Managing Enterprise App Performance With an Iron Fist

Aberdeen surveyed over 100 organizations between December 2009 and February of 2010 to identify the best practices enterprises are using that improve application performance management solutions’ impact on end-user productivity and the business benefits of a “lifecycle” approach to application performance management. The research results reveal that Best-in-Class enterprises focus on a holistic approach to application performance management to reduce the time to identify and resolve critical application performance issues. The research also reveals that increases in the speed to identify and resolve problems raises application availability and delivers a clear return on investment for application performance management solutions.

Aberdeen’s survey respondents communicated that their top two pressures are to increase the productivity and satisfaction of their business application end-users. These findings are compared to top pressures found in Aberdeen’s June 2009 report “Monitoring the End-User Experience: Improving Business Performance Through Application Management.” In 2008, Aberdeen reported that 54 percent of respondents selected employee productivity as the top pressure. In June 2009, the pressure switched to improving end-user satisfaction, at 55 percent. Aberdeen’s 2010 results show that end-user satisfaction remains the top pressure.

Enterprises are implementing solutions such as virtualization, expanding globally distributed applications, and assessing the impact of cloud-based applications that result in reduced IT costs and improved return on investment for the enterprise. The third pressure, the need to support complex applications and processes, indicates that respondents are concerned about supporting their applications and business processes in this increasingly challenging technology environment and business climate.

Killing the Disruptions

Best-in-Class implementations of technology capabilities and enablers result in a clear improvement in overall performance. Only 20 percent of end-users in the Best-in-Class group report problems before they are identified by IT or by the application performance management system, compared to over twice that for the Laggard group.

One aspect of increased end-user productivity is facilitated by decreasing or eliminating business process disruptions. To achieve this, Best-in-Class companies delivered higher availability as a result of their application performance management implementations.

Results focusing on enterprise average availability changes over the last 12 months reflected a significant gap in the performance of achievements between the Best-in-Class, Industry Average, and Laggard companies.

The companies in the Best-in-Class category improved availability by 55 percent, Industry Average only improved 15 percent and Laggard posted only a 2 percent improvement. This suggests that Laggards will likely continue to have challenges with end-user satisfaction, productivity, revenue losses, and potentially negative impact to their brands.

IT operations groups that are focused on monitoring the environment keep abreast of numerous indicators of infrastructure systems and application performance and availability. This study separated the tasks of identifying a root cause as a component of problem solving and the time respondents indicated that it took to repair an application performance issue. The results show that Best-in-Class companies identify the root cause of application performance problems faster than their Industry Average and Laggard counterparts. Identifying the root cause of an issue helps the organization to eliminate that problem from impacting the business service in the future.

Rising Expectations

Aberdeen’s November 2008 report “The Performance of Web Applications: Customers Are Lost in One Second” pointed out that end-user expectations are continually rising. It is the responsibility of IT to improve overall performance and it is important to monitor applications from the end-user perspective.

Results from this current research show that the Best-in-Class significantly improved revenue from business critical applications in the last 12 months, linking the results of application performance management to real value for these companies.

Organizations are focusing on several strategic approaches to address the business pressures associated with increasing end-user productivity and satisfaction with production applications. The research shows that 52 percent of companies focus on improving performance monitoring of critical transactions. Increasing visibility into transaction details provides application developers with substantial data about end-user behavior and the performance of the applications.

Additionally, 33 percent of respondents reported that they are focused on defining quantifiable service levels. Enterprises can increase the availability of critical applications that have well-defined services levels for application performance. Connecting service levels to specific performance requirements for underlying infrastructure (such as server systems, network infrastructure, and transaction response times) is part of an integrated process improves the value of the application performance management solution.

Performance Visibility

Business service owners also want more visibility into the performance of their applications. This pressure is validated by the research results showing that Best-in-Class organizations have holistic, integrated application performance management solutions in place to deliver visibility into critical performance and systems details.

The research results reveal that 38 percent of Best-in-Class companies focus on implementing a holistic approach to application performance management that enables end-to-end visibility, event detection and management from the business service level to infrastructure system inclusively. Additionally, Best-in-Class companies deploy application performance management solutions that are open and provide capabilities to integrate with external monitoring systems. The Best-in-Class reveal that implementing both a holistic and integrated approach creates a common platform for delivering visibility into the performance of applications and underlying systems to business, technical, and operational stakeholders, across functional groups.

While 70 percent of the Best-in-Class perform root cause analysis on critical application events today, the remaining 30 percent of Best-in-Class companies indicated that they plan to implement root cause analysis on critical application events in the next 12 months. This indicates that 100 percent of Best-in-Class companies will implement root cause analysis process while Industry Average and Laggard companies play catch up.

