IT Reliability Through Business Transaction Management

Every organization wants IT reliability: confidence that technology powered business processes will be available, perform well, and adapt to changing business conditions. Companies need to know exactly what is going on and need to be able to predict what the impact of changes will be. To achieve these goals IT has made significant investments in initiatives and technologies such as service management, application performance management, and ITIL. Yet, the goal of predictable IT reliability is still eluding most companies and our experience with large enterprises indicates that this is due to the lack of a business context and the necessary IT transactional data. Business transaction management technology is the key to solving this challenge by allowing organizations to collect and analyze the transactional data required to drive effective IT management processes and achieve IT reliability.

Reliability is not just an issue for the IT staffer at the operational level. It’s keeping the business decision makers up at night as well.
– Evaluating IT Reliability: Prerequisite to CIO Success – CIO 2 CIO Perspectives

The Foundation for IT Reliability

Consider two analogies where technology breakthroughs in tracking and correlating transactional data have transformed businesses:

  1. When a CFO shows up at an executive or board meeting to discuss how the business is doing and how the quarter is shaping up, she pulls from their financial systems an up to date detailed chart of accounts that includes every financial transaction that has occurred. Aggregating that data into categories, trending data from previous quarters, plus tracking leading indicators provides a complete view of the business. With this data, executives and managers adjust strategies to produce reliable results, respond to changing conditions, and adjust expectations.
  2. Why do large retail businesses know exactly what to ship, when, and where? Because they are able to track every item they sell from manufacturing to distribution center, to trucks, to store shelf, to check out register. They know what is selling and where and they know exactly how to get needed items to stores before the store’s stock runs out. The system is extremely reliable because detailed data is tracked and available.

Recent research has defined reliability in terms of availability, predictability and manageability. The CIOs interviewed by IDG added a host of factors to that bucket, including adaptability, scalability and security.
– Evaluating IT Reliability: Prerequisite to CIO Success – CIO 2 CIO Perspectives

Now, let’s contrast these two analogies with how IT operates today:

  • IT collects samples of data in disconnected silos – IT knows how application servers and databases are doing, but typically only monitor some of the data. This is like managing a chart of accounts without the detailed financial transactions. Or knowing how many items stores are selling, and how many are on stock, but only for some of the items and some of the stores.
  • IT does not have an end-to-end transaction view – There is end user experience data, infrastructure performance data, and application availability data, but no trace of a business transaction from user action through each data center tier and back to the user. In our CFO example this would be like having no order to cash process and tracking. In our retail distribution example it would be like not knowing where an item is at any time from manufacturing to point of sale.
  • IT simulates transactions – IT uses synthetic transactions in hope it will tell them how applications are performing, but it is not able to constantly track all transactions. You cannot predict how your business is doing by tracking a few select accounting transactions; and you cannot predict on-time stocking, by a few sample items.

What IT has been missing is fully correlated business transaction data, just like financial systems have done for running the business and item tracking has done for retail. This is the foundation of IT reliability. 

Figure 1 – Today’s silo approach, monitoring individual components and tiers.To play a strategic role in the business, driving the transformations that produce top and bottom line value, IT needs to move past just keeping the lights on. But it is hard to be proactive when you are overwhelmed chasing fires and trying to fix problems. To overcome this vicious circle and establish its foundation for IT reliability IT needs to:

  1. Operate and communicate in a business context, not just in a technology context.
  2. Evolve f rom a component focus and silo approach (end users, applications, and infrastructure) to a business transaction focus, so solving problems and planning is done efficiently and holistically.
  3. Access a 24/7 view of business transactional data to understand exactly what is going on and to leverage that across core IT management processes.

4D Visibility into Your Enterprise

The promise of IT Reliability is to finally be able to manage IT f rom a business perspective and make sense of the complexity of modern applications that utilize services across distributed environments, real and virtual, both behind the firewall and in the cloud. Business transactions touch every layer of infrastructure and applications across wide networks, with downtime and poor performance directly impacting revenue, brand, and customer loyalty/retention. Thus the need is paramount for business technology services that can ensure highly reliable transactions.

Transaction tracing across all application stack and supporting infrastructure components is critical not only for rapid fault diagnosis and change impact analysis, but also to proactively ensure the reliability of business technology. Although a number of transaction-tracing solutions have come to the market, they have either brought data accuracy and comprehensiveness at the price of heavy instrumentation and transaction code alteration, or have minimized their footprint but have sacrificed comprehensiveness and accuracy in the process.
– Cool Vendors in IT Operations, 2009, Kris Brittain, Will Cappelli, Debra Curtis, Donna Scott, Milind Govekar, John P Morency, David Williams – Gartner, March 24, 2009

Correlsense SharePath is a breakthrough in IT Reliability that gathers the details and correlations of all the transactions that drive your business in a Reliability Management Data Base (RMDB). Business transactions are tracked starting with a click in the browser all the way through the datacenter including proxy servers, web servers, application servers, message brokers, databases, and mainframe. The 4D glasses of SharePath analytics provide for the first time a view of the connections across the four dimensions of end-users, applications, infrastructure and business processes. And SharePath was designed and proven to accomplish this with negligible overhead to your production systems.

