Panes of Stained Glass


If there is an overused term when it comes to management software, it has to be Single Pane of Glass (SPoG). The first thing that marketing and sales organizations want to tell you is how unified their management tools are. I’ve found that the tools in question are usually not as paneless (pun intended) as might be indicated otherwise.


The idea of the Single Pane of Glass term comes originally from the disparate tools that have been used since time immemorial to configure and manage IT systems. At first, configuration was a separate program. Monitoring was a separate program. Even between applications on the same system the tools were often separated. When the number of browser windows kept climbing it started to resemble a window pane on the desktop, with four or more open at any one time just to manage and monitor a single application.

This usually became worse over time as companies would acquire new software or tools and attempt to integrate them into the process. If the company had some kind of flagship product that was the go-to for monitoring and maintenance the acquisition was usually ported quickly to provide a one-stop shop for users. When the integration was completed, the company could proudly announce that everything could be done from one browser window, or the Single Pane of Glass.

More often than not, the process to integrate the pieces together was rushed and incomplete. Sometimes the integration would launch a new browser window. Other times an HTML-based monitoring system would fire up a Java VM because the new firewall integration could only be managed via Java. Still other integration attempts would have a browser window with a CLI shell embedded within, since the appliance could only be managed through the console. These haphazard attempts at integration look like something else entirely.

Stained Glass

I can’t take full credit for this idea. It actually belongs to J. Michael Metz (@DrJMetz) of Cisco. He mentioned it in a tweet when talking about a competitor’s management system. I took the idea and ran with it a bit.

Stained Glass Management Systems happen because people are so focused on the overall picture that they lose sight of the fact that each individual unit is useless in the overall context. While a stained glass window may be a beautiful work of art, looking at one close up betray the fact that the whole is indeed made up of lots of dissimilar parts.

You’ve probably experienced this at least once. Think about a software program that has a web interface. For reference, I’m going to pick on Cisco Unified Communications Manager Business Edition (CUCMBE). This is essentially a CUCM server and a Cisco Unity Connection server crammed together to create a VoIP appliance.

CUCMBE doesn’t have a unified management portal. It is in fact managed via two (or more) separate GUIs. Except for a few minor changes to each GUI in a couple of fields, you wouldn’t even know that you were working on software programs co-resident on the same box. Each platform keeps a separate copy of a GUI that doesn’t really have any consistency with the others. CUCM looks different than Unity Connection. On the newer CUCMBE platforms, those GUIs look even more different from products like Unified Presence or Cisco Video Communications Server (VCS).

Cisco never marketed the CUCMBE GUI as being SPoG to my knowledge. But I know of some companies that would claim that a GUI reachable from one IP address that can manage multiple systems is technically SPoG. That’s wrong. A true SPoG needs to have a unified management style. No jarring transitions between management paradigms. If I realize I’m working on a totally different software platform, your SPoG failed.

The solution shouldn’t be to cram as much functionality into a web browser window. The real goal should be to analyze what you are trying to accomplish with the SPoG tools and rewrite your interface to keep overlap and discontinuity to a minimum. If I’m putting the same information in three different places because four different programs each read from a different place, you need to go back to the drawing board.

The interface needs to be consistent in and of itself. If you can a something a widget in the management section, don’t have a wudget in a different section with a legend stating “Wudgets are widgets in this program.” Sometimes that means you have to blow up the data structures of you old programs. So be it. If I can see the individual parts of the window, it detracts from the overall picture.

Tom’s Take

Some companies get it. HP and IBM have created decent SPoG tools after a few years of trial and error. Some companies don’t get it. I won’t mention CiscoWorks. I’m still not sold on Cisco Prime. The key is to look at the end goal. Are you trying to create a picture by collecting individual pieces and working toward the whole? Or are you trying to create the equivalent of macaroni art? That would be where everything is thrown together and resembles a picture in name only. Stained Glass should be avoided at all costs. Integrate your system to the point where I can’t see the pieces and longer and you’ll have a picture pretty enough to sell.

2 thoughts on “Panes of Stained Glass

  1. the simplest things are the hardest to make and can often be a bastard to make it function the way intended..

    the way windows went is going to be a pain for some though as speaking as a integrator of sorts with various networking platforms it’s becoming common common to use a tablet for the simplest of tasks… you gotta love technology the only bitch is the licenses required for the apps you need..

  2. Pingback: Google+ And The Quest For Omniscience | The Networking Nerd

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