Enterprises struggle with complex environments where business services and applications are built on a diverse set of technologies at the Web, application, and database layers. Enterprises are deploying applications across the globe in locations demanding complicated solutions for connectivity, multiple service providers, and large interdepartmental silos. Its not only where, but what that is the issue; is it server hardware, is it issues in application code, or can it be a network issue within a service provider network that connects a critical remote sales office?

Best-in-Class organizations have found that implementing technology solutions along with effective processes allow their IT teams to isolate a problem and quickly pinpoint the specific issue. Organizations gain higher levels of success when they have the capability to efficiently identify the root cause of a problem within this complex environment, while minimizing or eliminating finger pointing between IT service delivery teams. The research indicates that only 30 percent of Industry Average and Laggard organizations plan to implement root cause analysis processes in the next 12 months.

The way to reduce the time it takes to resolve application issues that impact systems or end-users is to have the correct resources engaged to resolve an issue when it is identified. It is extremely important for organizations to ensure that as many problems as possible be resolved at the first point of contact, such as at the service desk. Research results show that 47 percent of Best-in-Class companies dedicate resources to application optimization efforts, while only 14 percent of Laggards focus expertise in this area.

Bring In the Experts

The IT organization must engage expert resources that have both the depth and breadth of knowledge of an application or system component to reduce the time to repair critical application performance problems. Application performance management solutions enhance IT efficiency, help companies more effectively utilize high-cost technical experts, and generally run a leaner IT support team. Balancing proactive monitoring, effective problem identification, and sending automated escalations to the correct experts, based on service levels aligned with business services, improves the ability of IT to respond to end-user service impacting events.

Solutions that can consolidate and effectively correlate real-time performance data increase IT knowledge. Sifting through many data streams from numerous applications, transactions and systems that identify performance anomalies and accurately prioritize results help to facilitate process improvements and decision making. Sixty-three percent of the Best-in-Class have adopted solutions that provide detailed analytics to help the organization more effectively baseline and benchmark performance over time. The solutions implemented also work across system and application components, and provide deep analysis that focuses on end-user experience, including individual use characteristics, performance data, and transaction history.

A continuous improvement approach focuses on monitoring end-user-specific transactions, capturing specific key performance data, while enabling IT to measure, re-play, and optimize performance of the application at each step of the transaction. This increases the ability of IT to continuously and effectively manage applications. Several key capabilities in place are enabling the Best-in-Class to achieve definite performance gains compared to Industry Average and Laggard companies.

It is important that application performance solutions deliver effective diagnostic tools that improve the capability of IT to analyze data and connect the results of the analysis to the performance of applications. Best-in-Class companies are implementing these diagnostic tools.

Down to Details

The research reveals that 38 percent of Best-in-Class companies have implemented event correlation as part of their application performance management solutions, compared to 5 percent of Laggard companies. The Best-in-Class also utilize diagnostic tools that deliver service quality information, connecting service quality to infrastructure and transaction performance. Forty-four percent of Best-in-Class companies implemented service quality diagnostic tools compared to approximately one fourth of Laggard companies. Industry Average companies still have work to do to improve their implementations of service quality diagnostics.

Collecting diagnostic details provides IT with critical information to effectively handle application performance challenges. Delivering information to the appropriate resources increases operational efficiency, increases knowledge, and improves the capability of IT to provide important performance information to the correct resources. Forty-seven percent of respondents deliver reports that focus on customizable, role-based views that enable flexible reports to be delivered and accessed by specific stakeholders. Reports that classify events based on priority ensure that the most critical problems are addressed first. Executive dashboards deliver high-level business service information to service managers or other key stakeholders.

Gathering performance data is fundamental to developing baselines that IT can utilize to improve availability and performance. Whether end-user experience-related, application response time, or information that provides another service-based key performance indicator to capture important performance trends, baselines and benchmarks are important to defining realistic service levels. Through effective monitoring, IT can determine production performance and compare it to preproduction results. Additionally, utilizing application performance tools to identify or create production baselines helps the organization track current performance and compare it with historic performance of the application or specific transactions.

Research results show that 58 percent Best-in-Class companies have the ability to verify application performance ranges. Collecting baseline information over time enables IT to understand the ranges of performance for an application or underlying transactions. When performance falls outside of these ranges, IT is able to investigate and determine what potential problems might exist. It is important to make this information available in the operations center or service desk, enabling those stakeholders to have results of both types of performance around the clock.

Jeff Debarros is senior research analyst for network application performance management the Aberdeen Group. Gaurav Patil is a research associate for technology markets at Aberdeen.

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