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The state of IT Ops visual management: Is the big picture in reach?

John P. Mello Jr. Freelance writer
Monitoring charts

Getting a "big picture" glimpse into IT operations has always been a challenging task for IT directors, and it hasn't been made any easier with the use of hybrid architectures and applications that tap into resources located on-premises and in cloud environments.

What's more, other folks in the organization, such as line-of-business managers and development teams, are pressuring IT for big-picture data because they need real-time performance information to assess the health of their applications and infrastructure, as well as the quality of their users' experiences.

To get a better handle on the big picture, IT managers are turning to visual and application monitoring. An attractive aspect of these technologies is that, not only does IT obtain the knowledge it needs to do its job, but by transforming the performance information it collects into data analytics and business insights that can be incorporated into visual tools such as dashboards, it can provide easy-to-understand vehicles for better decision making by business managers, technology specialists, developers, and others within an organization.

Is the big picture into IT Ops in reach?


Big picture, in detail

It only makes sense that, if you want to see the big picture, you need to visualize it. That's what visualization tools allow you to do. They can reveal patterns, trends, and correlations that may go undetected when looking at raw numbers or text. Understandably, data analytics is often intimately connected to data visualization. "In fact, data visualization is often a component of data analytics," writes Beerit Goldfarb, director for technical community and evangelism at Loom Systems, maker of an automated log analysis solution.

But while most operation analytics software vendors embed virtualization tools into their products, they don't necessarily have their own algorithms producing new insights from that data, says Goldfarb.

Those insights need to be made easy to recognize by a visualization solution without sacrificing the complexity of the data they're based on. "The 'big picture' is striving for easy ways to deliver simplified information visually without losing the ability of 'drill down' to individual data points," writes Wes Heaps, solutions and product marketing manager at Micro Focus. "It's linking individual data points together into compelling stories, such that you have more information about your business than you started with."

That kind of depth is necessary to achieve the benefits associated with visualization—benefits such as identifying the root causes of problems so they can be solved faster, busting bottlenecks, and identifying performance issues before they become outages and slowdowns.

In-depth visual information is important not just to IT managers, but to developers, too, especially in agile environments. Code warriors want to focus their attention on creating code and enhancing features in applications. Any other tasks—such as squashing bugs and hunting for performance bottlenecks—divert developers from their primary mission. What's more, such diversions are a drag on the time it takes to get new or improved applications to market or new services online so they can have a broad impact on an organization's overall performance, as well as its competitiveness.

Continuous delivery calls for going visual

With the right visual and performance-monitoring tools, developers can expose performance problems and identify their root causes at the code level. Those tools need to work in production as well as preproduction environments in order to avoid workflow snags. If a performance problem is discovered during production, a developer shouldn't be forced to try to recreate the defect in a preproduction environment to get at its root cause.

In the continuous development software world of today, that's extremely important. The old days of the "war room," where everyone working on a project was herded together to hammer out problems—a process that could sometimes take weeks—are a luxury many organizations can no longer indulge.

Visualization coupled with application performance monitoring can be used to gather and display information about:

  • Individual components, as well as the end-to-end infrastructure supporting an application, such as application servers, web servers, and databases
  • Interfaces that enable applications to run across platforms
  • Applications, whether they be running on-premises, in a cloud, or in hybrid architectures
  • Quality and effectiveness of a user's experience, whether the user is real or virtual
  • Response time for an application to perform a transaction, including a component's contribution to that response time, as well as the network hops that take place during an end-to-end transaction

Silos stand in the way

In the right environments, that information can be used to build the big picture of IT operations, but typically that's not the case. IBM says 64% of large companies are using some form of application performance monitoring software, but it's used for monitoring individual domains or components—servers, storage, or the networks—and not holistically addressing the end-to-end system powering the business. "This siloed approach can detect technology component issues but does not show the end-to-end effect of component performance problems on the end user," IBM notes.

As companies begin to speed up their development lifecycles and embrace agile methods and DevOps tools, they can use application performance monitoring to raze those information silos and boost the ability of teams to work together to address performance issues and other problems.

It can be particularly important in agile environments, because when you're bringing your apps online faster, it's easy to miss problems that crop up only after the software reaches its production phase. Those issues can be spotted when an organization has in place appropriate application, infrastructure, and end-user monitoring. And they can be spotted before they impact the experience of the company's customers, an important consideration for firms whose success is tied to customer-facing applications.

By the same token, performance monitoring can be very important to DevOps teams, too. Continuous monitoring during all phases of an application's lifecycle allows teams to quickly see how code changes affect an application's performance—a valuable bit of knowledge when you're pushing out new releases of an app every day or every week—and enables teams to work more efficiently by breaking down the barriers to information sharing among lines of business, IT operations, and app developers.

As IT operations management expands, tools need to scale

Without a doubt, application and infrastructure complexity will continue to increase. As it does, so will the challenges of obtaining an end-to-end picture of an operating environment. Visualization and performance monitoring can help IT operation teams gain the kind of visibility into their application environments they need to identify performance issues as they arise and to meet the new challenges they're facing as their role within organizations evolve.

No longer can IT Ops be just the guys who "keep the lights on." They need to keep an organization's applications humming, which can be daunting as more and more businesses depend on software-defined services and infrastructure to get their jobs done. Visualization and performance-monitoring tools that can address issues swiftly and give operations managers the holistic visibility they need into their complex environments are becoming more and more essential every day.

As Heaps writes:

“As more and more data becomes available from more and more sources, IT is going to have to tackle and understand it.”

"It isn’t going to get any easier, and setting up a holistic visualization approach seems like a smart direction to take," Heaps continues. "After all, how are you going to see your way through the 'Internet of Everything' that’s just around the corner if you can’t see into your enterprise today?"                           


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