Five Dashboard Must-Haves for BSM
August 23, 2011
Steve Tack
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A significant departure between traditional systems management approaches and Business Service Management (BSM) is that BSM enables IT teams to view technology not purely in terms of the health of individual infrastructure and application components, but as a set of cross-silo services that directly impact the business. Today's BSM dashboards must deliver the role-specific information that organizations need, in order to guide decisions that collectively improve the quality of business-critical services.

With this in mind, here are five dashboard must-haves for BSM:

1. Business-relevant information

Directly correlating IT performance to the business service, including the end-user experience and revenue impact

Traditional systems management products and technology-centric monitoring approaches tend to define “success” or “failure” in terms of the state of individual, siloed components in the data center. But the reality is that even if your web servers, for example, are operating at near 100 percent availability, this does not mean that your end users' experiences with an application are fast, reliable and overall high-quality. These servers are just one piece of an interconnected chain (including application servers, mainframes and a host of other elements) that supports a business service.

Rather than conveying the health of individual components, today's BSM dashboards must directly correlate the performance of the service to the end-user experience, and the consequences for the business. According to an Aberdeen Group report entitled The Performance of Web Applications: Customers are Won or Lost in One Second, a one second increase in response time for a revenue-generating web page or application can translate to a seven percent reduction in online conversions. BSM dashboards must incorporate unmatched insight into the end-user experience, to show what end users are being affected and the probable business impact, in order to help IT prioritize business services and problem-solving efforts when issues do arise.

2. “First Mile” to “Last Mile”

Not just your data center or the Internet, but both

The range of elements that can impact the performance of a service is expanding at a mind-boggling pace. Within the data center itself, technologies like virtualization, web services and extranet communications increase the value that IT can bring to an organization, but they can be extremely hard to manage from a performance perspective. Troubleshooting a virtualized application can be a big challenge for the most seasoned IT professional. Where do you look? And what do you look for?

Many virtualization vendors offer component-level monitoring tools, which provide metrics on CPU usage, network load and disk I/O. But these metrics have little relevance when it comes to having a clear view of the quality (or lack thereof) of the business service and the resulting business impact.

Looking beyond the data center to the Internet, today's modern applications are increasingly composite, incorporating third-party features and functionalities from beyond the firewall. Consider online retail applications which incorporate features such as product demos, check-outs and ratings and reviews. The average website today incorporates content from more than eight hosts, and this content is integrated for the first time and delivered at the very point of consumption – the end user's browser.

In addition, today's web applications navigate a complex path of regional ISPs, cloud service providers, local ISPs, content delivery networks (CDNs) and carriers before ultimately landing in end users' devices across a wide range of geographies. These elements, along with external third-party services are known as the application delivery chain, and poor performance anywhere along the chain can degrade the end-user experience and impact revenues. This essentially makes IT departments responsible for all the elements influencing their end users' experiences, from the mainframe (the back-end of the data center) all the way out to end users’ browsers (the final stop).

Today's BSM dashboards must address the complex nature of today’s business services, showing the interconnected nature of all components and elements in the application delivery chain. If a performance issue arises for a particular segment of end users, IT teams can then leverage advanced diagnostics to identify and fix the faulty component. For example, if it's slow performance on the Internet, you may need to lighten site content, eliminating “heavy” – yet potentially unnecessary – site elements like graphics, or utilize a CDN. If a slow third-party service is the offending element, you need to alert this partner and re-visit the terms of your SLA.

In addition, the right visibility into any major aberrations in end-user performance at any point in time can help you determine if something is affecting the Internet ecosystem at large (and not unique to you), like an outage for a major cloud service provider or content delivery network.

3. Real-time status and historical information

What’s happening now and is it normal?

Historical information within a BSM dashboard can be helpful for planning purposes. For example, if you're a business that depends heavily on holiday season revenues – i.e. a retailer, airline or parcel shipping service – it can be useful to know that your virtualized infrastructure operating at 60 percent utilization delivered the performance you needed under peak load during last year’s Cyber Monday. This type of information gives you a starting point to plan your IT resource utilization most efficiently.

