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Will Cloud Computing Confuse Network Management?

Traditional network management systems focus on measuring and monitoring technical metrics

Network Management at Cloud Expo

In today’s technology-dependent enterprise environment, the efficiency of most business processes depends directly on the effective performance of the IT infrastructure. Almost every single activity - from servicing a customer to shipping purchased products - is dependent upon one or more software applications and the underlying computing/network infrastructure.

This demand is already stretching traditional network management tools to the limit, given the universal adoption of multi-tier applications, distributed computing and web technologies in the last decade. The advent of cloud computing, the latest evolution in IT, creates a new set of challenges that require innovative tools to help businesses leverage the cost and efficiency benefits of cloud computing, while mitigating the risks.

Simply described, cloud computing uses virtualization, grid architectures and Software as a Service application delivery, both inside and outside the boundaries of the enterprise network. It promises significant cost savings and business agility compared with traditional computing approaches. In a cloud environment, a business application, for example, may leverage a combination of in-house bare virtual machines, pre-built storefront virtual machines from an external cloud vendor (e.g. Amazon), and an external application service (e.g. Salesforce.com). Additionally, a variety of network nodes and links are also part of the required infrastructure mix to ensure the proper function of the application. How will network management keep up in such a complicated environment?

Traditional network management systems focus on measuring and monitoring technical metrics and trends of individual nodes and components in the infrastructure. Although an isolated issue in the complex web of new technologies may impact one or more user-facing tasks in a business process, the current monitoring approaches are incapable of determining the business impact of such a problem.

In order to ensure the smooth running of business operations in a cloud environment, network management must move away from point monitoring of IT infrastructure to instead monitor business service availability and performance. Network management must go beyond just looking at the performance of individual nodes or components to include a holistic service-oriented view.

To ensure greater reliability of essential processes and systems in a virtual environment, Business Service Management (BSM) systems can help enterprises connect business processes with IT operations to achieve a more holistic perspective. By connecting the worlds of IT and business, BSM solutions are able to identify the affected business processes or services when problems occur in the complex, distributed and virtual IT infrastructure. BSM solutions enable preemptive and rapid identification of business issues, accurate identification of root causes and quick resolution of problems.

Traditional network monitoring products have made the implementation of BSM solutions a challenge. Older generation network monitoring products are unable to integrate fault/event, performance management and BSM within a unified system, and thus businesses are forced to deploy and integrate multiple systems to get an end-to-end view. This cumbersome approach involves linking multiple disparate applications across different layers and domains of infrastructure and business services. These solutions contain a confusing array of complicated features, require specialized application-specific expertise to install, integrate and manage, and involve execution of complex projects to complete an implementation.

All of this adds up to a significant investment in the initial deployment and ongoing administrative support, resulting in extremely high total cost of ownership.

Fortunately, innovative solutions have emerged to deliver the advanced BSM capabilities required by the enterprise, pre-integrated with the necessary underlying fault/event and performance management capabilities. These next-generation BSM systems leverage two key technical advantages that enable them to effectively support cloud computing environments.

The first, open and extensible APIs or data-capture plug-ins for integrating with external systems, allows for the easy addition of custom monitors to capture availability and performance data from any element within the cloud computing infrastructure, whether it’s a new external web service or a virtual machine.

The second, sometimes referred to as creating ‘service containers,’ involves grouping an organization’s IT infrastructure to create logical, business-oriented views of the overall physical and virtualized computing network. The ability to link applications and the cloud computing infrastructure with business services creates service containers that allow enterprise network administrators to monitor for multiple elements of the infrastructure, generate reports on service containers, get uptime information and real-time status for services, and receive alerts if services fail or exceed defined thresholds.

Next-generation BSM systems provide the ability to define container severities to support varying business needs and objectives. Users can specify rules to indicate when a container is identified as being in an undesirable state. For example, if there are two redundant network paths between two end points, this can be specified in a business container. If there is a virtual server farm behind a load balancer and an outage of some of the virtual servers does not affect the supported business service, this can also be specified in a business container. Similarly, if there is a single SaaS application that supports the same business service, the business container can be defined to indicate the status of the business service as being ‘critical’ if the synthetic test transaction with SaaS application fails.

As mentioned earlier, business processes are increasingly dependent on a complex mix of IT infrastructure and applications that that extend beyond the boundaries of the enterprise network. A new set IT management challenges have emerged in light of the rapid adoption of cloud computing technologies, such as virtualization, grid architectures and SaaS. To ensure smooth business operations, organizations need to deploy advanced BSM solutions that overcome the limitations of legacy network management tools by providing real-time visibility into the availability and performance of business services

More Stories By Vikas Aggarwal

Vikas Aggarwal is founder and CEO of Zyrion Inc., a provider of BSM & IT infrastructure monitoring software solutions. Vikas Aggarwal has been an entrepreneur and senior executive at multiple technology startups over the past 20 years. He was the founder and CEO of Fidelia, a venture-backed IT infrastructure management software company, where he led the company's growth to about 100 customers before their acquisition by Network General. At Network General, he was the VP of Product Management where he oversaw product strategy through their acquisition by Netscout in late 2007.

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Most Recent Comments
VigilantJon 12/01/09 09:54:00 AM EST

2 points on this:
1) Depending on the organization, why buy and go through that risk? Outsourcing this level of support and technology reduces organizational strain enabling IT to focus on improving business integration and innovation. This is not just an infrastructure monitoring problem, so picking a company who understands service management and service warranty is a must.
2) While grouping services, it is imperative that organizations look at their services and determine - what are those that can be outsourced (to a SaaS or other model) versus those that are key and differentiating. Grouping then leads to focus. We in IT tend to suffer from ADD, so anything that helps us focus is a win!

The points about managing cloud or federated computing models are spot-on. It's a straightforward process to implement management of these environments:
1) GetAware - who's doing what, where, how fast, how often, at what error rate, with what security, etc.
2) GetControl - gather the metrics that matter and put the right governance in place to manage to those KPI's.
3) GetResults - what policies and processes are needed to predictably manage to the service levels your business needs.

Of course its the details that matter and the plans that are developed and executed that matter.

As Mr. Aggarwal alludes to, the better IT integrates with business, the better IT can manage and report on the value IT services provides.