Finding the Competitive Edge

Monday, May 29, 2017 @ 12:05 PM gHale


Monitoring Applications Gives Visibility, and can Help Hike Performance in a Very Big Way

Not too long ago, ExxonMobil came out with a plan where hardware is merely plug and play, totally open and non-proprietary, where if a device fails, you can simply get a device from any supplier and plug it in and the process keeps chugging along.

The whole concept makes system upkeep and maintenance much easier and simpler to support. That idea of open and interoperable hardware appeared to be a pipe dream for users for decades, but with this move it is now getting closer to reality. The goal is to have a commercially available plug and play system up and running by 2021, said officials from the oil industry giant. ExxonMobil, though, said this is not just a project for them, they want the entire manufacturing automation industry to adopt it, so they formed a group to help propel the idea forward.

The long and short if it means when this plan comes to fruition, hardware will become ubiquitous and much more of a commodity that can work in any industry any time. However, where each and every end user will gain its competitive advantage is in the applications and software running, learning and sharing information from the devices. That is where application performance monitoring (APM) comes into the big picture.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

• End users can gain competitive advantage with applications learning and sharing information from devices
• Detect and diagnose complex application performance problems
• Hike uptime and increase productivity as possible
• Give operators visibility and bring greater awareness and better worker, product and financial performance
• Monitor application at a moment’s notice
• Flexible and agile tool can provide up to date visibility into the data

By being able to monitor and manage the performance and availability of software applications, the goal is to detect and diagnose complex application performance problems to ensure the process keeps moving forward with as much uptime and increased productivity as possible. It just makes sense.

While total industry adoption of the ExxonMobil plan may be years away, there is an increased reliance on software and applications today and that means end users need total visibility to understand the granular details of what is going with the system at all times.

With the emerging global landscape today, manufacturers need to apply smarter and more connected technology. Being able to understand and monitor what is occurring with applications giving operators visibility will bring greater awareness and better worker, product and financial performance.

Just take a look at the results of a couple of studies. In one from operations analytics provider, Evolven, it showed failure to deliver application services due to data center downtime costs $180,000 per hour in lost revenue.

In another set of case studies from IBM, it showed a simplified APM strategy based upon visibility, control and automation can reduce root cause analysis by 90 percent and yield more than 201 percent return on investment.

Taking Blinders Off
One problem facing users today is 64 percent of organizations surveyed in a Forrester Research report have a fragmented, siloed approach to technology monitoring with solutions accumulated over time. The report showed companies focus on monitoring individual technology domains or components other than taking a holistic approach of the entire system.

The impact of this fragmented approach, according to the Forrester report, found:
• 55 percent of challenges and obstacles in meeting application performance and availability expectations is application complexity.
• In almost 33 percent of cases, IT support became aware of application issues by business employees directly. A siloed approach to monitoring can detect technology component issues but does not show the business service impact in terms of lost revenue or reduced employee productivity.
• Impact on workforce productivity. When an application or performance issue arises to a critical application, the largest impact was on business productivity.

When it comes to selecting an APM solution, users can either have an agent technology sitting on a server that looks at the application, collects metrics and reports back to a database or a management system that sends out reports or alerts on it. Or the user can have a tool that sits and passively goes in and collects that information.

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With the strength and capabilities of software today, it is possible to create an application almost on a moment’s notice. Today’s way contrasts the old days when the user would have an entire process and applications would come on the network and it would go through a regimen of getting signed off upon by various layers in the development cycle. Then there would be a monitoring component to it. By the time the application reached production and it was live, there was some type of monitoring tool already in place ready to go. Now, things are happening much quicker. The application development process can literally take seconds instead of days, weeks or months.

Because of developments in cloud technology and micro services in container management like OpenStack, it is possible to create an application in as little as ten seconds. With that level of speed, it makes it very difficult for a user to stay on top of what applications are doing what. So, how can you effectively manage the fluidity to ensure you squeeze the most out of all applications and make sure they are doing their jobs? That is why a more flexible, and agile tool needs to provide the latest up to date visibility into the data.

