Peak performance

Simply deploying enterprise applications is no longer enough as users become increasingly reliant on them to carry out their day-to-day business. Instead, companies have to manage application performance and ensure software is performing to its potential. As a result, the market for application performance management packages is growing.

  • E-Mail
By  Alicia Buller Published  August 31, 2004

|~|Michael-Allen-ITPnet.jpg|~|Michael Allen, performance solutions director, Compuware.|~|An organisation’s IT network can be likened to a central nervous system — it should deliver the right responses to the right places, quickly. So monitoring its performance is critical to the efficiency of any organisation. End user complaints about applications running slowly or delays in receiving e-mail messages are often caused by poor network performance. In turn, network performance is directly linked to the applications that reside on it. As applications become increasingly important to the success of a business, analysing their performance in relation to the network is the key to ensuring productivity. In light of this, there has never been a greater emphasis on IT accountability in business today. CIOs are moving IT operations away from their traditional cost-centre images and focusing on the value of the service they provide. However, while most CIOs recognise the importance of aligning IT with the business, a study commissioned by Compuware and conducted by Forrester Consulting highlights that there is confusion about how to get there. The results show that many businesses admit that they are reactive rather than proactive in solving performance problems. The findings also show helpdesks are the main way companies track response times and availability problems, and only 28% said they were in a position to quantify the business impact of downtime. “IT managers who wait for their help desk phones to ring stand to lose. The shift towards greater IT accountability in business today just doesn’t allow businesses to continue to operate in a reactive mode,” says the report. This is why the demand for application performance management tools (APMT) has gone up — this software enables an organisation to predict, identify and rectify network problems automatically, in addition to monitoring application performance.” In days past, companies purchased individual optimisation tools for separate components. But today APMTs are capable of much more than just performing reports on one IT component. Modern technology infrastructures are often complex and require multiple integrated monitoring across middleware, database and web layers. Accordingly, some APMT solutions are now capable of monitoring and optimising the productivity of a transaction from the moment it leaves an organisation’s database, via the network, through to the business user’s fingertips. What’s more, these metrics can now be reported in business language, not in IT jargon. At last, information technology departments have a means to prove their value, in contrast to being a misunderstood and isolated department. This transparent method of quantification can also protect the IT team when defending its jobs against outsourcing. “What service is the [IT] application delivering to the end- user and to the business? APM is about providing metrics, but also providing visibility — if you think about the business community, they don’t care whether the database is up or down, all they want to know is whether they can use their e-mail or not,” says Michael Allen, performance solutions manager at Compuware. ||**|||~|andre_pinoITPnet.jpg|~|Andre Pino, chief marketing officer of Segue Software.|~|“APM is all about deriving metrics that are understood by the business community and for IT to be able to communicate their service value in real language. For example, ‘over the course of the day 50% of transactions have been over the agreed level of service between the business community and IT’,” he adds. As organisations start to realise that certain applications are critical to business success, and that without them serious money could be lost, they are beginning to ask for service level agreements (SLAs) from their IT departments. For example, if a product ordering application was key to an organisation, business leaders would ask the IT manager to provide guaranteed response times for that application. Accordingly, the IT manager needs to ensure he/she has the required tools and skills to deliver metrics. This is where APMTs come into play. Not only can they measure performance, but they can also predict and correct bottlenecks in the infrastructure, thus optimising a company’s network performance. Today, most of the global APMT players, such as IBM, Segue, BMC, Compuware and Veritas have some kind of presence in the Middle East. All of the major vendors claim to have a significant number of APM customers in the region, which isn’t surprising considering the density of local oil & gas and finance companies — both of which are critically dependent on the speed and availability of network transactions. However, the general uptake of this technology is in large automated companies where every application is mission-critical. Apparently, APM seems to be one IT area where most businesses around the globe are trying to achieve exactly the same thing. “The West and the Middle East are in the same boat when it comes to APM. Everybody is trying to maximise their infrastructure and optimise their IT resources,” says Bashar Kilani, software group manager for the Middle East, Egypt, Pakistan & North Africa at IBM. “Although they have been around for a while, performance management tools have changed beyond recognition. Applications are so much more complex and requirements have changed,” he adds. In light of a growing market demand for managing and optimising applications, IBM has acquired US-based Candle Corporation, an organisation that has decades of experience in designing, testing and managing applications. In addition, Veritas, traditionally a storage management software provider, has jumped onto the APM bandwagon by acquiring Precise for US$537million. The vendor claims that, by adding Precise and its flagship software suite i3 to its portfolio, it will now be able to cover all the stages of application performance through its three