Countering the Threat of Cloud: IT Ops With A Service-Oriented Approach

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Vic Nyman is the co-founder and COO of BlueStripe Software. Vic has more than 20 years of experience in systems management and APM, and has held leadership positions at Wily Technology, IBM Tivoli, and Relicore/Symantec.

Vic-NymanVIC NYMAN
BlueStripe Software

Cloud computing is perceived as a significant threat by some data center organizations. By changing the focus away from managing server resources and adopting a Service-Oriented approach to IT Operations, IT organizations can turn that threat into an opportunity while helping to deliver business innovations to their enterprises.

As you know, the corporate data center faces unprecedented competition for their internal customers. The threat of wholesale IT departmental outsourcing has been with us for quite a while, but for the individual employee, an outsourcing contract has often meant keeping the same job, but just being on the payroll of XYZ Systems instead of Venerable Bank and Trust.

Cloud has the potential to be different. It means your company’s applications will run in somebody else’s data center, using somebody else’s employees to manage somebody else’s servers. It means that business-based application groups can bypass the operations process entirely. And while it is considered unlikely that large, critical legacy applications will be moved to cloud in the immediate future, over time Cloud can mean data center consolidations and staff reductions.

At my company, we deal with customers who are facing this issue on a regular basis. One Director of IT Infrastructure recently told a story about trying to impose some discipline on their server management process, and being told flat out, “We can get the server we want from Amazon in 15 minutes.  What’s wrong with you?” Clearly this is a whole new world.

Better Service is Answer

The key for data center teams is to be able to deliver better service than the cloud providers do. Part of the source of demand for cloud services is the promise of hassle-free, efficient delivery on service-levels – that business applications will deploy and run as asked for, with minimal hassles and downtime.

In many companies, the data center teams use a server resource-based approach to managing application performance. The focus is often on machine resource metrics – CPU and memory utilization, disk IO, network performance – metrics that are only loosely correlated with actual application performance. A better approach is to concentrate on application and transaction response times.

We’ve seen customers who take this approach make significant reductions in their key performance metrics. Availability for mission critical applications has far exceeded SLA levels, and IT Operations teams have been freed up to work to deliver new capabilities.

Here’s how they’ve changed the way they manage the delivery of applications:

  • First, recognize that transaction response times are more important than resource utilization. In a large, interconnected application with multiple tiers and extensive virtualization, chances are good that some servers will show high CPU utilization. Chances are also good that those servers will not have anything to do with an application slowdown. Focusing on the individual transaction response time will yield the source of the problem, and will help avoid “red herring” activities that don’t contribute to the solution.
  • Second, recognize that every component affects transaction response times. Highly distributed, inter-connected services typically involve ten or more servers – sometimes hundreds of servers. Don’t just look at the application server – the team doing the triage needs to consider the web tier, authentication, middleware, database, and even third-party services.
  • Last, recognize that within the problem server, every infrastructure layer affects component response times. Every dependency of the problem server is the potential culprit during a slowdown – rather than just looking at CPU and memory utilization, the data center team needs to look at the application component, other applications on the server, the operating system, virtualization, storage, networking, shared services like DNS, and even server management tools.

By applying the Service-Oriented approach, data center teams can greatly improve their results in dealing with application management – making themselves competitive with cloud offerings.

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