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Telescope 2007

Data centres: Application acceleration

With an increase in the number of users, more data being stored at the back-end, and a consequent rise in the number of requests that a database server has to address, it is harder than ever to figure out where a bottleneck lies in this tangled mess. But solutions are available in the market that help CIOs optimise application performance. By Aishwarya Ramani

An ERP system, a BI suite perhaps, a messaging server and an Intranet are typical applications that run in a corporate data centre today. The aim here is to examine the bottlenecks within a data centre and explore the various technologies available to optimise application performance.

CIOs have to ensure that a data centre is equipped to deal with bottlenecks as and when they arise due to the large volumes of data which are being processed. Vishal Dhupar, Managing Director, Symantec India feels that it is not uncommon for organisations to focus their IT operations on service availability, while performance issues are reacted to—rather than anticipated—and treated in a proactive manner.

Applications aren’t getting any smaller, data mountains are turning into Everest, all of which contribute to make fine-tuning application performance that much more complex a task.

Today’s data centres are static and hard-wired, making them inflexible and hard to reconfigure. Any change within a data centre requires too many people and involves a number of steps. Vendors such as HP opine that apart from this, since today’s data centres are built at one-go, there is a lot of wastage in terms of power, cooling, space, people and money.

“While factors like data protection, compliance, availability and management are driving the consolidation of IT resources, many applications must be deployed centrally. With these come challenges related to application performance,” says Sumit Mukhija, Business Development Manager, Cisco Systems India & Saarc.

Third-party solutions for tracing application bottlenecks
Vendor
Solution
Features
CA Enterprise IT Management It enables management control across the enterprise by integrating and automating the management of IT applications, databases, networks, security, storage and systems across departments and disciplines. It addresses the needs of businesses in four main categories: business service optimisation, enterprise systems management, security management and storage management. This integrated approach to IT management helps identify bottlenecks.
Symantec i3 The solution captures metrics for monitoring and tuning multi-tier applications. It provides a view of how applications are performing from an end-user's perspective. It also delivers the information needed to fine-tune applications by pinpointing friction points in the end-to-end path across multiple tiers; provides the ability to drill down into hot-spots to identify the application-specific concerns; offers best practice recommendations; and enables the easy validation of the effectiveness of any corrective action taken.
Zenith SAAZ This remote IT management tool looks at various parameters, and monitors processes to help figure out where a problem lies. It combines an IT management platform with a secure remote access technology. It combines desktop, server, network and application management into a single integrated system.
HP OpenView The Infrastructure Optimisation Management layer in HP's OpenView takes care of issues like virtualisation, performance management and end-to-end user application performance management. HP Application management solutions enable administrators to build manageable applications, optimise them in pre-production, and manage the entire application environment in production from both an end-user and infrastructure perspective. Users can drill down to the component or even the method level of the application to determine the root-cause of a problem.
IBM Tivoli Business Application Management It helps ensure availability and performance of business-critical applications, including portal and service oriented architecture-based technologies. It also assists in planning, management and optimisation of a customer's software assets. The solution helps customers quickly isolate, diagnose and fix business-critical application performance problems. When an incident occurs, the Tivoli solution helps resolve it by facilitating the information flow between operations, development and support groups.

Applications are becoming more complex and inter-dependent. In addition to this, multi-tier architectures are the norm. Owing to these factors, performance management is harder than ever. Organisations are struggling to find a repeatable and understandable way to measure the service levels at each tier within an application infrastructure, and to correlate transactions across application tiers. Adding to this problem are the frequent changes made to applications with changing business environments with no or minimal testing performed before deploying an application in a production environment. Another challenge that organisations need to overcome is that of taking corrective action once a problem is identified and building intelligence around the same to avoid recurrence.

With business environments changing, frequent changes are made to applications. Deploying applications without conducting proper tests leads to confusion and chaos. The traditional method of tuning applications in a multi-tier environment does not address performance issues. The traditional approach involves the use of data that has been captured by various components and correlated in terms of time slices. This means that the diagnostician or performance analyst studies the data points for the various components along the path for a slice of time and then uses his best judgement to connect the dots. Not only is this extremely difficult, it also involves trial and error.

A data centre has several components—application servers, database servers, storage, back-up servers, networking equipment, power back-up systems, etc. Typically, a CIO allocates the management of each of these entities to different third-parties. Agrees Hilal Issar Khan, Head, IT, Honda Siel Cars India, “We have multiple SLAs with multiple partners.” He says that the problem is aggravated when multiple vendors are roped in, as each of them refrains from taking responsibility for bottlenecks that arise. T G Dhandapani, Corporate CIO, Sundaram Clayton, also agrees that this disparity contributes to exacerbate the problem.

Inadequate storage and under-utilised resources contribute to these bottlenecks as well. Dhandapani explains that one of the reasons for the underutilisation of resources is simply lack of knowledge vis-à-vis the proper utilisation of available resources. Khan seconds this view by saying that the knowledge base of manpower is wide but not deep.

Although vendors cannot do much about inadequately-skilled manpower, they do suggest ways of handling a resource crunch. Additional equipment—such as servers that help handle problems faced due to inadequate resources—do not come cheap, and it is necessary to examine the different ways in which a resource crunch can be dealt with.

