How much mainstream IT capacity does mobility consume?

The challenge for IT departments will be to quantify the impact of a growing number of mobile devices on their infrastructure

Few can doubt the increasing popularity of mobile devices, specifically smartphones and tablets. Their numbers grow by the billion, with two billion already in use and – if current trends hold – they are likely to exceed five billion by the end of the decade.

While not all of these will connect to an enterprise IT system, most will. Increasingly, users are consumers of a wide range of enterprise products and services, whether in banking, travel, insurance or online shopping. Such interactions link at some or many points to traditional backend systems.

One challenge for IT is quantifying the impact of so many mobile devices on their existing IT and infrastructure. Most enterprises have planned for specific workloads, often sourced from clearly understood communities of users who might be employees, agents, partners or suppliers.

Even websites designed to encourage online interactions, such as searching for information or buying, have largely been designed for specifically anticipated browser session levels, with some overcapacity available if needed to support demand.

The arrival, in a relatively short period, of so many smartphones and tablets has the potential to upset IT’s carefully designed apple cart, unless IT is prepared.

Already, one UK bank processes over 50 billion transactions a year and Visa acknowledges processing in excess of 45 thousand transactions a second at peak loads. In both cases transaction are increasingly being initiated by mobile devices and are driving significant volumes increases.

More and more ‘transactional activity’ is occurring because smartphones and tablets are close to their owners so much more of the time than their desktop or laptop. Many apps ‘ping’ servers without users consciously needing to do anything. This produces increased levels of activity on backend systems supported by the IT department.

To be prepared for this increasingly mobile environment, IT needs to know what is happening with its workloads and, if they are changing, why. The key questions that should be asked are:

  • How much additional traffic attributable to mobile devices does the infrastructure support today?
  • What volumes should be anticipated in the future?
  • Do you know which applications are subject to unpredictable peaking?
  • How you will manage those peaks when they occur?

These are not simple questions to answer. They require accurate data. Few applications initiated on mobiles are coded in ways where IT can readily separate traditional and mobile interactions and transactions.  

To make matters more complex, many mobile device interactions may start yet may not complete, either because of mobile communications difficulties (increasingly rare) or because of some immediate user inconvenience or even because existing applications, or browser, sessions are still not fully adapted for an increasingly mobile environment.

Some say over 50% of interactions fail because users give up if there is too much of a delay. But for IT, failed logical transactions represent wasted resources that present application design as well as operational issues for resolution.

Understanding what IT resources are being consumed and why is becoming ever more important

This makes identifying which proportion of workloads are attributable to mobile interactions less than straightforward. One illustrative example of such difficulties comes from a Spanish bank that, when asked, said it did not know what effect mobile devices had on its IT and infrastructure.  

If the most complex of organisations, like banks, have difficulty, it is likely other enterprises will have similar or greater challenges working out the processing impact of mobile devices. All need sophisticated tracking tools for this, and even those available may not be sufficient.

This applies irrespective of platform, with the possible exception of cloud-based backend processing delivered by the likes of AWS or Azure where the monitoring tools implemented may possess the necessary sophistication due to the nature of cloud-based computing. 

Understanding what IT resources are being consumed and why is becoming ever more important. IT needs process consumption baselines so that comparisons can be made. If significant differences emerge these can then be investigated – not least for whether mobile technologies are a cause.

The impact of mobility is an issue that many CIOs will face sooner or later, as traditional IT resources that were expected to be sufficient for years incur unforeseen loads and need upgrades.

For the longer term what seems apparent is that consistent identification of mobile-initiated processing is a necessity, both for negotiating with suppliers and for monitoring what is actually occurring. Undertaking this early IT can be prepared and then be equipped to drive appropriate bargains.

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