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Application Management for eBusiness Managers

By Chris Smith, Xtremesoft, Inc.

Executive Summary
In this Internet-centric age, eCommerce applications are rapidly overtaking the sales force in its impact on revenue. No company would simply hire sales reps and set them loose: a company creates an infrastructure to manage this critical asset. Accordingly, IT organizations believe their two top priorities over the next three years are to improve an organization's infrastructure, and to exploit existing markets more efficiently (IDC Technology Integration Panel Study, 1999).

eCommerce applications require a similar management infrastructure. Deploying eCommerce applications without management software in place is like deploying a field sales force without supervision. And you want to ensure that you are managing them with appropriate measures - you don't manage a sales force by simply tracking T&E expenses; you manage interactions with customers, sales pipeline, etc. With eCommerce applications, you need application management software. Systems management software only monitors the health of the system. You need application management software in place to measure transactions and business logic.

This paper discusses application management - its history and current state. It compares and contrasts the types of application management solutions currently available. While debuggers and response time tools monitor and measure, Xtremesoft AppMetrics for Transactions is a more comprehensive solution in offering:

  • The ability to monitor the health of MTS and COM+ applications with low impact on the system itself.
  • The ability to specify incremental increases in diagnostic detail.
  • Notification of unacceptable results.
  • The ability to analyze interactively what happened, why, and to forecast what will happen.

"Do you know that companies spend billions of dollars on application software every year and still do not have the information they need to run their businesses well?"

Dr. Ravi Kalakota
Roadmap for Success

No one in business today needs to be informed of the significance of the Internet. Never in the history of communication has a medium moved as rapidly from "innovative" to "essential." After a mere five years, the Internet has become the backbone for conducting business. Indeed, for many businesses, the Internet has replaced all other forms of communication, both human and otherwise, in its prominence in customer interactions.

In forming the basis for business, the Internet has thrust technology into the limelight. Formerly used to support back-office operations, today's applications form the basis for almost all aspects of business. As a result, the number of applications has expanded exponentially, the size of each application has grown, and integration between applications has become essential. And that just takes care of the basics. Every executive can point to companies that, despite investments of millions, still failed. What are the critical factors that enable some organizations to flourish in today's economy while others flounder?

Applications alone are not enough. Successful companies require an application architecture that is flexible enough to support new applications and to integrate them seamlessly into those already in place. This architecture must be integral to business requirements and must be managed effectively to:

  • Ensure reliability
  • Enhance performance
  • Enable planning for future technology requirements
  • Support mission-critical business objectives

Organizations that base their business on e-business applications want to be sure those apps are peak performers. After all, when it comes to mission-critical applications, they require reliability. Maximum performance. As much scalability as their infrastructures can support. And if any transactions fail, they need to know about it, fast. They need to manage their applications, but not using - traditional metrics such as PageFault or I/O rates. Metrics need to reflect the business modules of the applications, and businesses require an application management solution that provides the information needed to make rapid, e-business-based decisions.

Most people have a notion of what network bandwidth means: how many packets can be moved across the network per unit of time. Most understand that more is better. But how does network bandwidth relate to how much business is being transacted? If you are responsible for understanding the return on investment on application infrastructure, you need to measure the capacity of your infrastructure in business terms.

Xtremesoft Business Bandwidth Solutions manage the business logic of your application, keeping you on top of your e-business commitments, service level agreements, and throughput goals.

Application Management: Historical Perspective
Ever since the advent of business computing, businesses have invested in software to manage these resources:

Software Management
Hardware systems, laptops, desktops, servers, etc., all need to be managed, from physical location and inventory of the hardware to the operational health of the each system. In the past, periodic checks of system parameters were conducted by an agent or agents, then forwarded to a software "manager" or management console, which was located on a computer in the IT data center. As problems occurred, alerts warned the staff and informed them of the nature and location of the problem. Historical review of the collected data over time helped to project usage and capacity.

Managing Servers
Server technology enabled work teams to share resources. Since this shared resource affected the productivity of many, it needed to be closely managed.

