Redefining “Application”

During any discussion with the term ‘application,’ what is the first thing that comes to mind? For many, it’s a traditional piece of software like Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite or perhaps server software like Apache. In the world of AppFirst, we accept those traditional definitions, but we’ve decided to take it a step further.

The application is the heart of your business. It consumes all the resources of your company – both in business and technical operations. However, the application is not a single piece of software or server. The application is a collection of components which frequently includes commercial offerings: load balancers, databases, and queuing systems. It spans many servers, and often spans locations and occasionally other organizations as well.

Having such a widely distributed resource list presents an interesting challenge for knowing the true footprint of your application. This is especially important when it comes to hardware provisioning, system migrations and planning scalability. AppFirst meets this challenge by exploiting the real value of your application as defined by a multi-dimensional analysis.

“Knowing your application’s resource requirements and use-cycle lets you plan for transition with a solid foundation.”

What do I mean with multi-dimensional analysis? By examining your application at the process level, we get a tremendous amount of information about the interfacing resources. We gain insight into whether components of your application are memory-bound, network-bound, or cpu-bound. We show you this for each component across the entire pipeline of information that makes up your application. By thoroughly defining this pipeline, you can also see the resource requirement in aggregate.

Now there are other solutions that show you snapshots of your application, giving you “worst case” scenarios and try to prepare you with reports. The underlying problem is these fail to examine the full breadth of your application over your use-cycle: your application throughout high load, maintenance, and normal load periods. Knowing your application’s resource requirements and use-cycle lets you plan for transition with a solid foundation.

Ultimately, business decisions are made around the footprint of the application, whether provisioning servers, preparing for the dreaded move to “the cloud,” or just providing a business case to request new hardware. Our multi-dimensional analysis will give you solid information to make the case and provide evidence in both the preparation and post-purchase phase.

A Monitor Horror Story

A Monitor Horror Story

We know that Ops teams are wearing their ghostbusters costumes 24/7 throughout the year, fighting off ghouls hiding in their applications and infrastructure. With halloween upon us, we want to hear your scariest, most horrifying application performance monitoring story. For example, was it an old monitoring tool that failed you during a crucial time? Was it an unforeseen outage during peak time? Was there a fire drill at midnight where you had to come in to the office, just to watch the queues?

Tell us your most horrifying story about monitoring your applications. The most original, humorous, scary stories will win some great prizes.

The rundown

How to enter: Fill out this form to tell us your most terrifying story about app performance / monitoring prior to finding AppFirst! (you can select to keep your name and company confidential)

How you’ll win: Entries will be reviewed by the AppFirst judges, and winners will be chosen based on originality, humor, and scariness.

The treats:

  1. 1st place will win a Galaxy Tablet.
  2. 2nd place will receive a Google Chromecast.
  3. 3rd place will receive a Raspberry Pi.

The contest ends on October 23, 2013. The winners will be announced, along with a blog post of select stories, on October 28, 2013.

Are you afraid of missing something? Miss nothing with AppFirst. Sign up for a free trial.

 

Your Monitoring is Missing Something

When I was interviewing to join AppFirst, I mentioned to our CEO, David Roth, that the one thing that most customers wanted to know after they bought a monitoring solution was “OK, so now that I have your tool, what should I monitor?” This was not in jest. Most people who buy monitoring tools are generalists. They are typically very smart people, but they don’t have expertise in every hardware/software system on the planet.

In the past, this meant that you had to do a lot of research on the systems in your care. If you missed some metrics, you wouldn’t be able to properly predict system behavior or troubleshoot an inevitable performance problem. If you picked too many metrics, you risked overwhelming the monitoring tool.

Over the years, various vendors have come up with partial solutions to this predicament. Some tools started out by including notes in their configuration files regarding well known metrics and thresholds. Other tools included collections of application specific scripts that the end user could leverage. These were a great help when you were unfamiliar with the various APIs and command line interfaces (CLIs) used to interrogate these systems. Where this falls short, however, was setting meaningful thresholds for your application. This still required application-specific subject matter expertise, something that usually meant talking to people on the other side of a silo…and you know how that can be.

So what happens when something goes wrong? Do people look to the monitoring tools? No. More often than not, they attempt to remote into the faulty system and run something like “top” or “perfmon”. Why? Because they want to see the real, detailed data. There are two problems with this scenario.

  1. Tools like “top” are very CPU intensive. You (and most likely, several of your peers) are putting significant additional load on a system that is already in stress.
  2. These tools only show you what is happening now, not when the problem actually occurred 20 minutes ago.

