IT Directs Flow of Net Traffic

Fidelity turns to biz-oriented site monitoring.

Its a normal, insanely busy day in Fidelity Investments Internet Operations Center, and Jeff Crawford wants answers. Marching between the workstation pods where IT managers monitor Fidelitys Web infrastructure, Crawford shouts, "Whats happening with 401(k) inquiries? How fast is research loading? Are trades up or down?"

Until recently, IT managers monitoring Fidelitys popular business-to-consumer sites wouldnt have known how to answer. Thats because, like most network managers these days, they used systems that could tell them about technology breakdowns but not business issues. They could see sluggish servers. But they couldnt say exactly how such problems affected customers trying to do business with Fidelity online.

But with this months debut of Managed Objects Formula—a new breed of network system and management software—Fidelitys IT network managers are starting to see problems from a business perspective. And theyve started to realize its their business to do so, to the point that they dont even want to take bathroom breaks while monitoring key areas of the site.

"Worst case: Wed be off chasing a red herring on what we thought was the problem, but wed be missing the real issue," said Senior Vice President Crawford, in Boston. "What we needed was a way to filter through the messages so we could pay attention to the business areas that were really important."

Although its too early to point to measurable benefits because the product is just coming out of beta testing, its clear that Fidelity and other companies like it need to find a way to get the people who monitor their sites closer to the people who use the sites. What Formula and a handful of other products from Computer Associates International Inc., Tivoli Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are on to, experts say, is a new level of Web site management designed to help companies prioritize their support efforts, ultimately achieving better customer satisfaction and a more efficient IT organization.

Fidelitys e-biz formula

Up and running in Fidelitys IOC in beta test mode since last August and just now in production, Formula will be the single console through which staffers view information from a dozen monitoring tools covering all aspects of the companys network. "Before, it took someone to physically move around the room to check the various monitors to see what information was coming off the tools," Crawford said. "With Formula correlating all the tools into one presentation view, IOC engineers can do their entire job from their seats."

Thats good timing, given how much Fidelitys Web operation has grown. Initially, Crawfords group oversaw Fidelitys retail trading site, launched in June 1997. But, over time, the group has taken responsibility for the uptime of all the companys major Web efforts, including those supporting Fidelitys institutional business and its 401(k) activities. Volume on the site reaches about 1.5 million hits per day, with 86 percent of all equity trades for Fidelity now done online vs. a mere 6 percent in early 1998.

Despite this kind of traffic, bandwidth has never been the issue. Fidelitys current Web site environment was designed with a high level of replication, allowing it to function like an 18-lane highway, Crawford said, so traffic can be rerouted away from problem areas in seconds if the need arises.

Fidelity also aimed high on the capacity side, planning for four times the volume of its peak transaction day. "We needed to get out of the trenches, from looking at individual boxes and the technical reasons they were down to looking at what the business was really about and what customers really cared about," Crawford said.

Where the system kept falling short, according to Crawford, was in helping engineers proactively make the best decisions on where to focus their emergency efforts so Fidelity customers were assured of the best possible online experience. For example, Crawford would prefer his team focus on glitches related to online research and trading—the high-traffic areas of the site—as opposed to resolving issues affecting less popular areas such as the college savings tool.

Orchestrating that kind of mind-set shift was no easy task. With Formula in place, the Fidelity group began to create views around certain business applications and customer groups—for example, the trading engine or the servers allocated for a particular U.S. region—as opposed to management views of discrete hardware or network components. Staffers stumbled over this new approach until Crawford weighed in with an experiment.

Last month, he took four team members and instructed them to cut up their work by function and customer. They were told to focus on that expertise for an hour without getting distracted by alerts that came in affecting other areas. Eventually, they began to catch on. "They started to feel comfortable ignoring stuff that wasnt in their area because that was someone elses domain," Crawford said. "And because no one else was looking at their segment of responsibility, they began to take total ownership. They wouldnt even walk away from a pod to get a drink or go to the restroom without notifying someone."

Formula will also play a role outside the Fidelity IOC nerve center. Crawford plans to roll out the tool to senior execs so they, too, have a high-level view of the Web site management issues that might concern them. For instance, Formula will let the president of Fidelitys e-business sector see how his 18-lane highway is performing at any given time. Only, with the help of the Formula tool, senior execs will see network performance in terms of key online business processes, not servers and routers.

Said Crawford, "Its not the primary mission of this room to solve problems, but to keep customers away from problems."