Taking an application

In the old mainframe environment, operations managed systems from a central point and, for the most part, things worked pretty well. In the cross-platform world today, systems management has become a monumental task. The effects are rippling back to influence new approaches to development.

More and more, developers will be required to "instrument their apps" in order to suit operations managers' pressing needs. Despite vendor efforts, much of the integration work lies in IT's hands. Thresholds at which applications break down must be defined because it is becoming easier and easier to reach these limits. The move to instrument apps has moved quickly in recent years. Two years ago, applications management support was mostly limited to databases. Today, vendors are beginning to cover popular packaged applications.

A complex mix of interdependent software modules is at the heart of the issue. Case in point: Ontario Hydro. "We have to manage 39 different technologies," said Aaron Cheng, manager of IT operations, Ontario Hydro, Toronto, Canada. Such complexity can become overwhelming, he said, if developers do not find ways to ease the pain. "Application developers will need to get more and more involved."

Added Cheng, "When application developers produce an application, they need to figure out how to manage it when it goes into production. What are the thresholds? An application must give a warning when thresholds go too high up. The best time to deal with management issues is early on in the application design stage. After the fact, management becomes difficult."

Though Cheng aims to get application developers more involved with management, Ontario Hydro's management strategy is based on Command/Post from Boole & Babbage, San Jose, Calif., which allows him to automate and manage from one point. Boole & Babbage has recently announced its "Desired-State Management" model for proactive end-to-end applications management.

Different tools, different platforms

Distributed systems management is complex because there are so many tools and platforms. Back in the mainframe days, said Ralph Sierra, supervisor of job submissions at a Chevron division in charge of batch programs, Concord, Calif., one only needed to install a single scheduling product. Today, he deals with many tools.

"Our number one issue is interfacing between different environments," said Sierra, whose division schedules roughly 750,000 jobs on a yearly basis for close to 90 different Chevron applications. "We have so many different layers of software that it's getting strenuous to keep things all in place."

Who puts the 'end' in 'end-to-end'

To enable end-to-end management, framework makers like Tivoli must forge more robust links with point tool makers. Thus you can expect to see more alliances like the recent one between Tivoli and True Software, Waltham, Mass. True was among a host of Tivoli Partners (others included were Candle Corp., Novadigm Inc. and Veritas) announcing tighter product integration with its flagship TME 10.

For True, the move is key to company strategy, said Alex Lobra, VP, marketing. "We looked at the market and said 'It's hard to build a company by selling tools only. We wanted to be a solutions provider for the IT space."

In systems management where people are focusing on apps, you really have to hook into the change cycle, said Lobra.

Today, people are constantly rolling changes in, he continued, the goal is to connect the operations side with the development side. "For example, with SAP R3 applications you buy, then you customize, then do a new release -- users end up trailing well behind," said Lobra. Moves afoot among both point tool and framework vendors are addressing this new state of affairs.

­ Jack Vaughan

Chevron, at one point, formed a cross-platform scheduling team in an effort to get a global answer for enterprise scheduling needs. But, according to Sierra, the task became too monolithic, and had to be broken up.

"We have all these tools available on the market but nobody has a complete solution yet," he said. "We use HP OpenView but, because we have such a unique infrastructure, we still need to integrate various tools." Sixty percent of Chevron's jobs are still on the mainframe -- Chevron uses the CA-7/Job Scheduling System from Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y. On the Unix side, Chevron uses Maestro from Unison Software Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.

"We used Maestro functionality to add triggering mechanisms to Maestro scripts which trigger off events in the CA scheduling product," said Sierra. "In the future, we would like one scheduler for all the different functions. I don't want to employ an analyst for the CA scheduler, one for Maestro and one for SAP." Maestro from Unison recently became part of the Tivoli Systems Inc. fold -- and, by extension -- the IBM fold via purchase.

Integrating software tools is still simpler than developing a skilled staff, Sierra said. Ontario Hydro's Cheng added, "You need to make sure that people have the capability to handle demanding day-to-day things in terms of trouble-shooting and in terms of problem management processes."

Systems and Network management has become the number one technological issue CIOs face this year, according to a recent Gartner Group survey. Last year, it was number three, said Ray Paquet, director, Network and Systems Management, Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn.

