Software that automatically monitors and displays the relationships between complex applications and their supporting components, known as application interdependency mapping, is quickly becoming a must-have dashboard function for IT managers.
What is it?
The task of mapping applications was previously handled manually, through diagrams using programs like Visio or drag-and-drop network maps. But increasingly, new, complex technologies are making it harder to document the IT resources going to applications.
SOA has resulted in greater flexibility for IT resources, but it spawned composite applications -- programs that rely on shared, multi-tiered combinations of hardware, applications and middleware. Server clusters have increased the number of servers used to deliver a single application. Virtual machine provisioning has blurred hardware boundaries.
According to Al Eisaian, CEO of Integrien, a Irvine Calif.-based management startup, scope trumps depth in his view of systems management. "The chain is only as strong as its weakest link," Eisaian said. "[Integrien] lets you know what your systems look like -- the interdependencies. You need to see how things traverse from layer to layer."
Who makes it?
The field for IT resource mapping software is growing fast with startup specialists, as well as large systems vendors buying their way in.
IBM got into the business of application mapping recently with the acquisition of Collation. Collation's tools provide IT staffs with a better understanding of the impact of changes -- such as how a security patch can trigger a "domino effect" of unexpected problems -- and shrinks the time it takes to discover and correct a problem.
But Collation is one of several companies with products that focus on IT discovery and mapping. Other players include BMC Software, Computer Associates, Relicore, Tideway Systems and Integrien.
According to Charles King, principal analyst with Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, data center pros with large IT departments will have the resources and expertise to implement application management software from one of the smaller companies on top of their existing systems management infrastructure.
"It's like buying the tools to fix your own car," King said. "At the same time, for IBM, HP and Sun, it's a critical tool set for systems vendors to make life easier for their enterprise customers."
Who uses it?
According to King, the IT pros that need this technology the most are running the large enterprises with complex systems and investments in new technologies. Arvind Gidwani, chief architect of one the largest business units at San Diego-based wireless technology company Qualcomm, would qualify in that category.
Gidwani said his IT department was reviewing several players in the market and Integrien's quick deployment and ease of use caught his attention.
"We needed dashboard capabilities and interdependency mapping across all of our applications," Gidwani said. "We have 75 to 80 core business processes supported by out-of-the-box applications, all running on various pieces of hardware, including some outside of our infrastructure. We needed to track this activity across all of the tiers."
Gidwani said it's an issue a lot of companies are facing now. His department is responsible for controlling all of the hardware in his business unit, including servers, storage and networking devices. And enterprise monitoring tools are important for keeping track of his service level agreements to his customers, Qualcomm's internal IT consumers.
"We use Tivoli, Concord, Openview and Topaz [systems management tools], and all of them have a niche, Gidwani said. But we needed to have a dashboard that gave a view of the enterprise. We used Concord to get info on the physical system. You could tell it was running, but you couldn't look into the application tiers. You could find out when things went wrong, but you couldn't see why."
Gidwani was impressed with Integrien and is close to moving from testing to deployment on the product, but he said there are certain things he needs to see from the company, including tighter integration with Oracle. But Gidwani expects the company to deliver on his priorities, especially considering the size of his organization.
"I'm a tough manager and my requirements are very stringent. I've thrown IT vendors out after 30 seconds into their pitch," Gidwani said. "Integrien has shown promise, and this product gives tangible information."
What will it do for you?
According to Eisaian, today's IT environments have too many moving parts to handle manually. Applications or services rely on too many components to be reliable and oftentimes it can take hours to track down a problem.
There is a huge amount of various middleware, software and hardware, all touching a critical IT service. But by automatically mapping interdependencies, IT departments can save time and make it easier to get that system back up and running.
Also, conflicting features from loosely coupled applications can adversely affect each other. Upgrades to operating systems or software can affect IT systems, and those failures can be very difficult to diagnose.
One of the applications many IT pros find hard to manage is Citrix, a program that runs Windows apps over the Web.
For example, a company using Citrix might face something Integrien calls the black hole problem. People try to log into an application through Citrix and a load balancer assigns that request to the least busy Citrix system. But the least busy system is a dead application. According to Integrien, that problem could take hours to figure out without an application mapping tool.
"I wouldn't fault Citrix [for being difficult to manage]," Gidwani said. "It's the applications that are being put on top of it. A lot of people are putting applications up that have heavy transaction levels with no regard for the system requirements. We have 3,000 users on Citrix and we resolve the issues as they come up. But you have to understand the technology you're implementing or you're going to have problems."
Another problem for IT shops is that they have less control over their resources.
"Your data center is no longer your data center. You're relying on things sitting outside of your firewall," Eisaian said. "A customer can have problems with an application that was developed by a consultant that left three years ago. You can't throw more hardware at that."
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor