Conduct e-business in real-time

Traditional management tools that rely on post-event warnings just don't suffice in the real-time e-business world. By the time you're aware of a problem, your e-business customers are already gone.

What's needed is an early warning system that alerts you to potential service problems, even those caused by non-e-business processes running within your shared IT infrastructure.

In today's e-business infrastructure, problems can occur at any point across a transaction's critical path, in a single component or between multiple components. Yet traditional management tools are not designed to monitor this cross-component transaction flow, nor are they designed for real-time early warning.

But a new class of technology called real-time management makes it possible to monitor the flow of e-business transactions or information across networks, servers and applications in real time.

Real-time management systems (RTMS) require three elements: data collection, analysis and reporting.

- Data collection. These systems gather resource-utilization metrics of heterogeneous components across e-business infrastructures. Only after the data has been collected and analyzed can meaningful decisions be made about strategies for optimizing performance.

For example, with an online trading site you would have to collect data from many sources, including real-time stock quotes and customer portfolios stored in databases. To monitor service levels in real time, critical components -- including network devices, Web application servers and transaction systems -- must be monitored and input must be collected. Agents on each of these components gather critical information in real time and report it for simultaneous analysis.

An RTMS also interfaces with legacy management tools. Data collected from other vendor's products such as IBM Corp. Remote Monitoring, which measures utilization of mainframe resources, or NetScout Systems Inc.'s Ethernet Probes and Token Ring Probes, which provide network performance information, can easily integrate with the collected data of an RTMS.

An RTMS continuously monitors service and consumption metrics and sends details to a correlation engine. To do this effectively it must be able to aggregate large amounts of heterogeneous data, and immediately analyze this heterogeneous base for trends, relationships or early warnings of service degradation.

- Analysis. Managing a complex IT infrastructure requires powerful analysis and correlation technology applied to the specific problems associated with e-business. Data is analyzed using statistical correlation techniques, identifying relationships and dependencies across the infrastructure that may have been unknown to the network manager. Once the analysis engine detects a negative trend, correlation capabilities can immediately diagnose its cause across all involved components. Traditional network or systems management tools can then be applied to fix the problem.

For example, when a service-level change is detected, the immediate cause may point to a slow or saturated network segment. Traditional management would suggest adding network bandwidth to resolve the service degradation. However, by applying correlation across the critical path, the cause could be diagnosed as a database server running an unrelated back-up application across that same network segment. By simply rescheduling the backup for off-peak hours, the e-business service level is assured for the long term.

- Reporting. Ultimately, the greatest value offered by an RTMS is a single interface to aggregated information regarding all of the components within the IT infrastructure and their behavior/performance. This consistent service-level interface enables administrators from different domains (NT, Unix, database, networks) to share common information, utilizing common terminology.

This provides a method for diverse personnel to quickly diagnose interdependencies across all components and domains, even those that are unfamiliar.

Ideally, an RTMS presents different views of information, depending on the needs of the user. For example, real-time indicators in the form of color-coded icons can give e-business executives a quick snapshot of the health of a critical (and profitable) e-business transaction. In-depth statistics and individual component status and workloads are available for technicians.

An RTMS gives you the power to proactively monitor and manage your e-business information flows, assuring that your infrastructure is performing at its optimum.

This story, "Conduct e-business in real-time" was originally published by Network World.

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