Software that measures application performance doesnt live up to the most spectacular vendor promises—and its harder to set up than most people realize. But such tools can be the difference between a system slowdown and a show-stopping disaster.
In Nielsen Media Researchs data center in Oldsmar, Fla., near Tampa, about 700 servers hum away in air-conditioned comfort. Marty LeFebvre, the television-ratings companys vice president of technology strategy, is most concerned with 200 of those, which host proprietary data-gathering and analysis applications at the very heart of Nielsens service.
How to tell when an application is on the brink of collapse? Five years ago, LeFebvre and his staff had no consistent, centralized way to find out. To keep a handle on the performance of the servers and the applications running on them, Nielsen decided to roll out BMCs Patrol system-management software.
The goal was simple. But reaching it certainly wasnt, LeFebvre says: "There are dozens of moving parts in being able to define an application." One problem was information overload. The servers reported on each and every little thing that was wrong with them through Patrol. Every day, Nielsens systems generated 232,000 alerts, which included any event outside the bounds of normally anticipated behavior.
Nielsen took about a year to get fully comfortable using Patrol as part of daily operations. LeFebvre and his staff have since tuned the software to filter the alerts down to between 200 and 300 events per day, which are sent to administrators to act on. While LeFebvre believes the system lets the company manage its information resources more proactively, he says he wishes he had initially committed more staff and money to get the project off the ground faster. "In hindsight, I would have much more realistic expectations about where it would take us, and what resources we needed," he says.
In the world of measuring application performance, hype and inflated expectations have outpaced reality. The latest vendor chatter is about "business-service management," a buzzword describing products that are supposed to allow customers to manage information-technology resources according to business processes, by automatically identifying the infrastructure problems directly affecting them. But customers say nobodys really delivering the complete package yet.