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The cloud: APM ownership challenges

Organizations are moving applications to the cloud at an impressive rate as the cloud is perceived as giving organizations a competitive edge by offering lower IT costs with a higher standard of technical support. However, in the excitement of moving to the cloud, many organizations fail to analyze the ownership of

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application performance management (APM) in the cloud and what this change in ownership will do to the customer’s overall experience when the organization loses control and visibility into the underlying infrastructure. This article focuses on the ownership challenges of APM after organizations move to the cloud and offers some thoughts on how to make this transition as smooth as possible in an IaaS and SaaS environment.

Physical server environment and APM

In a physical server environment that is located in an organization’s data center, the organization’s IT operations and application teams own the measuring and monitoring the performance of the application and services, or the APM. Customers have a direct line to IT by submitting a service request when they experience a problem, on which metrics are gathered and analyzed for root cause. Servers are monitored and alerts are established for thresholds so that potential problems are resolved before the customer is impacted. Ownership is clearly defined in collecting data and in resolving issues. The overall cost of the APM is dependent on the criticality of the applications and may differ based on what is being measured and monitored by the IT teams.

So what happens to these stable APM environments when the infrastructure, network and applications move to the cloud, and who owns managing the APM and the overall customer experience in the cloud? That really depends on the type of cloud solution. 

IaaS and APM

An oversimplified example of IaaS, or Infrastructure as a Service, is where the cloud vendor hosts the server infrastructure and networking components, such as the operating system, firewall and load balancing, and the IT organization manages the deployment of a customized or third party application. 

In a physical environment, IT organizations can usually separate server infrastructure and networking component problems from an application problem fairly quickly. Ownership of resolving the issue can then be assigned to the correct IT organization, with limited delay to the customer. However, this is not as easy when there are shared services, such as a firewall, being used by several applications in the cloud.   

An example of how APM ownership gets complicated in an IaaS environment is where a customer submits a service request to the IT organization due to poor performance. The service request comes directly to the IT organization, not the cloud vendor, no matter if the problem is the Internet, the Web server, the firewall or the Web application.

In this example, several questions arise as to ownership of the APM:

  • Is the problem the Web application managed by the IT organization or the firewall that is shared by all the applications on the virtualized server and managed by the cloud vendor? 
  • Who owns the initial troubleshooting of the service request since the IT organization does not have access to the firewall and the cloud vendor does not have access to the Web application? 
  • Will it take longer to resolve the service request while APM ownership is being worked out?
  • Whose metrics will take the hit due to the delay in closing the ticket? The IT organization or the cloud vendor?

Bottom line, how has the customer’s experience been impacted due to the confusion in the APM ownership during the resolution of the service request and how could this have been avoided?  There is no simple answer yet, but strong communication and shared responsibility between the IT organization and the cloud vendor in an IaaS environment is a critical factor to decreasing the impact to the customer and in creating a strong APM.

SaaS and APM

SaaS, or Software as a Service, is where both the application software and infrastructure are hosted and managed by the cloud vendor. In this situation, ownership of APM is with the cloud vendor even though the Service Request could initially be routed through the IT organization’s call center. Once the Service Request is received by the organization’s call center, the request can be moved to the cloud vendor’s queue.

Even with the APM ownership identified in a SaaS cloud offering, organizations need to research the cloud vendor’s APM tools and processes to ensure a continued high performance to the end customer before moving to that particular vendor’s SaaS. This is true even in an IaaS solution.

APM questions that arise in a SaaS environment are:

  • What APM tools or applications are being used by the cloud vendor?
  • What metrics and measurements will be collected and shared with the organization?
  • How will the cloud vendor ensure accurate metrics due to the sharing of the underlying services?

In order to ensure a smooth transition to a SaaS environment, SLAs need to be negotiated up front, before any contracts are signed, that document what APM services will be offered, what data will be collected and shared, and how the cloud vendor will ensure accurate metrics, given the difficulty of collecting relevant data due to the sharing of the underlying services.

Conclusion

Organizations are eagerly moving to the cloud with the assurance from cloud vendors that customer satisfaction will increase with this change. However, these same organizations assume that the APM ownership automatically shifts to the cloud vendor, but as this article explained, this is not always true. APM ownership can toggle between the IT organization and the cloud vendor, but true APM management always remains with the IT organization in order to best serve the customer.

This was first published in July 2011

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