(This reminds me of a scenario that happened years ago. We were managing a “shadow IT” server in a closet of our NYC office. Whenever we tried to access the server from home, the performance was terrible, but when we looked at the system in the office, it worked fine. Perfmon showed nothing wrong. We had a hard time understanding this. Was it the network? A poorly configured web server? Turned out to be none of the above. This was in the early days of PC graphics and we had enabled a cool OpenGL screensaver on the machine…a server with no graphics accelerator. The screen saver would kick in after we left the office and took the CPU to its knees. When we were in the office, the first mouse movement deactivated the screensaver. Turned off the screensaver…problem solved.)

Along with collecting metrics, you need to be able to establish meaningful thresholds for alerting. Even determining static thresholds can present a challenge. Google certainly helps, but the data tends to be spread all over the place. Often, the best thresholds are in the brains of the people who actually deploy and use the tools, not their creators. This means tracking down experts, talking to them (argh) and distilling their insights into limits that can trigger alerts in your monitoring tool.

But what you really want are thresholds that understand your application. You want the system to recognize that you have large trading volumes on Monday at 9:30 and this is to be expected. You want it to know you just rolled our a new release and any change in CPU utilization would be of interest.

At AppFirst, we have addressed these issues in three ways:

Big Data Repository - Thanks to our big data back end, we have flipped the ingestion challenge on its head. Now the approach is to collect everything and sort it out later. This means you can track that “edge case” metric that no one ever thought was important…just in case. This greatly enhances the likelihood that you will have the data you need when the metrics hit the fan.

“Miss nothing” in-process metrics - At the heart of the AppFirst solution is our patent-pending ability to see inside every process on every server in your environment. This data is fed into the big data repository, ensuring that you have real-time data now, but also detailed historical data from when that “incident” actually happened.

Auto Detection and Configuration - Since we see every process on every machine in your environment…and know who is talking to who…we can quickly identify applications and application stacks running in your data center. With that information in hand, we will configure meaningful alerts, ingest (and index) important log files and even deploy application specific scripts to collect even more information about your apps. (The list of apps we recognize out of the box is always growing. If you want to help contribute your subject matter expertise, drop us a note.)

To learn more about AppFirst unique differentiation, schedule a demo or sign up and start your own self-paced evaluation.

AppFirst Partners With Safeguard For Series B Funding

New Round Provides $8.7 Million

NEW YORK, NY – December 6, 2012 – AppFirst, the leading provider of SaaS-based application management solutions, announced today it has completed a Series B round of funding with Safeguard Scientifics, totaling $8.7 million. Continue reading

Cloud-Based Analytic Tools Can Improve IT/Application Performance

It was great seeing Jeff Kaplan at All About the Cloud last week. This is reposted from his recent commentary on The IT Services Site. You can see it here.

One of the age-old challenges associated with operating traditional IT environments has been the dearth of easy-to-use and cost-effective monitoring and management platforms.

In the same way that today’s cloud-based enterprise applications are making it easier for business end users and executives to employ and utilize once-complex business systems, a new generation of cloud-based IT management tools is alleviating the challenges of managing IT operations.

For years, traditional network and systems management (NSM) platforms have often compounded rather than resolved the IT monitoring challenges facing organizations. IT management platforms required an army of in-house staff augmented by a regiment of outside consultants to be deployed and were too often never fully implemented because of the costs and complexities involved. In many ways, traditional NSM platforms have been the enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems of the IT world, far more costly than originally anticipated and generating far fewer benefits than hoped.

As software-as-a-service (SaaS) alternatives to traditional business applications have gained widespread acceptance, many IT professionals have put aside their initial concerns about the reliability and security of these cloud-based services. In fact, many are now envious of their business counterparts because they want their own set of cloud-based alternatives to help them more easily and effectively manage their day-to-day IT operations.

The good news is that there are a growing number of cloud-based IT and NSM management alternatives gaining a foothold in the market.

For instance, AppFirst delivers application and infrastructure performance management via the cloud in a turnkey fashion. It provides IT operations visibility into application behavior and performance across an entire Windows server infrastructure by collecting over 15,000 metrics in real-time. It uses an algorithm which requires little CPU overhead that can also be correlated with Nagios to capture logfile data to permit deterministic root cause analysis to prevent and resolve application performance issues.

EnStratus is using analytics to help its customers better evaluate, deploy, and administer various cloud infrastructure alternatives. Its management analytics can guide the deployment, governance, automation, and optimization of public, private, and hybrid clouds.

The success of this new generation of analytics-driven, Cloud-based ITSM management alternatives has sparked a series of acquisitions by the legacy IT/NSM vendors, like CA Technologies’ purchase of Nimsoft. It has also driven many established players, like BMC, to add cloud options to their traditional, on-premise management portfolios.

