Q&A: Application Performance Management

Why managing application performance is so challenging, and how to make it pay off in the enterprise.

Why is managing application performance so tough, and what can IT do to get the most from the technology and increase the overall value of IT? How is it changing in light of the increase in virtualized and cloud environments? To learn more, we turned to Byrne Chapman, technology consultant for Correlsense, a firm specializing in monitoring business transactions across the enterprise.

Enterprise Strategies: What are the top challenges facing IT operations in managing application performance?

Byrne Chapman: IT operations faces two significant challenges. The first is having the ability to detect and quickly address problems before end users are affected. The second challenge is improving the visibility and control of complex architectures such as virtualization, service-oriented architecture (SOA), enterprise service bus (ESB), and integrated business applications to provide greater business value to the organization by mapping the impact of the performance of IT systems back to the business transactions.

IT operations must prepare for every possible scenario and configuration while meeting the increasing demand for new applications and services. Concurrently, IT teams need to analyze their performance data in real time to support planning and auditing processes. The rise of virtualization and cloud computing has forced IT teams to break out of their individual silos and work closely together to manage, audit, and analyze all activities within a data center. This effort is also based on an increasing need to simplify the data center environment as much as possible and weed out the complex processes that consume human and financial resources.

What are CIOs interested in with regards to their application or infrastructure management?

First and foremost, CIOs are interested in delivering the most business value from their systems. However, many have trouble answering the simple question: “What went wrong?” Most IT departments struggle to pinpoint the cause of performance problems and issues. It can take weeks to determine what happened and even longer to analyze all the performance metrics for SLA impact, chargebacks, capacity planning implications, and more.

This condition has driven CIOs’ desire for application performance management (APM) solutions that are interoperable with all hardware platforms, operating systems and other infrastructure components. They need to provide instant value and zero downtime, so the APM solution does not negatively impact production performance in any way.

One of the ways companies work to improve their APM environments is by focusing on transaction management. Transaction management provides a mechanism for tracing every business transaction from the end user to the data center.

How can APM drive CIO-level value?

To provide greater value, APM solutions must focus first on the business case, and they can do this easily by managing IT environments the way in which they are viewed by the end user -- as an actual, complete, business transaction. They should be optimized to monitor the most critical, revenue-generating applications first so they provide an immediate ROI. Traditional APM tools are costly, complex, and have trouble keeping pace with the dynamic nature of today’s applications and virtual data centers.

Having an APM tool that is quick and easy to install are two major benefits, but a valuable APM solution should also enable you to analyze your data in real time to understand the business context of all performance issues. Gone are the days of long discovery and modeling processes, which forced CIOs to make recommendations based on data that is days or weeks old when they are also faced with a high frequency of software and hardware changes.

Who owns application management?

The end user community ultimately owns application management because it is the judge and jury of system performance. If your site doesn’t load fast enough, your prospects leave. If your online billing software doesn’t work properly, you lose customers. The main focus must be with the delivery of applications that perform as expected. This is critical in order to keep your company’s bottom line benefits intact and poised for future growth.

How is IT operations transforming to manage applications in virtualized and cloud computing environments?

Virtualization has changed how companies deliver IT services to organizations and end users, so IT operational management change is critical and requires new skill sets. Coping with this complexity also means that IT teams are trying to connect the dots across applications, servers, and other infrastructure. In today’s business environment, IT can no longer wait 12-18 months to deploy new applications, much less manage them, so there is a great need to simplify systems and reduce complexity. Learning to live and manage outside the firewall is easier when you know you can effectively assess and analyze the cost of doing business in the cloud.

What mistakes does IT commonly make in managing application performance?

Today, most enterprises are tracking performance based on individual IT components and should focus instead on managing how the IT systems look and feel from the end user all the way back to the data center. IT professionals also spend a tremendous amount of time testing environments and never really focus on the actual test.

As the infrastructure changes, so do the applications, and as more agile development continues within enterprises, the faster the underlying management structure must shift to meet these changes. The time to test and implement over the course of six months to a year is gone. Frequent change cycles are driving increased complexity into production environments, and when companies are putting in changes, they need to conduct other activities upstream to tune, plan, and understand the impact of change so that they can roll that back as a continuous chain of improvement.

What best practices can you recommend so that IT can avoid such problems?

Transactions drive business and shape user experience. Companies can establish a horizontal foundation to connect end users, networks, proxy servers, Web servers, load balancers, application servers, message brokers, databases, and mainframes. Transactions become the common denominator of all of these elements, providing a strong foundation for IT reliability. Quite simply, IT must focus on monitoring and reporting based on business transactions rather than technology components.

Can you outsource APM and still maintain stringent customer service level agreements (SLAs)?

Yes, if you focus on transaction performance, but not if you are only tracking CPU consumption and individual components. The “cloudiness” of cloud computing has slowed adoption for companies fearful of losing control over response times and service levels, as well as those turned off by the inability to clearly view how costs are allocated in the cloud. Transaction management solutions that monitor all the movements of data in and out of the cloud can eliminate many drawbacks and help build confidence in cloud computing solutions.

How does end-to-end transaction monitoring increase the overall IT value?

Only the ability to trace every single transaction activation throughout its entire path -- 100 percent of the time, for all transactions, across all components -- enables you to systematically collect necessary granular information in order to get business-contextualized visibility into your data center. For IT teams to do this, they need to move beyond today’s capabilities of APM from discovery to detection and then map this data back to the business.

This kind of visibility is a key factor in being able to identify problems effectively when, or even before, they arise. However, tracing a transaction "end to end" is not sufficient to provide an effective performance monitoring solution. Further analysis, including application modeling and transaction profiling, is required to provide the necessary visibility into how transactions perform across all tiers and across time.

What products or services does Correlsense offer for managing application performance?

Correlsense‘s SharePath is a transaction management solution that provides both a detailed and holistic view of transactions across four tiers -- end-users, applications, infrastructure, and business processes within a data center environment. The data collected (including topology auto-discovery and inter-dependencies) lets IT organizations better manage SLAs, performance, and capacity and perform automatic root-cause analysis. The data can also be used for auditing and archiving, security and capacity planning, change management, population of configuration management databases, and chargebacks.

Correlsense also offers SharePath RUM Free Edition, which tracks individual user interaction and user experience, showing each customer interaction, as well as the response times and service levels with online systems.