However, the historical perspective is no guarantee of what's happening today, so BSM dashboards must also provide real-time status information on the performance of business services and the resulting business impact. Perhaps you’re experiencing heavier traffic loads this year, and you need to increase capacity or temporarily scale through elastic cloud services to maintain a high level of performance for more end users. Real-time, actionable status information is critical – you don’t want to learn after Cyber Monday that your site visitor volume was higher than expected and your performance was disappointing, leading to heavy revenue losses.

4. Role-relevant views

For example, LOB versus IT leadership

Different audiences consume data in different ways and BSM dashboards must present information in ways that are meaningful for various cross-functional groups. Once out of the box, a BSM dashboard must be able to deliver these customized views.

For example, business executives want to know: is IT supporting our sales and growth projections? Will end users be happy with our applications and will we get the revenue we expect out of it? To answer questions like these, LOB executives must have a firm grasp of current statistics demonstrating the clear correlation between application performance and revenues. Forrester Consulting's report, E-Commerce Website Performance Today found that two seconds or less is the threshold end users are willing to wait for a site download before going to a competitor. These same stringent standards apply to the mobile web as well, with the majority of end users recently reporting they expect mobile sites to download in three seconds or less.

IT executives need to know: is our infrastructure adequate to support peak traffic loads at an optimal service level? What quality of service are we delivering, and where are the optimization opportunities? BSM dashboards tailored to IT executives must offer answers to these questions. In addition, with BSM technologies geared toward viewing IT as a series of cross-silo services supporting key business processes, different IT executives must understand – how are my services interacting with others?

Finally, BSM dashboards must feature a good, accessible, intuitive user interface and lower the bar on the skillsets needed to derive maximum value from performance monitoring. Dashboards should not require experts looking at the data, or a large number of learning cycles – rather, they should deliver actionable information according to the role of the information consumer, quickly, clearly and simply.

5. Openness: Leverage existing investments

Don't rip and replace

Enterprise applications need to perform at their very best. Business brand, revenue and customer satisfaction depend on it. Leveraging existing BSM dashboard investments can help an organization optimize time-to-value while bringing all of the necessary information together, to successfully monitor the health of all the elements impacting end users' experiences, both within and outside the firewall. The integration and unification of all this information is key to eliminating blind spots across the entire application delivery chain, from the browser on an end user's computer or mobile device, across the Internet or corporate WAN, across third-party and cloud service providers, to the complex infrastructure across data centers.

As you modify your BSM approach to address this new reality, your traditional systems management tools may still hold tremendous value, so don't “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Rather, integrate with these tools to create an all-encompassing, comprehensive view of the IT landscape while still allowing extremely precise alert monitoring and enabling information consumers to isolate and drill-down into problem areas.

Conclusion

Given the sheer number of elements, both within and beyond the firewall, that can impact the quality of a business service or application, BSM dashboards must be extremely comprehensive. They must canvas this complete application delivery chain, delivering pertinent, role-specific information that clearly conveys IT performance in the context of business service and overall business impact. Finally, this information must be firmly based in the only perspective that matters – that of end users interacting with a business service or application, across key geographies.

About Steve Tack

Steve Tack is CTO of Compuware's Application Performance Management (APM) Business Unit, leading the expansion of Compuware's APM product portfolio and market presence. He is a software and IT services veteran with expertise in application and web performance management, SaaS, cloud computing, end-user experience monitoring and mobile applications. Tack is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and his articles have appeared in a variety of business and technology publications. Tack is also a blogger on the BSM Vendor Forum

Related Links:

Part One of the BSMdigest interview with Steve Tack

Part Two of the BSMdigest interview with Steve Tack

Steve Tack's first BSM Vendor Forum post: Performance Considerations for Cloud-Based Applications

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