For those organizations that are still reluctant to take on the challenges of cloud management on their own, a growing number of managed services providers (MSPs), like Centerbeam, are expanding their service capabilities to offer managed cloud services, which give their customers greater visibility via improved analytic dashboards.

SIIA Vision From the Top 2012: David Roth

SIIA’s Vision from the Top is a collection of interviews with SIIA member executives running some of the most exciting technology companies today.

Here’s the interview from our CEO, David Roth. You can download the complete copy of the publication SIIA Vision from the Top 2012.

With various forces combining to transform the IT landscape, how do you see the role of the IT department evolving?

The Complex Road to Business/IT Nirvana
The Application is the Business. And, the Business is the Application.

For companies that grasp and internalize the above, the road to Business/IT Nirvana becomes crystal clear. What is an application, really? It can be interpreted different ways by different people with different job functions. But at the most fundamental level, an application should be the business – and if it’s not, then that application is probably weakening the business.

IT spent the last 10 years trying to align itself with Business – until last year. The economic downturn blew up the alignment myth. CEOs told their CIOs “You have no IT goals. IT goals are the business goals.” Simple. Crisp. Total Alignment. But what’s the best way to help ensure that your applications are the business and vice versa? The goal of aligning IT to business goals is not new – it has been around for many years, and remains a ‘nirvana’ that organizations strive to achieve. In an October 2011 report by Forrester Research, Inc. titled “Transform Your I&O Organization Into an Innovation Machine,” report author Jean-Pierre Garbani writes, “In Partner Player organizations, technology and its leaders are viewed as critical to go-to-market offerings and provide a source of differentiation (the business is IT and IT is the business). ”

Once Business and Applications are indistinguishable, risks to Applications are nothing but risks to the Business. This is an exciting time in business and technology. Private, public and hybrid clouds enable and support sensational new business capabilities. People are recognizing the differentiation Garbani notes, and want to more quickly align their IT capabilities and their business successes. Why? Consider a recent study by Aberdeen that found that 68 percent of the time, IT finds out about application issues from end-users. Enterprise Management Associates estimates that the amount of outages and application problems averaged out across mid-market and enterprise size operations cause 60 hours of downtime per year. The cost of that downtime is averaged at $45,000 per hour (much higher for enterprises of course), and businesses spend nearly $3 million a year identifying and solving application issues in the cloud. ‘What’s so exciting about that?’ you’re asking. Well, never before have tools and methodologies been so available to propel IT transformation from IT centric to business centric. Today’s solutions assess and view critical business metrics, in a repeatable and highly consistent manner, providing enormous insight to leverage and work more successfully with cloud computing technology.

So, why are we still using system metrics as a proxy for business risks? We should not. The primary metrics should be application metrics that are synonyms for business metrics like ‘Sales in Past 5 minutes’. Traditional system metrics (like Network Latency) are still essential, but they now serve to support root cause analysis of business risks. Today, finally, there are solutions that provide critical business visibility through the technical operations. These tools can show not only that IT metrics are the business metrics, but that application metrics are business metrics. And I believe that companies that embrace this thinking will be successful.

This insight is elevating the responsibilities of CTOs and CIOs. They have always held responsibility for the vision and execution of a company’s IT organization, but today they are at the business table. This is a fundamental shift that has been evolving and which is well underway today. Finally, IT is no longer an ‘expense bucket’ but a true business peer. When asked what the IT goals are, the answer is “business goals” – they are, and should be, one and the same. IT departments at today’s successful businesses ensure everyone within IT has specific alignment in their roles with responsibility to those business goals. Whether an employee is a Sys Admin or in Dev Ops, the next generation IT operation has a clearer understanding of the department’s end-to-end alignment to the business goals, and just as critical, a way to measure it. But how does a company or organization get from start-up chaos to business/IT hand-in-hand nirvana? They need to recognize that it’s a process and have the right tools in place to know where they’re at in the process and how to keep business and IT metrics continually aligned.

