6 Recommendations for Service Assurance in the Cloud
May 10, 2012
David Williams
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The cloud is analogous in many ways to a department store. Each department within the store offers different types of items. Many departments are stocked and managed by store employees, but some are operated by outside partners.

In much the same way, a cloud offers a variety of services, each one dealing with a different aspect of the business. Some services are provided by internal resources while others are provided by outside partners.

In either case, a positive customer experience is key to success. So, whether you are running a department store or an IT organization, keeping close tabs on the customer experience is vital. That's the bottom line in determining whether you are meeting your cloud service level objectives, and you need sufficient visibility to make that happen.

The ideal way to monitor the experience would be to “follow” each customer (or cloud user) around during his or her visit. That way, you have visibility into the overall experience from the customer perspective. By monitoring in real time, you get an early warning of any problems that the customer might be encountering. In addition, you know immediately which department (or cloud component) is causing the problem. Consequently, you can quickly and effectively address issues that arise.

This level of monitoring in a department store isn't feasible. But there are solutions on the market today that allow you to achieve this level of monitoring in the cloud. An on-demand solution can be used to measure and monitor in real time individual user performance, errors and availability of Web applications.

Visibility is essential, and you can't ensure a high level of user satisfaction unless you understand how users are experiencing access to cloud services. That requires monitoring performance from the user's perspective and following these six recommendations:

1. Get the Big Picture

Cloud users access services that involve the interaction of multiple infrastructure resources, such as applications and databases. Users, however, are not interested in the individual resources that support the service. Instead, they view the interaction as a whole that begins when they enter a session and ends when they exit.

With that in mind, you need “big picture” monitoring of the end-user experience. That is, you need to monitor from start to finish, across all internal and external infrastructure components that support the accessed services, across all network segments, and all the way to the user access device. End-to-end monitoring captures the real user experience. What's more, it provides a level of granularity that clearly highlights where problems may be originating.

2. See It as It Happens

Real-time user-experience monitoring works like a medical thermometer that you can use to assess the current health of your IT infrastructure. With that level of monitoring, you can detect problems when they occur and move quickly to resolve them before they cause a serious service disruption. Real-time monitoring also helps you understand how the business is using the cloud environment at any given time.

That's not to say that a historical record isn't useful. Quite the opposite. Analysis of historical data gathered by the real-time monitor can help you identify performance trends, thereby giving you insight that enhances planning and improves decision making.

Synthetic user-experience monitoring can also be beneficial as a complement to real-time monitoring. If you implement synthetic monitoring, however, bear in mind that it provides only a snapshot of a specific Web transaction activity, and it overlays an additional transaction workload on the network, so it can be intrusive. As a result, it has the potential to negatively impact performance.

3. Monitor User Behavior

Users view the cloud from a service perspective and not from an application or database perspective. As a result, simply monitoring individual applications and databases is not enough. You need to monitor how people are using these resources. Which applications and databases are they accessing and when? What access devices are they using and from where? This type of behavioral information provides a service view of the end-user experience exactly as users see it.

4. Mind Your Part of the Store

Typically, some cloud services are provided by third parties. But there is almost always a set of services that you provide directly from your internal infrastructure. It's important, therefore, that the end-user experience monitor gives you insight into how the individual components in your infrastructure support cloud services and hence how the components impact end-user experience. You can leverage this information to speed diagnosis and resolution of problems.

5. Track the Impact of Change

A major advantage of cloud computing is that it enhances IT's agility in meeting the demands of the business. But agility implies continual change, and change is especially prevalent in cloud environments. Any infrastructure change you make can have a positive or negative impact on overall service performance. So it's essential that you are able to quickly assess the impact of change. The right end-user experience monitor provides an effective means for determining this impact.

6. Eliminate Blind Spots

In most, if not all, cloud implementations, some of the services are provided by third parties. You need insight into all services, whether they are provided internally or externally. External service providers, however, typically aren't going to allow you to look inside their infrastructures to gain performance data.

Yet by monitoring the end-user experience you can determine the performance of all the components of a service, including those provided by third parties. So when performance degrades, you can zero in on the source of the problem, and you know if the source is a third party. In this way, end-user experience monitoring eliminates blind spots in your view of overall cloud service performance.

Moving Beyond IT Operations

The wealth of data gathered by end-user experience monitoring is useful well beyond IT operations. Service managers, for example, gain visibility into the causes of problems. With that knowledge, they can assign the right internal people to address an issue, or forward the issue to the right third-party organization for resolution. That speeds remediation. Additionally, application developers gain insight into how the performance of their applications affects the user community. Moreover, line-of-business managers can see how their business services are being consumed and experienced.

With effective end-user experience monitoring, you can observe the behavior of real users as they access cloud services. You'll experience those services in real time, exactly as users experience them. You can see each problem as it arises and gain rapid insight into its probable cause. You can quickly assess the impact of infrastructure changes. And you can share the data you gather with other groups, inside and outside of IT, to provide greater visibility into the use of cloud services across the enterprise.

The considerations discussed here can help you move into the cloud with confidence, knowing that you are assuring that services are being delivered at the availability and performance levels required by the business.

ABOUT David Williams

David Williams is Vice President of Strategy in the Office of the CTO at BMC, with particular focus on availability and performance monitoring, applications performance monitoring, IT operations automation, and management tools architectures. He has 29 years of experience in IT operations management. Williams joined BMC from Gartner, where he was Research VP, leading the research for IT process automation (runbook automation); event, correlation, and analysis; performance monitoring; and IT operations management architectures and frameworks. His past experience also includes executive-level positions at Alterpoint (acquired by Versata), IT Masters (acquired by BMC), and as VP of Product Management and Strategy at IBM Tivoli. He also worked as a senior technologist at CA for Unicenter TNG and spent his early years in IT working in computer operations for several companies, including Bankers Trust.

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