Rolling Review: Service Catalogs Tested

Oct 30, 2009 (08:10 PM EDT)

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Six months ago, we set off on an ambitious review of IT service catalogs. Ambitious not because of technical complexity, but because service catalogs are an emerging market with a number of diverse software tools. We were excited about the prospect of classifying these products into neat containers and seeing how they stacked up against our testing scenario. Instead, we found a fractured market with a lot of confusion over even the most basic tenets of what comprises a service catalog.

Some vendors bundled capabilities well beyond the service catalog, while others didn't want us looking at their products or ignored us completely. In the end, we examined offerings from CA,, PMG, and NewScale--a cross section of delivery platforms and capabilities.

Service catalog products started to emerge after they were mentioned in the ITIL v2 process framework. But ITIL v2 provided little guidance, so most vendors made their own decisions as to what functionality to include.

ITIL v3 proposes that all IT offerings be thought of as services. An organization can collect the services it uses into a portfolio, along with supporting business information about the services, including requirements and financial information. The portfolio includes a business service catalog that lets internal and external users order services and track order status. The portfolio also has a technical service catalog that includes technical components of services and underlying information about them. The technical catalog lets IT manage all aspects of services and report on demand, profitability, and performance.

The portfolio contains complete life-cycle info on all services, including those being developed and retired, as well as ones available for use. While the service catalog could be paper-bound or a static intranet page, an interactive Web-based catalog provides more capabilities to users trying to get a handle on the ordering, demand, provisioning, and costs of their services.

Environmental Matters

The biggest difference among the four service catalogs we tested was their installation platforms. CA works only on Windows and was accessed via a Web browser. Service-now was delivered as a software service. PMG offered hosted or customer-premises versions. And NewScale is built on a traditional three-tiered architecture with broad underlying application support. Given this diversity, specific requirements you have for how the product is delivered may end your search. We didn't find any performance differences among the various delivery methods.

Detailed Look At Our Service Catalog Tests
NewScale came out on top for our test environment, but your organization may have other priorities. Get the in-depth reviews of the four service catalog products we tested from CA, PMG, NewScale, and Service-now.

PMG stood out in terms of look and feel. The dynamic menus and user-driven interface made it intuitive and easy to navigate. Users can authorize the provisioning of a service from a smartphone, a distinctive feature, although other vendors could replicate it with a little effort. PMG's content management system was powerful, letting IT control the interface without custom coding. The graphical, Visio-like interface made for a pleasant design experience in terms of workflow. While complex workflow may be difficult to follow, simple ones were quite user friendly.

We were also impressed with NewScale's service designs and workflow. Its templates were practical and provided a fantastic way to jump-start IT and business processes. The ease of workflow development and breadth of provided templates made up for the visual mediocrity of the user interface. CA also provided solid service templates, but their breadth and depth were dwarfed by NewScale's offering.

NewScale also lets IT easily manage objectives. You can use a third-party app or the interface itself to set and manage SLAs, operating-level agreements, and other business objectives tied to services.

Real World Assessment Chart: Service Catalogs
(click image for larger view)

Ease Of Use

A challenge for all four products is balancing ease of use with complexity. Service-now's interface was easiest to use and highly accessible, but demand management and service performance monitoring capabilities were limited. Users need a firm handle on their processes and workflow designs before tackling Service-now, because it doesn't provide a lot of documentation and guidelines. However, its common user interface was appealing and could lower administrative overhead once it's up and running.

In contrast, CA provided a wealth of flexibility, customization, and integration capabilities, but the interface was the most complex. Integration hooks into other CA products may make the move to its service catalog an easy decision for IT organizations that have already invested in CA technology. CMDB integration, for instance, lets you easily link technical and business service catalogs, reducing the need for administration and maintenance.

CA's tab-based navigation was the most difficult to use, and its Service Request tab was very cluttered and made it difficult for us to get where we wanted to go. CA's default reports, on the other hand, were very useful for managing the key aspects of our services.

Another factor to consider is whether you need other IT service management components or just a service catalog. Several vendors we tested provided capabilities well beyond the scope of our service catalog review. If you need a CMDB, configuration management, change management, or other module, take a hard look at vendors' companion offerings.

Bottom Line

Performing an apples-to-apples comparison was difficult because these are four very different products. For our test environment, we would select NewScale based on its powerful workflow engine, ability to manage objectives, and number of service templates. Its architecture and design also would let it scale and change along with a business. NewScale did well based on our criteria, which included ease of use, administration, and integration capabilities. Its ability to track the status of requests and analyze cost metrics also was superb. That said, the other products also performed well. You won't go wrong using PMG for its flexible delivery model and intuitive interface. If you need a SaaS offering, go with Service-now. If you need flexibility and have a complex enterprise environment, CA may be best.

EMC declined to submit its Ionix SM for our review. Amdocs, Digital Fuel, Oblicore, and Telcordia didn't respond to our invitation.

Michael Biddick is CTO at Fusion PPT in Northern Virginia.

Our Take
  • Give users control over ordering IT and business services
  • Automate much of the mundane workflow involved in the processing and fulfillment of services
  • Help meet compliance and audit requirements, while cutting IT costs
  • May overlap with service desk and IT service management tools
  • Can be difficult to configure
  • Many organizations aren't mature enough to take advantage of all of a service catalog's capabilities