The 4 Building Blocks of Root Cause Analysis
May 06, 2014
David Hayward
Share this

With every minute you can shave off root cause analysis, you get a minute closer to restoring the performance or availability of a process that's important to your business. But the plethora of monitoring tools used throughout your organization, each with its own root cause perspective about the IT environment, can lead to confusion, dysfunction and drawn-out debate when things go wrong. To get the most business value from these diverse views, you need to understand how they can work together.

Think of root cause analysis as a software stack, and the higher the layer is in the stack, the more meaningful it is from a business perspective. For example, in the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) stack, understanding layer 1, the physical layer, is vital, but layer 7, the application, is more meaningful to the business.

Each layer in the root cause analysis stack is provided by unique monitoring functions, analytics and visualization. Here they are, top down:

- Business Service Root Cause Analysis

- Application-Driven Root Cause Analysis

- Network Fault Root Cause Analysis

- Device Root Cause Analysis

Think of adding each layer in terms of a geometrical analogy of human awareness cleverly explained by the Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspenski in his book Tertium Organum. As he explained, if you were one-dimensional, a point, you couldn't think of a line. If you were a line, you couldn't perceive two-dimensions: a square. If you were a square you couldn't understand a cube. If you were a cube, couldn't understand motion.

Let's see how each layer has legitimate root cause analysis and how each successive layer up the stack adds awareness and greater business value.

1. Device Root Cause Analysis

The device layer is the foundation, letting you know if a server, storage device or switch, router, load balancer, etc. simply is up or down, fast or slow. If it's pingable, you know it has a power source, and diagnostics can tell you which subcomponent has the fault causing the outage. For root cause of performance issues, you'll be relying on your monitoring tools' visual correlation of time series data and threshold alerts to see if the CPU, memory, disk, ports etc. are degraded and why.

But if servers or network devices aren't reachable, how do you know for sure if they are down or if there's an upstream network root cause? To see this, you need to add a higher layer of monitoring and analytics.

2. Network Fault Root Cause Analysis

The next layer is Network Root Cause Analysis. This is partly based on a mechanism called inductive modeling, which discovers relationships between networked devices by discovering port connections and routing and configuration tables in each device.

When an outage occurs, inference, a related Network Root Cause Analysis mechanism, uses known network relationships to determine which devices are downstream from the one that is down. So instead of drowning in a sea of red alerts for all the unreachable devices, you get one upstream network root cause alert. This can also be applied to virtual servers and their underlying physical hosts, as well as network configuration issues.

3. Application-Driven Root Cause Analysis

Next up is Application-Driven Network Performance Management, which includes two monitoring technologies: network flow analysis and end-to-end application delivery analysis.

The first mechanism lets you see which applications are running on your network segments and how much bandwidth each is using. When users are complaining that an application service is slow, this can let you know when a bandwidth-monopolizing application is the root cause. Visualization includes stacked protocol charts, top hosts, top talkers, etc.

The second mechanism in this layer shows you end-to-end application response timing: network round trip, retransmission, data transfer and server response. Together in a stacked graph, this reveals if the network, the server or the application itself is impacting response. To see the detailed root cause in the offending domain, you drill down into a lower layer (e.g., into a network flow analysis, device monitoring or an application forensic tool).

4. Business Service Root Cause Analysis

The best practice is to unify the three layers into a single infrastructure management dashboard, so you can visually correlate all three levels of analytics in an efficient workflow. This is ideal for technical Level 2 Operations specialists and administrators.

But there's one more level at the top of the stack: Business Service Root Cause Analysis. This gives IT Operations Level 1 staff the greatest insight into how infrastructure is impacting business processes.

Examples of business processes include: Concept To Product, Product To Launch, Opportunity To Order, Order To Cash, Request To Service, Design To Build, Manufacturing To Distribution, Build To Order, Build To Stock, Requisition To Payables and so on.

At this layer of the stack, you monitor application and infrastructure components in groups that support each business process. This allows you to monitor each business process as you would an IT infrastructure service, and a mechanism called service impact analysis rates the relative impact each component has on the service performance. From there you can drill down into a lower layer in the stack to see the technical root cause details of the service impact (network outage, not enough bandwidth, server memory degradation, packet loss, not enough host resources for a virtual server, application logic error, etc.).

Once you have a clear understanding of this architecture, and a way to unify the information into a smooth workflow for triage, you can put the human processes in place to realize its business value.

ABOUT David Hayward

David Hayward is Senior Principal Manager, Solutions Marketing at CA Technologies. Hayward specializes in integrated network, systems and application performance management – and his research, writing and speaking engagements focus on IT operations maturity challenges, best-practices and IT management software return on investment. He began his career in 1979 as an editor at the groundbreaking BYTE computer magazine and has since held senior marketing positions in tier one and startup computer system, networking, data warehousing, VoIP and security solution vendors.

Share this

The Latest

April 25, 2017

While the idea of shifting toward digital business was speculative for most CEOs a few years ago, it has become a reality for many in 2017. 47 percent of CEOs are being challenged by the board of directors to make progress in digital business, and 56 percent said that their digital improvements have already improved profits ...

April 24, 2017

The Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly present in our daily lives, at work, in the home and in the public sphere, making the world a more connected place. In fact, 2020 will see at least 20 billion connected devices across the globe. So, let's take a look at the most common iterations of the IoT at the moment, and what we can expect to see in the IoT landscape over the next 5 years ...

April 21, 2017

In the spirit of Earth Day, which is Saturday, April 22, we recently asked IT professionals for the tips and tricks they're using to help keep their data centers as green as possible. Here are a few ideas inspired by the responses we got ...

April 20, 2017

Almost One-Third (28 percent) of IT workers surveyed fear that cloud adoption is putting their job at risk, according to a survey conducted by ScienceLogic ...

April 19, 2017

A majority of senior IT leaders and decision-making managers of large companies surveyed around the world indicate their organizations have yet to fully embrace the aspects of IT Transformation needed to remain competitive, according to a new study conducted by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) ...

April 18, 2017

The move to cloud-based solutions like Office 365, Google Apps and others is one of the biggest fundamental changes IT professionals will undertake in the history of computing. The cost savings and productivity enhancements available to organizations are huge. But these savings and benefits can't be reaped without careful planning, network assessment, change management and continuous monitoring. Read on for things that you shouldn't do with your network in preparation for a move to one of these cloud providers ...

April 17, 2017

One of the most ubiquitous words in the development and DevOps vocabularies is "Agile." It is that shining, valued, and sometimes elusive goal that all enterprises strive for. But how do you get there? How does your organization become truly Agile? With these questions in mind, DEVOPSdigest asked experts across the industry — including analysts, consultants and vendors — for their opinions on the best way for a development or DevOps team to become more Agile ...

April 12, 2017

Is composable infrastructure the right choice for your IT environment? The following are 5 key questions that can help you begin to explore the capabilities of composable infrastructure and its applicability within your own IT environment ...

April 11, 2017

What is composable infrastructure, and is it the right choice for your IT environment? That's the question on many CIOs' minds today as they work to position their organizations as "digitally driven," delivering better, deeper, faster user experiences and a more agile response to change in whatever vertical market you do business in today ...

April 10, 2017

As companies adopt new hardware and applications, their networks grow larger and become harder to manage. For network engineers and administrators, the continued emergence of integrated technology has forced them to reconfigure and manage networks in a more dynamic way ...