"It's an ugly problem CIOs would like to have solved for them," said Paquet. "It's similar to the year 2000 issue except it doesn't have a deadline. It's a boring, not very glamorous subject that involves lots of hard work." Paquet added that companies are beginning to look at management from a business-centric view of the world. "We're seeing that the application side comes into play very strongly in terms of requirements, especially when people want to improve quality of service. It's not the network or systems availability but the application response time and application availability that's most critical."

Total management

Sometimes companies start off thinking they have a network or systems management problem, but as they start working on the problem, they realize they need end-to-end management. "We were initially brought in to develop total systems management," said Rob Johnson, consultant at Sprint Paranet, Houston, a new division of Sprint focusing on installation and administration of distributed computing environments. "The company then saw the need to extend that to application and database management." Requirements were to monitor all the different pieces that make up a mission-critical billing system for cellular phones from the moment a call is made to the moment the customer is billed. "If this application is not available, the company is losing money," said Johnson. Pieces of the application run on Windows NT, Digital Unix, Sun Solaris, HP UX, Oracle and many pieces in between. For network management, the company uses HP OpenView Network Node Manager using SNMP.

Said Johnson, total systems management comprises four components: network management, application management, database management and performance management. Sprint Paranet opted for integrating point solutions to get some extra bells and whistles rather than going with a management suite framework vendor.

"We already had our network strategy in place," said Johnson, who implemented Patrol, an application management tool from BMC Software, Houston, Texas. "We were able to integrate Patrol into our existing environment because Patrol uses SNMP and has snap-ins for HP OpenView Network Node Manager. Patrol is very flexible and highly customizable."

The billing application is complex, having originally been purchased in Europe and rewritten for U.S. tariffs. "It's not your standard application," said Johnson. "With Patrol, we were able to build our own knowledge modules that allow us to monitor that very complicated application."

According to Johnson, the key challenge in implementing distributed systems management was getting feedback from the application programmers on what criteria they wanted Patrol to be configured around, said Johnson. The next challenge was more technical -- understanding the Patrol scripting language (PSL). "It was complicated to make PSL do what our application programmers wanted it to do," said Johnson. "But, with a combination of PSL, Unix shell scripts and database queries, we were able to make all of this happen."

If development managers think far enough ahead, they can use Patrol to build applications and their management platform in a way that would let them manage without the need of human intervention, Johnson said.

Looking at distributed systems management from an application management viewpoint is becoming more predominant according to Wayne Morris, BMC director of corporate strategy.

"Traditionally, systems management has come from the bottom up -- managing hardware, the network connections," he said. "In the last 15 months, there's been a recognition that we need to manage from the top down. We need to manage from the application down and understand what kind of service the user is getting and how we can improve it. All of the application components have to be available which include the database, the middleware and the underlying infrastructure." Morris notes that Patrol hooks into management frameworks, such as Tivoli, HP OpenView and CA Unicenter. He added that it is important to build in hooks -- the buzzword is "application instrumentation" -- into the application from the start to understand how the application is running from an end user's perspective.

Usually, there is a big difference between what the end user perception of services is and the IT vision of what services should be like. InfoVista Corp., Redwood City, Calif., is trying to bridge that gap partnering with BMC. InfoVista calls its product a service level agreement conformance management system. While Patrol has instrumentation agents that pick up the end-user perspective, InfoVista picks up the IT perspective. "Combining Patrol with InfoVista, we are able to bridge the gap of perception between the end user and the IT people," said David Chu, InfoVista vice president, marketing.

Gartner's Paquet likens the method Patrol uses -- embedding instrumentation into the application itself -- to open-heart surgery. There is risk involved. "It's rare to find well-instrumented applications from a management perspective," said Paquet. "BMC, Tivoli, CA and HP embed instrumentation to provide manageability but all of these solutions are highly proprietary. Even though BMC agents can talk to a lot of different consoles, they have to use BMC scripting language to extend their agent."

Despite industry efforts, there is no standard way to embed instrumentation. If developers put hooks into their application, they are naturally concerned over whether their management solution can use such hooks. They are also asking themselves whether they have to go back later and put more hooks in for a different solution.

The DMTF (Desktop Management Task Force) is currently working on a standard called COM (Common Information Model), a spin out from WBEM (Web-Based Enterprise Management founded by BMC, Ciscom, Compact, Intel and Microsoft) that could be used for systems and application management. COM is currently in draft format.

Frames and points

Some approaches to application instrumentation tend toward a more network-centric approach. Paquet likens that to X-ray technology. "Using packet 'sniffer' technology, tools like EcoScope collect data packets and analyze them. This approach is not intrusive [as the application instrumentation approach] but not necessarily accurate. It will give you an application view of the network traffic, but it won't tell you what is going on in the server or the application itself."