According to Rajendra Dhavale, Consulting Director, CA, one needs to go in for a solution that enables a new level of management control across the enterprise by integrating and automating the management of IT applications, databases, networks, security, storage and systems across departments and disciplines to realise the full potential of each of these elements.

And Dhupar says that taking a proactive approach towards monitoring / analysing infrastructure and application behaviour allows an organisation to allocate the right resources to each requirement. This optimum and correct allocation of IT resources helps an organisation anticipate bottlenecks in advance and gives sufficient time for risk mitigation. The approach not only helps allocate right but it also helps ensure optimum utilisation and increased efficiency—vital elements in any capacity-on-demand strategy.


Kallol Hazra

Informs Kallol Hazra, Practice Director, HP Services, Technology Solutions Group, HP India, “When there is a sudden increase in the number of users for a particular set of applications, we will need additional servers in the application layer to maintain the same performance levels. If the servers are already wired up they have to be added to the network in a distributed architecture. If, on the other hand, we have a data centre with server blades, we have to simply reconfigure a few blades through software and add the resources to the task. The network capacity has also to be augmented to cater to the additional load.”

Considering all these factors, there are several solutions available today that help CIOs identify bottlenecks and help optimise application performance in a data centre.

Native performance tuning tools (Server OSS)
Company
Server OS
Software to spot bottlenecks
Features
Sun Solaris 10 Dynamic Tracing (DTrace) Helps developers rapidly identify the root-cause of system and application problems. Resolving system or application performance bottlenecks can be reduced from days to hours. Can be used safely on production systems. DTrace's single view of the software stack simplifies the tracing process, enabling developers to follow a thread as it crosses between kernel space and user and back.
Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Windows System Resource Manager (WSRM) WSRM lets you set CPU and memory allocation policies for applications. This includes selecting processes to be managed, and setting resource usage targets or limits. It also allows the user to manage CPU utilisation. It allocates resources through server consolidation to reduce the ability of applications to interfere with each other. WSRM can be administered using two different interfaces: the graphical user interface (GUI) and the command-line interface (CLI). The GUI is provided by an administrative snap-in. The CLI enables command-line scripting and supports advanced uses. Both user interfaces provide access to the full functionality of WSRM.
IBM AIX AIX Workload Manager (WLM) WLM delivers automated resource administration for multiple applications running on a single server. This capability helps to ensure that critical customer applications are not impacted by the resource requirements of less-critical jobs in the system. The policy-based architecture of WLM allows systems administrators to spend less time on routine workload management tasks by automatically applying individually-tailored resource allocation profiles.
Red Hat Red Hat Enterprise Linux Monitoring Module The monitoring module allows users to track the
performance of the Enterprise Linux systems. It helps in receiving alerts regarding system performance, allowing you to take action before problems arise. It creates custom probes for applications not included in the pre-built probe set, and configures warning and critical thresholds for each probe. Administrators receive e-mail or pager alerts when thresholds are reached.
HP HP-UX 11i HP-UX Workload manager (WLM) With HP-UX WLM, users can define objectives with a priority which they can then assign to a WLM workload. HP-UX WLM provides a passive mode that allows users to see how it will approximately respond to a given configuration. Users can control Oracle database instances, adjusting their CPU allocation-based desired transaction response time, the number of users connected, etc. WLM and its SAP Toolkit enable users to identify different SAP processes or instances and place them into separate workloads.

The root-cause

What companies really need to look for are enterprise-wide event management solutions with appropriate root-cause analysis supplemented by business services that help zero in on a problem. Several solutions are now available to help CIOs find bottlenecks and make it easier to resolve them.

Dhavale is of the opinion that identifying bottlenecks is more time consuming than repairing a problem, while Dhupar points out that the combination of multiple tiers and disparate technologies makes the diagnosis of problems a complex task as the traditional approach of inward focus within a specific tier of applications does not solve performance problems. “What is required is an outward approach of performance management which correlates performance metrics across multiple tiers to understand and improve the performance of transactions from an end-user perspective.”

Busting bottlenecks

Proactive application performance requires a combination of people, processes and technology. In identifying and implementing performance management technologies to support a proactive strategy, it is important to select a tool that offers both broad and deep performance analysis. It must be able to monitor and manage performance across the entire transaction path, and offer deep analytics within each tier. Without visibility across all tiers of the architecture, the IT head may think that a problem is being solved, but in reality it is a symptom of the underlying problem—or he may be addressing the wrong thing.

An effective performance management method should have elements to identify symptoms that indicate a performance problem, identify the tier where the problem lies, discover the root-cause of the problem within that tier, take the steps required to improve performance, and make sure that the steps taken have achieved the desired goal. These stages combine to form a process that provides a systematic approach to finding and resolving all kinds of performance issues, both predictable and unforeseen.

Hazra stresses on the need to create and transform all resources from being physical and static to being virtual and adaptive. This, he says, will definitely help in reconfiguring resources on the fly. The cost of operations can be lowered by automating most of the processes and using them consistently.

 
     
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