There are many challenges associated with managing the complex, multilevel application infrastructure that supports mission-critical business applications and services. These challenges include cost containment, application downtime, virtualization management and troubleshooting configuration discrepancies. Knowledge Center contributor James Tauber highlights four key actions you can take to improve service levels in your application infrastructure management.
mValent conducted a survey of Fortune 1000 IT professionals to help
understand issues and challenges associated with managing the complex,
multilevel application infrastructure that supports mission-critical
business applications and services to their internal and external
customers. While conducted by mValent, this survey did not highlight
any particular product or vendor. Rather, the survey focused on
identifying and understanding key market trends.
Four key findings emerged from this survey, each of which has
implications for IT managers as they seek to improve service levels.
The four big-ticket items identified as priorities in the survey were
the pressure to contain IT labor costs, the impact and cost of downtime
and the associated drive to provide higher availability of
applications, the imperative to provide better management over virtual
server environments, and inefficiencies and delays introduced by
configuration inconsistencies between environments (such as QA,
staging, production, etc.).
Having the data is interesting, but what are the lessons learned? Be
readily equipped to answer the boss's question, "So, what are you going
to do about it?" Here are some thoughts on actions you can take to make
improvements against each of these findings.
Priority No. 1: Pressure to contain IT labor costs
Cost containment is the No. 1 business objective for executives in
IT in 2008, possibly reflecting general concerns about the macro-level
business climate. Forty-nine percent of respondents rated this as one
of their top priorities, while another 23 percent tabbed "improving IT
staff productivity" as a top priority. Cost and productivity are really
two different ways to express the same concern, so both are included.
At this point, driving cost out of your IT environment (or improving
your staff productivity) primarily means automating more processes to
reduce the labor cost component of delivering and supporting
applications. If you look across the various IT work processes, a few
candidates for automation stand out. For example, the amount of
time spent troubleshooting problems in preproduction or production is a
significant time sink for many of the companies that participated in
So, too, is the time spent building out new environments to support
new applications, new releases or expansions. Close to 80 percent of IT
budgets are now spent on maintenance activities. Changing up this
status quo can be an important step to draining inefficiencies out of
the IT cost structure. There are many options to consider, whether you
look at provisioning tools, configuration management products, process
automation suites or others.
Priority No. 2: Impact and cost of downtime and the associated drive to provide higher availability of applications
About one-third of the respondents said that an hour of application
downtime costs their company $100,000 or more. Ten percent said that
the hourly cost for them was over a whopping $500,000. Clearly, there
is a strong business case for any IT automation tool that reduces the
incidence of application downtime. Since configuration inconsistencies
are a significant source of application issues, you should consider
targeting this area. Automated quality assurance and test tools would
be an appropriate focal point to consider as well.
Priority No. 3: The imperative to provide better management over virtual server environments
Virtualization is one of the hottest trends in IT. Most companies
have jumped on this bandwagon, but the survey results uncovered a
critical issue deserving of focus for IT managers. While 37 percent
said that implementing virtual servers made their environments less
complex, the majority-63 percent-said it either made their environments
more complex, made no difference at all, or they could not determine if
virtualization made any difference. Clearly, this is a key issue for IT
managers given all of the time and money thrown at virtualized
Planning and performing server configuration management in the
virtual server world will have to take into account new dynamics that
did not previously require attention in the physical environment.
Companies should purchase configuration management tools that can
directly address the nuances introduced by a virtual server
Specifically, it would make sense for managers to add tools to their
repertoire that allow them to manage an efficient set of virtual
images, combined with a library of configuration settings tailored to
various environments and applications.
Priority No. 4: Inefficiencies and delays introduced by
configuration inconsistencies between environments (such as QA,
staging, productions, etc.)
Our respondents cited the challenge of trying to troubleshoot
configuration discrepancies as the No. 1 driver behind the investment
in configuration management tools for the application infrastructure.
Almost 40 percent said that was the case-and that's surprising. The
average Fortune 1000 IT organization supports literally hundreds of
applications across a myriad of environments. Each environment, server
instance and layer of software will have its own set of configuration
parameters, typically without automated tools to manage them
comprehensively. It follows naturally that these settings will quickly
get out of sync and drift away from the company's standards.
So, as you can see, there are major implications to improve service
levels in application infrastructure management: Using some automated
tool set for configuration, change and release management of these
configuration settings makes good sense. These tools can either be
commercially available or internally developed. But managing the often
chaotic configuration environments will save valuable time for you and
your staff. Time now spent on maintenance activities can be directed
toward next frontier tasks, which can provide your company with
efficiencies and competitive advantage.
James Tauber is co-founder and chief technology officer at mValent. James
has more than a decade of experience driving Web technologies
and standards in both commercial and academic environments. He was one
of the original invited experts who helped develop the XML standard in
1996. He is also a well-known open-source developer.
Prior to co-founding mValent, James was director of XML
technology at Web services pioneer Bowstreet, where he was responsible
for technical evangelism, standards and advanced technology. He served
as Bowstreet's representative to the W3C and OASIS, where he served on
numerous working groups and technical committees, and was chair of the
OASIS Directory Services Markup Language TC.
James holds a bachelor of science degree in linguistics from
the University of Western Australia. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D.
He can be reached at email@example.com.