Where Are We, How Did We Get Here, and What’s Next? The Complexity Challenge

Having trivialized alignment as a red herring worth completely ignoring, let’s get back to reality. There is no silver bullet to immediate “Total Alignment.” We learned early on that businesses have a natural progression in terms of their business model and alignment with IT. No one moves quickly or painlessly from ‘survival mode’ of look-guess-fix-repeat to an operation where IT and business goals are fully aligned, where IT and business metrics are harmonious, and where business and IT are working hand-in-hand to manage business risks. Through our close work with customers, we have identified five stages of a business risk ‘maturity model’ – starting with ‘Survival’, then moving up to Reactive, Planning, Proactive, and finally full Alignment of business and IT. Forrester has recognized this progression also. The January 2012 report: “Develop An IT Service Management And Automation Strategic Plan” identifies it as a ‘Complexity Curve’ – companies moving along the curve transition from one state to the next. In the beginning they’re focused on applications and infrastructure, then as the business grows, so grows the number of applications, then the applications become more complex services, and then finally become integrated with the business. Both of these models help companies identify their current stage of business/IT alignment, and also help guide businesses and IT departments through the challenging path of progression to complete business/IT alignment.

Successful organizations such as Etsy and Zynga have already merged the idea of business and IT performance as one and the same. They have helped the world understand how this can be done. We now have platforms and services that emulate these leaders and allow all of us to reach that nirvana. A place where IT risks are nothing more than business risks. A place where an IT application is the business. And, IT goals are nothing but business goals.

Businesses and organizations cannot evolve from survival mode to business/IT nirvana quickly and still focus on running a successful operation. But today there is a platform and tools available that are easily optimized for any organization at any stage of progression toward business/IT nirvana. The successful business will take advantage of these capabilities to ensure that the application is the business, and the business is the application.

Leading Research Firm Names AppFirst “Cool Vendor” in Application Performance Monitoring

Report Highlights Companies That Should be Considered Part of Corporate IT Strategy

NEW YORK, NY – May 1, 2012 – Gartner Research today named AppFirst as one of four companies highlighted in a new report from Research Director Jonah Kowall and Research VP Will Capelli entitled Cool Vendors in APM.  AppFirst is a leading provider of critical business and system visibility solutions, designed to aid businesses in their quest to completely align IT with business goals.  AppFirst’s platform and solutions enable IT to integrate business performance and system metrics into a single repository.  With that capability, organizations are impacted in powerful ways: sharing insights about customers, engaging the organization to innovate at the most grassroots level, executing to bring that innovation to market, and resolving issues before their customers even know there is a problem.

“We highlight Cool Vendors in APM that should be considered as part of an IT operations management software strategy,” said Jonah Kowall, Gartner research director, in his report entitled “Cool Vendors in Application Performance Monitoring, 2012.” “This dynamically evolving market segment holds high interest for those in IT operations, application support, development and quality assurance, and for line-of-business managers.”

Because IT sits as the nexus point between customers and the services they consume, IT has focused and unique knowledge to lead the organization.  To support the transition to true alignment, technology executives must have access to the business and system metrics that live within applications to provide critical business visibility through technical operations.  AppFirst delivers the platform and solutions needed to be able to use those metrics to drive business.

“We are pleased that Gartner has recognized the importance of Application Performance Monitoring Solutions as critical to the overall IT operation,” said Pamela Roussos, chief marketing officer for AppFirst, Inc.  “By having direct and immediate access to business metrics, IT is ideally suited to integrate those metrics into the overall risk framework, becoming the go-to source for business and systems risk management.”

AppFirst Solutions

AppFirst recently unveiled new initiatives designed to support organizations in their move to complete alignment:

  • Systems Risk Management Solution – Following AppFirst’s continued commitment to DevOps teams, the Systems Risk Management solution delivers tools that provide a 360-degree view of risks and use baselines, enabling execution of any technical action from a common set of data.  This allows companies to be alerted to, and prevent failures, and allows IT to evangelize prevention over recovery.
  • Business Risk Management Solution – Focused on supporting technical executives, this solution moves organizations to a truly aligned state where IT is the direct source for business risk management.  Tech execs can now have a shared view of business risks and how they relate to the overall system, allowing business performance metrics to be integrated into the overall risk framework.

For more information on these initiatives, or any other AppFirst solutions, please visit the website at www.appfirst.com.

 

About AppFirst, Inc.

AppFirst is the leading SaaS-based provider of critical business and systems visibility solutions that allow organizations to closely align their IT and business goals to manage business risks.  Focused on mid-market IT executives, as well as application architects and DevOps, the company delivers the platform and solutions that integrate business performance and system metrics into a single repository, providing cause analysis at a glance.

The company provides a simple yet thorough way to use business and system-related metrics to quickly and easily identify the root cause of application and infrastructure problems and measure the impact to the business, increasing revenues and customer retention.

Founded in 2009, AppFirst is a New York City-based company venture backed by FirstMark Capital, First Round Capital and Javelin Partners. For more information, visit http://www.appfirst.com. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to the AppFirst blog to stay up-to-date on the latest AppFirst news.

 

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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