive rate, and hardware continues to become more and more reliable. So when you look at that backdrop, the future is different from the past, in terms of service and service need. We’re seeing this greater need for interoperability, management, revision, configuration management, and for areas like performance and security.
In other words, we’re also seeing a move to greater needs that are proactive, as well as reactive, service support. The beauty of the Insight Online solution is that it provides us a framework to go along that path. It provides us the basic framework to provide remote event monitoring or reactive monitoring in the case of subsequent events occurring, and then getting those events back to HP, but also to deliver proactive service.
What we’re doing with the solution here is that, as we collect configuration and event information from customer environments, that configuration and event information is securely transported back to HP. Parts are loaded into a database against a defined data model.
We’re bringing convergence of all the reference data associated with the products that we support and then providing a set of analytics that analyze that collected data against that reference data, producing recommendations and actions and events management. In fact, aggregation and that ability to do that in that aggregated back end, that’s really providing us, we see, with a key differentiator.
And then, all of that information is presented through the Insight Online portal, along with our knowledge bases, forums, and other reference data. So it’s that whole aggregation that’s really the sweet spot with this overall solution.
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