Nastel's Charles Rich reached out to talk about the need for unified monitoring to address the needs of both developers and IT administrators. Here's a quick summary of the main points of our conversation. In my view, Nastel's AutoPilot is on the right track to solve "what does this enterprise application really look like" problems.
A proliferation of tools
Rich believes that organizations of any size use separate tools to monitor systems, networking, storage, database engines, application frameworks, applications and the end-point devices individuals use to access applications and data.
Each of the tools examines a single area and offers useful insight into how that application element is operating. For the most part, none of the tools allows a developer or IT administrator to step back and get the necessary holistic view.
For example, the end-user experience monitoring tool might note that a specific application is performing poorly. The administrator might then use another tool to examine the functioning of that application. This could lead to the use of a tool that examines the application framework.
A tool to examine database performance might be used next. Then a network performance tool. Then a tool to look at the storage subsystem performance. Throw in a virtual environment and the use of a cloud service, and developers and administrators face an overload of detailed information that may or may not allow them to easily and quickly find and resolve the problem.
Rich would point out that since each of these might be managed by a different IT department, it might take a team of people to isolate and resolve the root cause of the performance problem or outage. This certainly wouldn't be a timely process and could mean performance problems or outages could be around for quite a while.
A holistic view is needed
All of the elements that are used together to create an application save huge amounts of operational data. Processing that data in a way that allows the examination of the flow of business transactions through a system (or a group of systems, virtual systems or cloud-based services) requires the development of a complex event-processing engine to process logs of many different application elements at the same time. Nastel, Rich points out, focused a great deal of time and resources just to create such an engine when it first created AutoPilot.
While drilling down into the logs of a specific function can be very helpful once a root cause has been determined, it is often counterproductive to require developers or administrators to use that approach just to find the cause.
Rather than requiring individuals to know ahead of time what data is being saved and how to work through the process of correlating what is found in one log file with information from another, the ideal tool should do that correlating automatically and suggest what the source of the problem is likely to be.
Once again, I'm reminded of the wonderful story of the blind men and the elephant. As I pointed out in another recent post, the men can't see the whole elephant. Each of them, however, thinks that they know what the elephant looks like by touch. One thinks the elephant is like a hose after touching its trunk. Another thinks it is like a snake, after touching its tail. Another thinks the elephant is like a tree, after touching one of the elephant's legs. While not technically wrong, none of them really understand the elephant.
A few suppliers, such as Nastel, are doing their best to offer a useful overview. Nastel's tool is designed to be easy to use, simple and give developers and administrators what they need. The tool's event processing engine is very impressive in its ability to sort through information from many sources and suggest likely sources of problems.
Then, of course, If the individual needs to dive down into information coming from a single application element, Nastel's AutoPilot offers a way to look at the data needed to determine what was happening, what element was doing it and come to a deep understanding of why the slow-down or outage occurred.
I always enjoy my conversations with Rich or one of Nastel's customers. If your company is facing a complex environment and need to quickly be able to find and resolve performance issues, you might enjoy a conversation with Nastel too.