A number of servers perform a variety of different tasks. File servers provide shared disk space for storing the files needed by work teams. They can also provide a common area from which team members launch desktop applications. Storing desktop application images on the file server, then launching and running them from individuals' personal computers can save several hundred megabytes of disk space per person, and can make software upgrades a lot easier. Print servers also enable a team to share a printer resource. Since server failure disrupts smooth departmental operation, it's important to know when they are down. System management software provides this alert.

Managing Client-Server Software
Servers also enable organizations to take advantage of the client-server model of computing. In contrast to the file server, where space for storing application images is shared while the applications run on the individuals' machines, in the client-server model, the server runs application software, and the individual runs client software, which is attached to the server-based software application.

Client-server computing means that many within an organization can access a software package. While the software product represents a significant investment, its operational value to the organization is significantly more. While client-server computing means broader accessibility of mission-critical software, it also means that managing the health of these applications becomes critical - even more important than managing file and print servers. Managing the client-server environment is still a challenge for most organizations. As a result, many software vendors offer application management products to ensure performance of these packages.

Application Management and the Impact of eCommerce
Initially, application management software monitored mail and accounting packages, since they provided off-the-shelf functionality for many thousands of customers. These software products are expensive - after all, they help maximize the corporations' return on investment by helping them run these multi-million dollar software packages 24×7, which justifies the purchase of application management software to continuously monitor the health of these applications. In addition, application management software enables the ability to diagnose any application failures, and to predict capacity requirements in the future.

While mail and accounting software applications represent huge productivity boosts for corporations, they generally perform mere supporting roles in the organization. After all, few corporations are in the business of distributing mail or keeping books to generate revenue.

Over the last few years, new classes of software applications emerged. These applications are significant revenue producers -- they have barged out of the back office into the storefront to enable organizations to take advantage of the Internet, to join the ranks of eCommerce providers and to generate new revenue models. No organization would field a new sales force without ensuring a strong sales management team. Yet, why do so many companies field eCommerce applications without application management?

eCommerce has made application management even more critical than managing print or file servers; even more important than managing supporting applications. When you base your revenue generators on the health of your applications, problems can spell the difference between failure, status quo or a competitive advantage.

Application Management Today
Managing eCommerce applications presents a number of new challenges. These applications are anything but off-the-shelf: even those based upon standard components are generally customized to meet specific business requirements. Then, these customized adaptations must be continuously updated and readapted to meet ever-changing conditions. These changes take place in Internet time, which frequently means new versions every quarter, or every month. How can an application management solution effectively address so many moving targets?

"How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose."

Bill Gates

Microsoft COM+: The Foundation for Enterprise Application Development
Within an enterprise, employees use their computer systems to communicate. While email communications or sharing printers are relatively simple problems to address and manage, sharing different programs on different machines is a problem only very recently addressed.

Developing enterprise application is difficult, not because of the actual application that is shared, but because of the infrastructure that must be in place to support the sharing. You can easily hire programmers with the business knowledge to write the code to address your business problem. But there are simply too many infrastructure considerations to cost-effectively write, test and debug infrastructure code.

Microsoft's COM+ addresses these problems. COM+ and the other parts of Windows 2000 provide a comprehensive solution for addressing this need for infrastructure. Designed for the middle, business tier, COM+ allows your programmers to focus on developing software that solves your business problem.

Today, over three million developers use COM+ to provide enterprise applications for over 200 million Windows users. And in introducing this solution, a new requirement arises: the enterprise must manage the applications that support the activities of so many users. The need for application management becomes even more critical.

Application Management Options
Application management software must provide data that can guide corporations on two levels: for day-to-day assurance that all is well, and for long-term health. Application management software should be reactive: it must monitor and report problems and diagnose symptoms. But proactive information is equally important: it should browse for potential trouble, report on application usage, show trends and project system capacity, and, most important, help establish that the service level commitments have been met.

Several application management software packages on the market today address these concerns. Most fall into one of two categories. Some (Debuggers) are designed for developers to find bugs in their code. Some (Response Time Tools) periodically "ping" an application and generate statistics about what was found. Only one solution (Xtremesoft AppMetrics™ for Transactions) provides a more comprehensive perspective. Table 1 compares the features of these application management solutions.