EcoScope, an application performance monitoring system, and EcoTools, which allow users to centrally manage events across application components, are marketed by Compuware Corp., Farmington Hills, Mich. "The application has to slice across the operating system and the network," said Rob Elmore, Compuware director of marketing. The different domains of software have to work together tightly for optimal application availability. "EcoTools provide data depth. The framework vendors provide a broad but not a deep layer," added Elmore, who notes that Compuware has integration partnerships with Tivoli and HP.

Perception is all

How do IT groups come to understand what the customer wants done? For years, service level agreements have been touted as the answer. But means to administrate and monitor such agreements do not come easy in the switched-on enterprise. InfoVista Corp., a French firm that has set up operations in the U.S., claims to have a solution. The company's goal is to become the leading provider of service level agreement management systems that allow organizations and service providers to measure and track quality of service.

The company is not in the agent business, but in the reporting business, explains founder and CEO Alain Ries. His InfoVista System can gather baseline trending and capacity planning statistics across networks, systems and applications. "We can combine end-to-end service data with infrastructure performance and health metrics," said Ries. Deals like a recent pact with agent-maker BMC help move the firl toward its goal.

­ Jack Vaughan

Clearly, development managers evaluating different approaches to distributed systems management enablement struggle with the decision as to whether they should opt for best-of-breed point solutions or go with a framework vendor. Integration is a key word. Should they do it themselves or depend on a vendor to integrate the tools for them?

"A company will have to do the integration regardless which way they choose," said Gartner's Paquet. "The burden is on you, not the vendors."

"You should not expect to find a solution that fits your enterprise needs without some level of consulting services," said Richard Ptak, director of systems management research, D.H. Brown Associates Inc., Port Chester, New York. "If you expect a solution to drop out of a box, that's very naive."

But, said Prabakar Sundarrajas, director, R&D, Exodus Communications, Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., it is too difficult to integrate a lot of different management applications for a company that looks for end-to-end management in the Internet space. Exodus, with more than 500 servers, provides Internet data center services. For its enterprise management solution, Exodus uses Unicenter TNG from Computer Associates International Inc. "We need management tools that can handle the end-to-end management of Internet applications -- the network, the systems, the databases , the actual applications and the environment of components," said Sundarrajas. "Moreover, we live in a highly accelerated time schedule in the Internet space."

More people are looking at application management, said Yogesh Gupta, CA senior vice president of product strategy, but most people don't have the luxury of doing this at the application design stage. "Eighty percent of the applications are bought from someone else," said Gupta. "What companies are trying to do very aggressively is manage and monitor applications they already have. The challenge is that people want to do application management without changing code."

Businesses cannot touch their code because it would take too much work, said Gupta. The amount of testing alone is enormous. "We offer agents that sit outside the application code, monitor the application and provide alerts without touching the application code," he said.

At 'Camp IBM'

Although now a part of the IBM camp, CA-competitor Tivoli Systems, Austin, Texas, continues to promote its system's extensibility. Said Tom Bishop, vice president of infrastructure development, Tivoli, TME 10 gives users freedom of choice to select the products and resources their business needs. Tivoli offers two integration toolkits: an Integration Toolkit and a Framework Toolkit for integrating resources with TME 10.

"We're using TME for our backbone framework," said Eric Eriksen, director MIS, Tropicana North America, Bradenton, Florida, a world leading marketer of branded fruit juice. "We have the ability to integrate best-of-breed third-party products using the TME Console product."

Tivoli recently released TME 10 Information/Management Version 1.1 which provides integration and support for leading Web servers and Java. "This tool will help us a lot," said Ericsen. "We are taking a much more application management view than a systems management view. The metric of reporting has changed. Before, you managed servers, now we manage applications on multiple servers." Tropicana North America has 17 HP 9000 Unix boxes and 15 Windows NT servers riding on a 100-based T-network infrastructure using Cisco switches.

Implementing TME was not easy. "There are so many ways of doing things in TME," said Ericsen. "The biggest challenge was setting up hierarchies, policy regions and sentries."

D.H. Brown's Ptak said, "The single biggest problem is to define, understand, prioritize what users actually need to get done. The vendors have provided a broad range of integrated functionality at various levels of integration. Failed implementations are usually due to a lack of understanding in what the customer really wanted to get done."