CA Spectrum Review

Great network discovery means we have high confidence in our inventory

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use case is to monitor all of our network infrastructure. Spectrum can monitor any type of infrastructure, but for us it's our network infrastructure. We also use it for configuration management. We have alarm/event management, network discovery, inventory, things of that nature.

How has it helped my organization?

One of the improvements is that we have a reliable inventory. Spectrum does such a great job of discovering our network that we have a high confidence in what our inventory is and because of that we're confident in the reporting we get. We can plan changes and replacement of end-of-life products in our environment very well because it's very accurate. It's very strong.

What is most valuable?

There are many valuable features but the ability to have all the inventory reports, event reports, configuration management. 

It does correlation so instead of producing 20 alarms if a site goes down, it only creates one. That's one of its strengths.

What needs improvement?

The only pain point I have is some issues with support and the timeliness of getting a resolution. Other than that, we're very pleased with the functionality. They're coming out with Spectrum 10.3 and I'm sure it'll have some additional functionality. For our environment there's not a pain point from a functionality perspective.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability is good. The tool is a complicated tool. It's got a lot of pieces to it, databases, and you have to treat it well. You can't just turn it off randomly. There are pieces to turning it off, methods. As long as you know that then it is stable. 

We rarely have any issues with it. You have to make sure you follow the process correctly to shut it down, bring it up.

I don't have a lot to compare it to but I wouldn't say it's overly delicate. 

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We grow about 10% a year. We have about 5000, 6000 devices. Scalability is not an issue for us because Spectrum is 64-bit. The scalability is not a concern for our environment with this version of Spectrum.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is good. What I like about Spectrum is that they have a chat support. You can choose to open a regular case or you can try a chat support. It just depends on what your issue is. There are some things which are lower priority. 

We've had good success doing a chat support. It saves a lot of time. Usually you can get an answer pretty quickly. There are some cases where I've had a longer response because the issue is more complicated. 

Spectrum is a very wide product, the breadth of it, there's so many features and functionalities. I think it's a challenge for support, sometimes, because the person I may get assigned may not be as familiar with the feature I'm opening a case about. That would be maybe an area for improvements. I've worked with many different Spectrum support people. They may be real strong in one area but not so strong in another function of Spectrum. That's a challenge.

There are some cases where they may have to reach out to development to further diagnose your issue. That's where we do lose some time with support cases. Most of the cases are not severity-2 or severity-1 cases. Most of my cases are lower priority but it may be an issue that's a bug and it may take a little more effort to find out.

You have to adjust your expectations. If you come to Spectrum with a lower priority issue, depending on what happens, that may take a month, or it could be longer, to work through, recreate it. That could be a downside. I think you have to adjust your expectations to some of the support. I think there might be some room for improvement there because, when they have to reach out to development, that really slows things down.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

Many enterprises have something called "tool sprawl." Over time you invest in tools and all of a sudden you step back and realize there is some overlap in the tool set that you have. You have tool X and tool Y and they each do some different things but then they do some of the same things as well. You realize you have some overlap.

We had a maintenance contract come to term. We paused and listed all of our tools and listed their functionality and made a matrix, then added to that what we wanted to look for in the future. Then we stepped back and we evaluated different vendors, and CA was one of those vendors. We looked at their offerings and from that process we decided to go with a CA suite of infrastructure management tools.

How was the initial setup?

We used CA Professional Services. I was along with them. I would say it's a little on the complex side. 

The initial install, there's a little bit of complexity to it because you're dealing with operating systems. You have to make sure all the prerequisites are done, anti-virus exceptions, etc. You have to have a service account. Then there's the bringing it up and then there's discovery of the network and setting that up. It takes time. It's not like where you set it up, here you go, hand it over. No. 

You can hand over a bare-bones install but after that you have to import your network, make sure it's modeled correctly, make sure all the dependencies are mapped. Once it's installed that's just step one. Then setting it up to get to a steady state, that's step two. Then there are other items.

Our consultant was four months on-site doing Spectrum setup and working through issues. Sometimes there are bugs and the consultants have to reach out to support, themselves, and work through things. It's a very sophisticated tool, it's a very powerful tool. It's vendor agnostic. It doesn't matter what kind of infrastructure you have. They give you the capabilities to do many, many things. 

It's more on the complex side. It's not like some tools come with a bunch of out-of-the-box reports and things like that. Spectrum is not like that in terms of a lot of out-of-the-box things. They give you the functionality to get what you need, but you have to spend time to set it up. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

Riverbed was one of the other vendors we looked at. Part of the reason CA was attractive is, we did have them come out and set up a demo and a look through. We went through a checklist of what was important to us to evaluate.

The other vendor, we did not have them out. We did some demos with them; we already had some products from them. Honestly, we had a difficult time getting quoting and renewal for what we had. That was part of the reason. We did like the functionality that we saw from the CA. It didn't help that we couldn't get a good, invested communication from the other company that we did have products from.

What other advice do I have?

I think you have to be aware of what steps you follow when you shut it down and bring it back up. You have to make sure you check that you are getting current alerts when it comes back on. Make sure that you did not lose any functionality, because there are a few pieces of it that are running simultaneously. You have to make sure all those pieces are running, operationally. There have been a few times where I started it back up and the alarms weren't coming in and I had to go check that. You just have to be careful to check the pieces.

The most important criteria when selecting a vendor include:

  • the cost of solution can be prohibitive, of course
  • the functionality 
  • how long the company has been around is a factor, obviously.

I give Spectrum an eight out of 10, just because of the issues with technical support.

I would make sure you grapple with the amount of time that it would take to use the solution and invest in the solution, to get what you need out of it. It's a powerful solution. It does take a skill set and time to set it up properly. It can do what you need it to do. You just have to spend the time to configure it. It's very customizable, which means you have to have a person that has the time to spend to customize it and get the data, get the reporting, events, alarms out of it.

There are some products that have all the intelligence built in but they're not as customizable. Some companies may like that. Spectrum, I would say, is not like that. Spectrum has all the functions there, but it takes a team of people to get that value out of it. CA does Professional Services engagements and they have guys that are subject matter experts that can go in and create all that value from the tools.

I think you have to make sure you understand, for the long-term, the skills of the team and what training may be necessary to get them up to speed. 

If you have a tool set like Spectrum that already is similar in the complexity, you may not have as much ramp-up time to get value out of it. If you have a tool like CiscoWorks, it does a lot automatically for you. That's not the same case with the CA. It takes some investment and setup and configuration to get those nice reports you're looking for. It's powerful because you can customize any type of report but it takes some skill and time to do that.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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