Taking the Plunge Into APM
Why Exchange is the best place to start
November 16, 2011
Zubair Aleem
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Deciding to take the plunge and start Application Performance Management (APM) is a big first step. Choosing which application(s) to start monitoring is the next one. I suggest that Exchange is the perfect starting point.

Just 10 years ago, business and IT directors thought protecting their Exchange environment was overkill and a waste of time, money and resources. The view of countless Heads of IT was simple, email was not vital to their business and staff can use the telephone, direct mail or even their personal emails if they need to. How times have changed …

Email – The Public Face Of IT

Email is the public face of IT. Of all the services the IT department delivers it is email that is the most visible and the most obvious when it does not work. When it does not work, it is hard to blame anybody but the IT department.

Exchange has evolved over the years along with working habits, making it more and more difficult to maintain. Nowadays, IT departments realize just how critical email is and what happens to staff when they do not have it.

Rewind to last month when Blackberry Services went down. Users were lost; unable to work, frustrated that they could not access emails, contacts and calendar items or the whole host of social media services available. To think that Exchange will run error-free is living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

For such an important and visible service, email is the perfect place to begin your APM journey. Everyone uses it, so everyone is affected by it. Email is typically the main service of the IT department and it is a service that most IT technicians will know inside and out. Therefore, it is the perfect stepping-stone to introduce your staff to monitoring and start providing real business value at the same time.

If Outlook Is Slow, Should You Be Looking At Server CPU?

Investment in technology has one purpose: to enable staff and/or the organization to work more efficiently. APM provides an in-depth, detailed survey of the user’s ability to perform tasks. Providing business data such as: how many users affected for how long and where to invest the money in IT for the best return.

If the staff cannot work, then something is wrong. Herein lies the problem, all too often the IT teams have lost sight of the purpose of technology. “If the server is running fine, then there isn’t a problem” is a slightly simplified view but by no means far-fetched. It is time to start putting the user first. If the user is unable to do their work then the problem needs to be addressed, regardless of what the infrastructure may indicate.

IT teams need to reframe their way of thinking. Once they start to look at IT from the user’s perspective then they are fulfilling the purpose of IT and giving value back to the business.

In Reality

A London-based charity with 500 exchange users was having Exchange issues, with users in regional sites and head office all complaining Outlook was slow. Bandwidth issues would help explain problems in the regional offices but the head office was also heavily suffering. This was their cue to start APM; they had to get Exchange up to scratch as it was starting to reflect badly on the IT department.

Traditionally upgrading the bandwidth or upgrading the Server to the newest version of exchange would have been the first options. Like throwing mud and seeing where it sticks.

APM quickly showed the extent of the problems and when and where they were occurring. It was identified that one remote office needed a bandwidth increase and the Exchange server needed more memory. The long-term outcome is an IT department that has shifted its perspective: using APM to focus on the user, they were able to use the budgets effectively while giving back real improvements.

A good email service is critical for the reputation of the IT department. Starting APM with Exchange is not only relatively easy (compared with monitoring bespoke applications) but it is an application everyone in the business is familiar with and will quickly see the benefits.

Once the IT department is convinced by the advantages of APM, it makes it much easier for other department heads to initiate APM in their departments. In other words, it is the path of least resistance to spread APM throughout your business.

About Zubair Aleem

Zubair Aleem is the Managing Director of Quadnet Services in London. Starting out in IT consultancy, he soon decided to found Quadnet as an IT reseller and solution provider. He built the company from scratch up to £7m before turning his focus to service provision. Now he leads Quadnet Services where he has developed a range of application monitoring, diagnostics and management tools.

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