products, Insight, Inform and Indepth. “Technology has so many layers now. The end user has a web-interface, which goes through to an application database, an application server and then through the whole network and down to storage,” says Paul Hammond, account director for Veritas Middle East. “We take the whole application and monitor it from the moment the user goes into the application and look at every layer through one intelligent piece of software. Basically, the solution makes sure that the user experience of the transaction is absolutely optimum,” he adds. Hammond’s comments are particularly pertinent. The reason integrated and intelligent application management tools have become so important is because IT is often the lifeblood of a company, and, in turn, the lifeblood of customer retention. Now the user experience is paramount. Segue Software also places importance on applications being tested from an end user perspective. “It’s the best way to understand applications and all the infrastructure behind it, because when test it from an end user perspective, you’re ensuring that the whole system, databases and applications are being tested. In addition, you’re providing information that’s viable from a business perspective because that’s where they understand it from also — an end user perspective,” says Andre Pino, chief marketing officer of Segue Software. Another reason for APMTs increased demand in the market is that more organisations are relying on their web-interface to be the centre piece of their brand. “Many applications are moving towards the web, the reason for this is that they can cost-effectively put the application directly in the hands of their customers or partners. Previously, apps were really in the hands of the employees and the customer contacted the company by phone or e-mail. So the user was somewhat protected from seeing any fault in the apps. Today that’s not true. Apps represent the brand,” says Pino. In effect, companies are much more exposed than they used to be. Or, to use an industry term, ‘naked in front of the customer’. This is why it’s important to test and monitor apps on a regular basis to ensure they’re performing as expected — and if not, APMTs can identify and rectify much more quickly than an IT team. Nowadays, if a website is slow, the customer will literally click and go to a competitor in seconds, so APM is essential to satisfy and retain customers. eBay, the world’s largest online auction website, is understandably a big fan of APM because all of its business is dependent on application reliability and minimal downtime. “One of our major customers is eBay — its whole business is dependent on our application. Whenever the company releases a new app, it puts it through very thorough pre-production testing,” says Segue’s Pino. “eBay wants to know if app changes will affect the site’s performance. If it does, it will send the code back to development before release. It also knows in advance whether to add new hardware to offset any performance degradation from adding new app functionality. eBay knows its applications inside out,” he adds. Another example of how exposed company applications are can be seen in call centre productivity. “Everyone experiences this… When you call out to a centre and the helpdesk says ‘can you hold for a second, I’m actually waiting for system software to come up,” says Hammond. “But with APM software, one call centre managed to optimise its applications, which meant that every query was answered in something like ten seconds less. If you take that in, over a week, over a year, the saving was something like half a million US dollars worth of manpower. You could take that level and put it into any call centre environment,” he explains. In effect, faster responses mean that a company will have the edge over its competition, which may not be responding to its customers as quickly. Quick responses also signify serious cost savings for any company. This is because poor application performance does not just lead to lost sales from customers; it can impact how productively end users within the organisation are able to do their job. In the case of an employee carrying out data entry work, the amount of time it takes for a page to load after inputting one entry can lower the amount of work he or she completes. This can add up to a significant amount of lost revenue. For example, one Veritas call-centre customer saved US$250,000 alone in labour costs over a year with APMTs. In addition to saving the business employees’ time, more costs can be saved in IT engineering labour. “Do you want network engineers wasting time looking for a needle in a haystack when a system goes down? If companies invest in APMTs they take care of all that problem resolving. So not only are the customers happier, but they have a resource that they can use elsewhere to do more productive work,” says Hammond. This supports IDC’s claim that APMTs offer 25% more utilisation of resources and up to 50% less network restarts and downtime. And, in the world of networks, uptime is synonymous with profit. At the moment, it is proving difficult for vendors to obtain success stories from customers in the Middle East because, naturally, once a business finds a tool that delivers competitive edge, it’s not likely it will want to share the secrets of its success with its rivals. Though APM is certainly a healthy market in the Middle East, it has yet to become the de-facto standard. “What we find is that for small companies in the Middle East, performance management can be a tricky issue to educate them on. They’re not bought into the religion of why they need to use these tools. They assume maturity and that they are already delivering performance with their applications and, therefore, may as well continue in the same vein,” says Compuware’s Allen. However, with competition in the Middle East getting more fierce, and the deregulation of the telecom and financial industries, quality of service will become a major business differentiator. When it was all monopolies there was no business driver to improve service — but today organisations are looking at a radically new industry landscape. IT and APTMs will be key in driving business efficiencies, and therefore, quality service through to the end-user’s fingertips. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code