What’s the difference between data and information?

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Many monitoring systems collect lots of data on IT objects, tracking their status, their capacity, their utilisation, their response times in minute detail, potentially every second of the day and night.  But what use is this data?  Too many monitoring solutions end at data capture, leaving systems administrators and technical delivery managers in the dark with a whole lot of analysis to do.

What we need is information

Data itself doesn’t enhance understanding or enable any decision making internally or by customers.  By putting that data into context, it is possible for monitoring solutions to do much more, by transforming it into meaningful and actionable information.

What meaning are you looking for?  Status? Utilisation? Capacity? Response time? Performance?

Or maybe the meaning you’re looking for would be more like this:

  • If I’m a sys admin – what do I need to address as a priority?
  • If I’m an account manager – are any of my customers experiencing problems?
  • If I’m a Technical Delivery Manager – have we hit our customers’ SLAs this month?

What’s important here is that different audiences have different requirements at different times.  In real time, assuming everything is tracking OK, then we don’t often need to know more than that.  However, when things go wrong, we need to be able to be alerted to the problem quickly, be able to efficiently dig deeper to understand the source and then take action to remedy the situation.

A picture paints a thousand words

By grouping servers, switches, routers, apps and so on together to make a business service map, the underlying IT infrastructure can be given visual structure and meaning in a context that’s relevant to the business and its customers. In fact, it is feasible from the data to pictorially provide a level of understanding to a non-technical audience that no report writing can ever achieve.

A good monitoring solution will be designed with the end in mind – how the data will be used and who by.

Organisations should look again at the solutions they have chosen to support their proactive monitoring and assess whether they are providing the information in the format that is really needed.  In many cases they are not, and are compounding the problems for the sys admins trying to use them for tasks they are not suited to.

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