Application performance management: Developing a strategy

Application performance management is a critical task because application delivery can play a critical role in both revenue generation and corporate functionality. In this tip, learn how to develop a strategy for managing applications on your network.

Application performance management is many things to many people in the industry. It used to be a measure of network bandwidth, and everyone had network management tools monitoring the WAN bandwidth -- things start slowing down, add some more bandwidth. This still holds true to some extent, especially with 1 Gig and 10 Gig transport pipes being sold. In most cases, though, the applications are running between remote sites and data centers. These sites have run on T-1s or fractional T-1s for so long that everyone has grown comfortable. For the longest time, if you needed better performance, you just purchased that incremental bandwidth one fractional T at a time.

Now, those T-1s are full, and suddenly the voice people want to extend VoIP to every site; the CEO wants corporate-wide video broadcast; the business units are looking for SAP and Web training. Internet usage has exploded, and IT organizations face serious challenges in meeting corporate and business unit demand for these capabilities. The IT organization shoulders the burden of keeping application traffic moving smoothly and efficiently to all points while introducing new applications seamlessly into the mix.

This is a critical task because application delivery to internal employees and external customers and partners can play a critical role not only in revenue generation but in corporate functionality as a whole. Many organizations run hundreds if not thousands of applications over the IT infrastructure. Poor performance, expensive bandwidth upgrades, and delays in new application rollouts can have a significant impact on the organization's revenue and its ability to offer new capabilities or services. The bottom line is that applications are important, and having a strategy around their introduction, delivery and performance is critical.

The approach to developing an effective strategy is pretty straightforward. It will take some time to execute, however, so plan on allocation of resources. The following list represents the minimum information that should be collected in order to deliver a strategy for application performance management.

  • Understand the current application mix: This will provide a foundation for all future application management decisions. You can gain an understanding of your current application mix in a variety of ways, including verbal interviews with network, server and application development groups, as well as business units. True visibility into all applications requires tools and people to analyze the information captured by the tools.
  • Understand the business drivers: In most cases, these are the initiators for the development and deployment of new applications. Most applications are pushed down through the business units to the IT organization. Develop a communications process with the business units by scheduling one-hour interviews with key stakeholders to discuss initiatives that may drive new applications.
  • Understand the network: The design and performance of the overall network -- and corresponding application patterns and usage over the network -- are equally important.
  • Understand your options: This is where actual solution scenarios are built around technology insertion, network redesign and process optimization to manage company-wide application performance.
  • Formulate the strategy: Once the options are understood, recommendations, cost justification, project initiation and execution can occur.

As is evident from the list above, the foundation for any good strategy is an understanding of your current environment. It is easy to begin developing a wish list of tools and products that can deliver application performance metrics, but that is only one aspect of the strategy. Tools can provide significant visibility into the application environment and are a must-have for deploying a robust strategy; however, the overall strategy must also tie into the network capacity... and scale as driven by new application deployment.

The next article will address the details of the strategy approach in each of the areas above.

About the author: Robbie Harrell (CCIE#3873) is the National Practice Lead for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions for SBC Communications. He has more than 10 years of experience providing strategic, business and technical consulting services. Robbie lives in Atlanta and is a graduate of Clemson University. His background includes positions as a principal architect at International Network Services, Lucent, Frontway and Callisma.

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