Table 1. Application Management Tools: A Features Comparison

Debuggers AppMetrics™ Response Time Tools
Load on system High Low-High Low
Diagnosis detail Very High High None
History/Reports Yes Yes Yes
Analytics No Yes Some
Early Warning Alert No Yes Yes
Data/User Types Simulated - cannot test running system Real NA
Comprehensive Solution No Yes Some
Integration with EMS Frameworks No Yes No

Debuggers (e.g., CompuWare/NuMega and Identify/BugTrapper), as the name implies, are designed for developers to find bugs in their code. As such, they reveal detailed, low-level information that enables illumination of coding and logic errors. Some of these solutions require special code to be linked into the application to expose the values. Debuggers are generally restricted to test environments since they place a heavy load on the system. Debuggers use simulated data and users - typically they cannot test an actual, running system. Debuggers provide extensive system detail and diagnosis, but generally cannot provide detailed system information under actual real-time usage.

Response Time Tools
Some products (e.g., KeyReadiness) and services (e.g., Service Metrics) periodically "ping" an application, and provide statistics about what was found. These end-to-end statistics approximate what a customer would experience. Although these tools can give an overall end-to-end value, and alert the manager when the reported time is above a threshold, no insight is offered as to where the problem might lie. They do not discern where the problem resides. Since resolving problems requires, at a minimum, locating it (i.e., Is it in the web tier, the application tier, or the database?), some other tool, such as a debugger, must be rolled out and turned on to reveal the source of the problem.

AppMetrics for Transactions: A Cost-Effective Real-Time Alternative
Xtremesoft AppMetrics™ for Transactions takes an innovative approach to application management. It manages Microsoft's Transaction Server (MTS), and the COM+ services embedded in Windows 2000, and provides the foundation for many thousands of very cost-effective application implementations. It addresses shortcomings of debugggers in that it runs in real-time and does not impose as large a load on system resources; and improves upon the response time tools' ability to provide enough detail to enable users to pinpoint system problems.

Most revenue-generating applications are transaction-based. These mechanisms ensure data integrity in a distributed system, even if the communication or machine fails, and are the basis for business interactions. MTS hides many of the details required to manage transactions, and the new COM+ Transactional Services in Windows 2000 is an even more effective platform for deploying transaction-based systems. The term "transaction" is strictly defined in Microsoft MTS and COM+ environments and relates to how hard the developer wants the operating system to work to ensure transactional integrity, from a spectrum of "not at all" through "to the max." Xtremesoft AppMetrics for Transactions works end to end across that spectrum.

Developers are adopting the features found in MTS and COM+ because these features enable them to build applications that scale better. In fact, some suggest that "MTS" is misnamed since the significance of its scalability eclipses strong but secondary transactional services capabilities. As a result, even organizations not taking advantage of transactional services are adopting MTS and COM+ features because of their scalability. Xtremesoft solutions provide value even for these organizations: businesses that measure real-time, customer-generated transaction durations gain real-time knowledge of a transaction's success or failure. This real-time knowledge makes real-time diagnosis and resolution possible. For example, organizations that know, in real time, which transactions are aborting and why can solve the problem before shopping season ends.

AppMetrics for Transactions does not require source code modifications and does not impact development staff. This solution provides:

  • The ability to monitor the health of MTS and COM+ applications with low impact on the system itself.
  • The ability to specify incremental increases in diagnostic detail.
  • Notification of unacceptable results.
  • The ability to analyze interactively what happened, why, and to forecast what will happen.

Microsoft's MTS and COM+ have made it possible for organizations to cost-effectively develop distributed enterprise applications. These mission-critical applications require a management solution to ensure scalability, reliability and performance. Only Xtremesoft AppMetrics for Transactions manages MTS and COM+ components to translate business logic performance data into business performance information.

AppMetrics for Transactions ensures the health of mission-critical applications today, averting potential problems before they occur and enabling users to determine application capacity and budget for future technology investments.

Chris Smith, Director of Product Management, Xtremesoft
With 20 years high tech experience, Chris ensures that Xtremesoft solutions meet the requirements of both partners and customers.

Prior to joining Xtremesoft, Chris spent more than 10 years at Lotus Development in a variety of positions, including group manager of the SmartSuite Strategic Integration Group and as senior product manager for 1-2-3 for Windows.

Chris holds a BA from Clark University and has completed coursework in a variety of computer- and management-related areas at Harvard and Northeastern Universities.

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