What’s The Deal With Single Pane Of Glass Solutions?

Those of us who work in tech and digital services are familiar with the phrase “Single Pane of Glass” (SPOG). For some, it evokes feelings of euphoria — an all-in-one solution! A centralized means of control! Some other vague notion of what a single pane of glass is/does!

For others, it evokes less harmonious thoughts and mumbled utterances of how the phrase ought to be “single pain” instead of “single pane”. But whatever your take on the SPOG concept, the ubiquity of it — especially in enterprise spaces — makes it worth discussing.

Single Pane Of Glass: What Is It?

Before we can break down the advantages and disadvantages of a SPOG solution, we need to define what a SPOG solution is. There are many ways to think of single pane of glass offerings, from management centres to unified dashboards to data hubs. Just take a look at a few selections from industry blogs and you’ll see the challenge inherent in trying to sum up just what exactly a SPOG solution is:

“A management console that presents data from multiple sources — whether that be across the data center or from the data center to the cloud — in a unified view.” — Chris Wolf

“One network management tool to rule them all” — Sean M. Kerner

“A term used to describe a management display console that integrates all parts of a computer infrastructure.” Techopedia

It’s so nebulous and hard to pinpoint, one writer even suggested dismissing the nomenclature entirely:

“We should consider banning the term “single pane of glass” and concentrate more on what it is we’re actually talking about: bringing disparate sources of data together to gain actionable insight.” — Patrick Campbell

But regardless of its name (and for the sake of sanity, we’re sticking with SPOG for now), we need a way to define what it is we’re talking about.

“Single pane of glass is an information technology (IT) phrase used to describe a management tool — such as a unified console or dashboard — that integrates information from varied sources across multiple applications and environments into a single display.” — Vangie Beal

 There. That should work. It’s just comprehensive — and non-specific — enough to serve as a solid jump-off for our discussion today: A unified console or dashboard that integrates information from varied sources into a single display. With that as our working definition, we’re ready to dig into whether they’re really the solution we’re all looking for or not.

Single Pane of Glass: The Pros

As anyone who reads our blog knows, we work primarily in the enterprise space. That means our clients have big projects that reach thousands of customers and employees around the world.

It also means there are multiple levels of stakeholders, high risks associated with even small changes, and a host of concerns that can only come with big, sometimes unwieldy organizations.

As we’ve become more familiar with the enterprise world and grown to understand the specific needs and constraints they have, we’ve seen the impact a central hub or unified system can have on the day-to-day functions of the company.

For most large organizations, software (and hardware) is implemented at great expense. Solutions are studied for a long time before they’re implemented and that means a system that was put in place 20 years ago stands a good chance of still being the one in use today.

Program by program, system by system, different elements of the whole were put in place. As each new item entered the system, it became entrenched and the costs associated with replacing it (and training people on how to use a new system) soared. So nothing got adapted and nothing got integrated. It’s not terrible — the systems work by and large, when used as independent entities. Jobs get done; the work gets finished.

But those systems aren’t independent operators. Most employees use a dozen or more programs every day to do their jobs, and when the software from one doesn’t interact with the software from another, productivity slows and frustration mounts. A single pane of glass solution starts to make a huge amount of sense for these circumstances.

Trying to conquer legacy systems is a big part of working in the enterprise space. But maybe conquering them isn’t the right way to think of it? Vanquishment doesn’t always provide the best solution and more importantly, sometimes it isn’t even an option. Getting a legacy system to work with other systems though… that’s a feasible choice for most organizations. Let’s take a look at an example:

It’s 1996 and you’ve got a company that’s 250 employees. You grow and by the year 2000 you have 500 employees. Then you acquire a company — and the software solutions that worked for them and for their employees. Another acquisition or two and by 2010 you’ve got over 5000 employees in North, Central, and South America.

Great growth and a solid company, by the sounds of it. But how are things working?

You’ve got some systems dating back to 1996 and some systems imported from acquisitions that were never properly integrated with the pre-existing ones you were already using, you’ve got stakeholders and users speaking multiple languages with diverse interests at the heart of their work, and you’ve had a series of updates, new implementations, and additional solutions that were added to the organization over the years.

In short, things are a bit of a mess. Your systems work, but they don’t work as well as they could, and they certainly don’t work together. Now let’s look at the single pane of glass solution:

A single pane of glass — one that allows for single sign-on, or a unified view of the various programs being used — could be a game-changer. Having the ability to log in once and access the tools you need to do your job; having security options that limit or expand an individual user’s options based on their role; having the programs being used stay the same, minimizing upheaval and retraining costs; having the process of using your various tools streamlined to save time, minimize frustration and unify the organization; and having clear data on what was being used, by whom, and how?

Tell me you don’t want to sign up for a single pane of glass solution right now! But of course, life is never perfect.

Single Pane of Glass: The Cons

If all this sounds too good to be true, many would argue it is. There is a substantive (and ever growing) body of writing out there arguing that single pane of glass solutions are a myth — or at least not quite the be-all, end-all solution we’ve been led to believe.

Some say they always have been a myth. Others say the pace at which cloud-enabled platforms are adapted and changed makes this kind of solutioning impossible going forward. After all, how could one ever stay up to date on the support the SPOG offers if the various systems it supports are constantly changed and updated?

It’s a fair question and if it can’t be done, that’s a big risk. If a portion of the system isn’t working, then the system as a whole may fail. And having any part of a network down for any stretch of time can be perilous in the world of business.

“There is no single pane of glass for every conceivable function of an IT environment,” notes Mark Balch, director of product management for unified computing at Cisco in an interview on whether SPOG solutions are truly feasible.

We’re inclined to agree with him. One solution to rule them all is a great idea in theory, but in practice it’s a different story. However, Balch goes on to note that certain elements of unification or cohesive insights and overviews are possible. And we’re inclined to agree with him on that, as well.

Can SPOG solutions possibly be all things to all people? No. Of course not. Nothing in life ever is. But there are many ways we can simplify, integrate, update and prolong the life of legacy tools and frameworks by creating a balanced, thoughtful, SPOG-like solution.

Single pane of glass as a true everything-under-the-sun solution may be a bit much. But a comprehensive, all-the-essentials-in-one solution is possible. And it can go a long way towards bridging the gap between disfunction and harmony.

Single Pane of Glass: The Reality

“The ideal is a dynamic solution with a common framework that can bring data in from anywhere, layer it with analytics and intelligence and visualize it in an actionable, unified view.” — Patrick Campbell

 It can be hard not to get caught up in the hype of an idea — especially one whose surface is as appealing as the single pane of glass solution. Unified views, easy to access and understand data, integrated legacy systems for ease of use, a custom solution to answer a variety of widespread needs within an organization… the list is tantalizing and endless.

But whenever the industry is abuzz about something that sounds too good to be true, we need to take a step back and assess what’s really going on.

  • Do our clients need easier data management systems? Yes.
  • Do our clients need smart, well-integrated infrastructure solutions? Yes.
  • Do our clients have old systems and new systems that need to talk to each other? Yes.
  • Do we know immediately what the best solution is because we’ve heard of SPOG and that’s enough for us? No.

 There may be a SPOG-like solution out there that makes sense for the needs of our client, but there also might not be. We don’t know the answer until we dig into the problems they are facing and think through how to solve them.

Whether a single pane of glass solution meets the specific definition of a SPOG or not isn’t really the point. As Campbell notes, the nomenclature isn’t what matters— the solution is. Whatever name we give it, the solution that marries several functions and meets users where they are is a win.

Written by

Leigh Bryant

Leigh Bryant

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