App-Hugger: Stop Waiting for a Single View of All Your IT Infrastructure - Focus on Applications
June 30, 2014

Kevin McCartney
JumpSoft

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1. How Much Hype Before Something Becomes a Myth?

The concept — or perhaps the allure — of a “single pane of glass” or a unified dashboard by which IT departments can see the health of and control their IT environment has been around for at least 30 years. It is one of those terms that is uniquely and severely vendor-centric. Not surprisingly, each vendor defines “single pane of glass” (SPOG) based on its own capabilities and interests, including the layer at which they operate (i.e. hardware, network), the platform (i.e. virtual servers or cloud) and the type of application (a dashboard for all Microsoft applications).

By comparison, other IT concepts such as “cloud” or “big data” have broad, customer-centric application across huge swaths of the marketplace — and that transcends any particular vendor or type of technology.

It is no surprise then that searching on Google for “single pane of glass” yields an almost entirely vendor-centric list of results, each with its own point of view on the definition and application of the term. Adding insult to injury, several of the top search results refer to the “myth” of the single pane of glass,” perhaps indicating that there is as much skepticism about the concept as there is validation.

2. The “Silos” Are Winning … or at Least Not Going Away

“Silos” and “stovepipes” sound like terrible things — and they can be when organizations and systems don’t relate to each other or have conflicting priorities at the expense of overall productivity. But in all but a few IT departments, “silos” and “stovepipes” are a fact of life, now more than ever.

Because even in the most progressive companies leveraging the latest applications and platforms, today’s typical “hybrid” IT environment, which is still and will remain a complex blend of:

• Multiple legacy systems, custom applications, SaaS services and web-based apps

• Running on various operating systems, databases and/or software stacks

• Residing on a wide range of platforms from cloud to virtual hosts to on-premise servers

What this means is that progressive companies are integrating new technologies and products as quickly as they can, but the tools to manage the new technologies always lag behind. Each application or infrastructure vendor provides its own proprietary tool (sometimes) which is designed to work with its own products — and this only adds another layer of complexity and difficulty to managing IT.

What we need to ask ourselves is this: Is there an approach that gives me high level, “at a glance,” command and control of my IT environment regardless of the technologies or platforms I choose to deploy on over the next 10 years? And supports legacy systems that are not going away anytime soon?

3. Applications = Business. So Give Me an App-Centric View

To the challenge of achieving application- and platform-independent IT visibility and control we add another fact: applications — not servers or networks or virtual hosts or databases — are what customers and users really care about. Yes, the infrastructure is critical. And the data from monitoring tools can be mined for useful insights.

But let’s not forget the day-to-day reality that asking your IT staff if something is working isn’t always going to get you a straight answer. Like the group of blind men being asked to describe an elephant, each person answers from a limited perspective: The network guy is going to say the network is up, the server guy is going to say the server is up, the database guy is going to say the database is up, the application guy is going to say the app is up, and on and on.

Assuming their responses are all accurate from their perspectives, you still don’t have an answer as to whether the application (system) is up or — if it’s clearly down — why. So the CIO or whoever is asking the question — COO, CFO or CEO, or even a board member — doesn’t care (with all due respect, they might say) at that moment whether a server or network node is working. They want to know about the cash register: The application.

And that’s the problem with the current crop of monitoring tools: No single tool can give you the view you really need — the one that tells you quickly whether any and all of the services (i.e. the applications) that your customers and employees care about, and upon which your business rests, are up or down or impaired.

4. I Need Visibility and Control Across All My Applications: Legacy, Custom, Web, SaaS. Truly “App-nostic”

Back to the “hybrid” IT environment for a moment. If you’re like most organizations, you have a portfolio of legacy systems and custom systems, and in the last few years you have adopted a number of Web-based and SaaS applications.

Your reality is not the neatly organized environments that vendors talk about in trade magazines and webinars. Your reality is that visibility across these applications and the ability to control them — from an app-centric perspective, not an infrastructure or network perspective — is non-existent.

5. What All Silos Have in Common: The Application Process Component Layer

Here’s the bar you should set for solving this problem:

Give the business visibility and control over all our applications that is truly application- and platform-agnostic, requires little or no customization and is user friendly, scalable and easy to deploy.

We must assume that we can’t or won’t change the silos themselves — as mentioned, they are not going anywhere and are too costly or complex to re-engineer. You cannot force them into some sort of template.

Instead, the solution is to find something all applications have in common — something in their architectures that can be leveraged. This requires an examination of how an application’s components interact and relate with one another as well as well as how the app interacts with its external (or surrounding) environment (the OS, network, storage, etc.).

As it turns out, the answer — what the silos and stovepipes all have in common — is at the process component layer. The process component layer gives us the common framework we can leverage to create truly application- and platform-agnostic visibility and control for all applications.

All applications are comprised of building blocks, commonly referred to as processes and/or services. Application-agnostic management first requires an understanding of those components that make up applications – this includes the underlying OS, database, software stack, and platform, which are common across various application architectures.

Second, it is critical to understand the interdependencies of those components, in order to gracefully start, stop, status, and interact with the individual component processes, as they relate to the application as a whole.

With the technical framework in place, support and management can then be enabled across all applications, regardless of who built it, what the underlying components are, or where it is running – from a single view.

6. Stop Waiting for the Mythical “Single Pane of Glass” - Focus on Your Applications

In today’s environment where “applications (not servers or networks) = business,” by focusing on the health and resilience of your applications, you're really focusing on the health and resilience of your business. And at the application layer, there is now hope for a single view by utilizing the process component layer, which has commonality across all applications.

Kevin McCartney is CEO of JumpSoft.

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