By plugging into technology like OpenStack, it is possible to get a notification when a new application ends up pushed out. This way, once the notification comes out, it is possible to start monitoring it on the fly.

Evolution of APM
It is not like APM is a new tool, but with the advances in application development, it is now evolving and its awareness is reaching into the manufacturing end user community. There are cases where an end user could have three or four solutions that have some type of overlap. But why have three tools when you could have one or two do the complete job?

In addition, if the end user has a monitoring tool for the network, then it makes sense to have a tool from the same company to monitor the application level.

Applications are a beast unto themselves. If a user does not have visibility into their effectiveness, it is difficult to effectively present back to the business what is happening on the network.

It is a classic case of looking at the IT environment where you have the network team and on the “other side” there is the application server team where there is a constant battle between the two. Traditionally, they do not integrate very well with each other.

Application guys have their own tools; network guys have their own tools, yet they want visibility of each other’s areas when something occurs. So, if you have something to offer in the environment where you are gaining visibility in both spaces, it only improves the business.

After all, this is not about winning a turf war, it is about gaining a business advantage to hike profitability.

Root Cause Analysis
Rising difficulties in managing application performance expectations and a poor response to the myriad of technology issues can damage the competitiveness of the business. Focusing on APM can boost visibility of what is happening with applications. That level of visibility can help dig into the root cause of an issue and allow for a quick adjudication.

Respondents in the Forrester survey mentioned which monitoring features would help them:
• 28 percent said the ability to predict issues as being their number one feature they would look for in a monitoring solution.
• Ability to automatically fix availability or performance issues was the second feature choice for 23 percent of respondents.
• 15 percent of respondents said the ability to integrate all monitoring data on a customizable dashboard to foster cooperation between IT support teams was the third feature choice.

Along those lines, if the end user can gain a level of visibility, it is going to give another advantage to the business to make a good decision when you can see not only where on the network there is the problem, but also finding the issue is on a certain part of the network and I know exactly what application in the network is causing the issue. Now, you can have a much quicker root cause analysis.

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Root cause analysis is something the IT department has been trying to achieve for years. When you really look at it, how much time ends up wasted between the networking folks and the server guys who are running around pointing fingers at each other and no one wants to take responsibility. At the end of the day, the people above them need to know what the root cause is; just where is the problem? Is it a trend? Is the application performing badly? Is it a poorly written app? Is it an in-house application? Is it a vendor application? If it is a vendor application, then you can go back and have the vendor to fix it. Is it costing me money? Is it falling over every couple of months and effecting my users?

Root cause analysis is the Holy Grail in the network management world. Having APM as part of your offering is only going to get you closer to that nirvana. Aligning the networking and applications teams, it can bring a company closer to having a holistic approach to its business management and eliminating the siloed approach. If you are an island, you will be going away, more visibility and transparency makes more sense.

APM in OT
From a pure operational technology (OT) perspective, APM proves to be interesting.

OT traditionally from an application perspective is a closed shop. Applications are not written and designed to be open. The intention is for them to do a very specific job. The applications do their jobs well and they plug into whatever tools they have. What is interesting is these applications do not change with a great degree of regularity, so monitoring them to gain visibility to understand how they are operating and how they can end up tweaked to get greater productivity out of them could provide excellent benefits.

Manufacturers need visibility now more than ever.

There are other technologies that can give you APM performance so the network team does not necessarily need to utilize the application team’s infrastructure to be able to do that. With technologies like deep packet inspection and NetFlow analytics, it is possible to have the capabilities to go out and get the information so you can do passive monitoring. Active monitoring is very complex to roll out because you need to push out software to different parts of the network, you have to maintain that, you have to constantly make sure it is working. Passive application monitoring is much easier to manage. You can just go out today and collect data from components in the network.

Whether it ends up used today or down the road when the ExxonMobil initiative really takes off, applications are where the heart and soul of any manufacturer will reside. That is where manufacturers will win or lose profits. So, understanding what is happening at any given time and making sure the operation is not running blind will boost that competitive edge.

It just makes sense.



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