5 ways to maintain a high-performance app stack

Today’s IT landscape has become a complex mishmash of end-user devices, connectivity methods and siloed IT; its simplification lies in monitoring all applications as a single ecosystem.

In the last 40-plus years of IT, development of applications have evolved from having a basic input/output display to the introduction of easy-to-access graphical user interfaces for a more user-friendly formats. They have further progressed, driven by the IT administrator’s needs.

Today, the IT landscape has become a complex mishmash of end-user devices, connectivity methods, and siloed IT organizations, some of which contain further siloes for applications, databases and back-end storage.

These multiple tiers of complexity, combined with end users’ increasing dependency on accessible applications, creates significant difficulties for IT professionals across the globe, but especially in government agencies, which follow security policies and particular requirements.  These complex requirements, sometimes entwined with special procurement regs, not only affect the mix of hardware and software used across departments , but they can put projects into limbo for months or years while they wait for approval from higher up the chain.

Figuring out how to maintain application performance in these complex environments has become a key objective for federal IT staff. Here are five methods for preserving a high-performance app stack:

1. Simplifying application stack management

A significant part of the effort lies in simplifying management of the application stack (app stack) itself, which includes the application, middleware and the extended infrastructure the application requires for performance. This requires federal IT professionals to think about the entire environment – from end-user to the back-end infrastructure – and work to one goal: keeping the application humming at optimum performance.

By eliminating the anachronistic practice of looking at networks, storage, servers and clients as distinct silos of individual responsibility, federal IT departments can reduce the complexity of the sometimes conflicting information they use to manage these silos. Rarely does an application hang-up exist solely within one silo, and sometimes it has nothing at all to do with the application itself, but stems from other sources in the enterprise.

The simplification of all this lies in the practice of monitoring from the top down all applications and the resources used by those applications as a single application ecosystem, recognizing that they all have to coexist and share a multitude of resources cooperatively.

Application problems reported by employees, customers and warfighters should be treated as the starting point for monitoring systems that work backwards through the whole stack. With this in mind, federal IT pros can understand where performance is degraded and determine what is causing the degradation.

2. Monitoring servers

Server monitoring is a significant part of managing the app stack. Despite being only one part of the application infrastructure, servers are still the engine  that provides application services to the end user. While the role of the server has changed significantly – from being a single overpowered or underused system to consisting of many virtual machines (VM) sharing resources – applications still need sufficient CPU cycles, memory, storage I/O and network bandwidth to work effectively.

Monitoring current server conditions and analyzing historical usage trends is the key to ensuring problems are resolved rapidly. Ideally, the goal is to identify what scenarios contribute to problems and prevent them from ever occurring. For example, applications that cause peak loads on servers should be documented, and federal IT pros should use this data to prepare future resources to handle those peak loads to minimize, if not eliminate, their impact on performance.

3. Monitoring virtualization

The consolidation of multiple servers into host clusters requires monitoring the virtualization infrastructure. Federal IT pros should monitor how and when VMs move from one host or cluster to another as well as the status of shared host, network and storage resources.  

With proper monitoring, the need to identify the constraints of the virtual environment becomes required only when resources are over-shared. For example, storage contributes to application performance because multiple applications can share backend storage by multiple applications. Apps can then run away with I/O usage, causing others to suffer.

At the virtualization level, federal IT pros should prioritize how individual VMs on a host are working together, whether resource contention is occurring on a host or a cluster, and what applications are causing those conflicts . In addition to the VMs themselves, federal IT pros should keep tabs on network latency across the host and storage bandwidth.

In shared resource environments, it’s not uncommon for the behavior of one application to have an impact on the behavior of other applications.

4. Monitoring bandwidth consumption

Servers and virtualization infrastructure cover the back end of the app stack, but other key components are end-user devices and connectivity to the application.

Federal IT pros need to keep in mind that today’s users are running applications on all types of devices with wide ranges of processing power. Memory capacity may run from 1GB up to 32GB or more in multi-core desktop systems. How those devices connect to the network – from 3G cellular to hard-wired systems on gigabit connections – are significant factors in maintaining a healthy app ecosystem.

5. Bring it together with alerting and SLA monitoring

The last component – which often gets neglected but can play a big part in long-term management – is alerting. The overall goal of alerting and service-level agreements is to notify technicians when there is an issue with a component of the app stack prior to the first end-user noticing the problem.

The ability to set proactive performance baselines for devices and applications to signal when an abnormal spike in usage occurs affects the visibility federal IT pros have into the performance of every aspect of the app stack and helps both in day-to-day monitoring and future capacity planning.

In short, it’s critical for federal IT pros to be aware of, monitor and set up notifications across the app stack – from back end storage, through application services and processes to front-end users – and provide high performance from a holistic perspective.

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