Figure 2 – Correlsense SharePath – Correlated transactional data to feed IT management processes for IT reliability.You are probably wondering where SharePath fits in what you are already doing and with the tools you have in place.

  • Does an IT Reliability solution replace the traditional monitoring and performance tools I already have? SharePath gives you horizontal coverage across your tiers and complements your existing investment in monitoring tools by pinpointing where you should apply them.
  • Do we need new processes and roles to achieve IT reliability? SharePath provides the business context and correlated transactional data required to accelerate and optimize your service management, application performance management, and ITIL processes to manage incidents, problems, changes, releases, configurations, availability, capacity, service continuity, IT security, service desk, IT financials, compliance and auditing

This [SharePath] is a breakthrough in our monitoring capabilities; our operations and applications teams know exactly where a problem is and no longer waste time pointing fingers at each other.
– CIO, Major International Bank

Why Do We Need New Technology?

While the concept of business transaction management is simple to grasp, implementing it in a mission-critical, distributed, service-oriented environment that is constantly changing is quite tricky. There are six fundamental challenges that a business transaction management solution for IT Reliability must address:

  1. Monitor all components across all platforms that a transaction touches.
  2. Map all the hops of a transaction, beginning at the end user, in a complete transaction topology.
  3. Rapidly implement the solution without invasive instrumentation.
  4. Do it without impacting the performance of monitored systems.
  5. Efficiently manage large amounts of data very fast.
  6. Analyze data and present it in actionable, intuitive dashboards and reports.

Correlsense has successfully addressed all six challenges with its SharePath solution that is based on self-configuring collectors that gather transaction data at the OS level. This is a non-invasive and platform independent approach that is implemented in a couple of weeks and has negligible performance impact on production systems, allowing organizations to monitor all their transactions, all the time.

The largest IT operations management software vendors, built through acquisition, have significant market share, but the product innovation needed to meet some of today’s IT infrastructure challenges remains in the hands of the smaller, more-agile vendors. …Use these innovative point products to augment your IT operations management architecture.
– Has Market Consolidation Killed IT Operations Management Tool Innovation? – David Williams, Gartner, March 23, 2009

SharePath employs patent-pending correlation algorithms to automatically map the topology of transactions and correlate each of their segments in its reliability management data base (RMDB). It then monitors the metrics of each transaction for SLA compliance and applies business analytics to proactively manage services and accurately pinpoint problems.

Figure 3 – SharePath non-intrusive architecture collects detailed transactional intelligence without application instrumentation or impact on performance. These unique capabilities allow companies to: a. Be notified when a business transaction (i.e. “Move money xxxx account A to account B”) does not meet defined SLAs.

Figure 4 – Transaction Watch – This SLA Dashboard displays all of the transaction types that have been auto-discovered, the number of times each transaction has been activated by an end user in the given time-frame and how well the transaction types are meeting SLAs. SLAs can be measured xxx the desktop or xxxx the entry point to the datacenter. b. Understand what layers of the datacenter are touched by each transaction (auto-discovered).

Figure 5 – Topology Map – This is a real-time application dependency map that is based on the actual transactions that are flowing through the application. Each circle represents an application node which could be a proxy server, web server, database, mainframe, etc. Both physical and virtual nodes are displayed. c. Know exactly where a transaction is getting stuck in the data center (what is slowing it down, what process it is waiting for…) before end-users feel there is a problem.

Figure 6 – This transaction breakdown by tier view shows that the bottleneck is clearly in the data warehouse database.

We thought we knew what was going on in our data center, but we uncovered lots of problem areas we were not aware of; and I sleep better now, knowing they are not going to catch me by surprise.
– VP of Operations, F100 Financial Institution

d. Monitor in real time the health of all transactions associated with a particular service or line of business (online banking, claim processing, new accounts, ecommerce…) e. Trace workload back to the user and transaction who originated it.

Figure 7 – Rapidly identifying the specific IP addresses that are creating the extra load.f. Understand the impact of application or infrastructure changes. g. Track compliance and security risks and violations. h. See the impact on all critical business functions of switching to disaster recovery locations. i. Have a common context and language for business, IT, application development and operations to work together.

IT Reliability & Continuous Improvement

Downtime and poor performance of applications directly impact revenue, brand, customer loyalty and retention. IT reliability is therefore critical to business success and competitiveness. But reliability is more than just availability and performance. Reliability is being an effective partner with the business to produce top and bottom line value, to constantly improve and evolve as an organization on all fronts. Approaching IT xxxx a business context and having access to detailed transactional data then becomes a vital requirement to bring together and connect the four dimensions of user experience, applications, infrastructure, and business processes. Business transaction management has emerged as the innovative approach that provides this much needed 4D view. Enterprises that have adopted the Correlsense IT Reliability solution are discovering that the wealth of business transaction data they now have available in their SharePath Reliability Management Data Base (RMDB) is invaluable to drive effective IT management processes and yield the desired value xxxx their service management, application performance management, and ITIL initiatives.