Using ITSM for Infrastructure Monitoring

By Bob Violino

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IT Service Management is especially critical for companies that rely on continuous high performance levels of their Web applications. BEA Systems Inc., an application infrastructure software company, is finding that ITSM is having a huge impact on how it serves its e-business customers.

In early 2002 BEA launched an "IT operational excellence" initiative to improve the quality and effectiveness of the online services it provides to more than 500,000 customers and partners. Its chief goal: gain better visibility across all of its applications and supporting infrastructure so it could quickly identify and fix performance problems before they had an impact on customers' online experience.

Over a period of years BEA had built customer-facing capabilities on the Web including license management, customer support, and a developer relations site. "We focused a lot on delivery and not on operational excellence," says Rhonda Hocker, senior vice president and CIO at BEA.

"We realized we had half a million registered users but we had no good monitoring framework at all. We wanted the capability so we can get a better sense of the customer's experience when they're using our sites and a better way to isolate problems and find out how to fix them."

The project to improve monitoring of services would be a significant challenge. BEA had numerous business processes running across a multitude of technology platforms in different locations, and it wanted a detailed level of measurement of how IT services were performing. The company scoured the market for products that would help it get a better handle on IT performance by providing key performance indicators.

In mid-2002 BEA selected Panacya Inc.'s BusinessAware application performance management software suite. The software provides a view of all the components that make up BEA's e-business infrastructure. A "distributed intelligence management" component examines the performance of applications, servers, databases, and network devices in real time. Information is reported to managers through a central console.

The software provides analysis capabilities such as correlation of events and root cause analysis, so BEA can isolate specific problems by differentiating between real faults and symptoms of IT problems. BusinessAware analyzes how well applications are actually performing for end users, so BEA can eliminate trends that lead to performance problems.

"People spend a lot of time on [BEA's] portal; the last thing they wanted was a disruption of service," says Franco Negri, founder and chief strategist at Panacya.

Hocker says the software gathers data from multiple monitoring applications used by BEA to give the company a single view of its e-business applications and infrastructure. All told, BusinessAware now covers about 50 percent of BEA's entire IT infrastructure, Hocker says, including all customer applications built in the last few years.

BEA is looking at expanding its use of the product to provide monitoring of new Web services it has developed in the last six months.

While BEA has not performed a "formal ROI" measurement of the software, Hocker says the benefits are coming in the form of reduced labor costs and significantly shorter times to fix problems. For example, it now takes a matter of minutes rather than one or two days to identify problems and where they exist in the company's systems or networks, according to Hocker.

Through its ITSM efforts, BEA has realized a significant increase in service level agreement measurement and a significant reduction in mean-time problem resolution and mean-time-to-repair, says Negri. The company also expects to see huge savings from reduced telecommunications costs and more efficient purchase of IT equipment, says Lou Nardo, Panacya's director of product management.

Negri says ITSM products such as BusinessAware allow companies to understand what happens when a customer experiences a degradation in services. When problems occur, "they can see what else is happening in the infrastructure," he says. Without this kind of visibility, a business would often not know why performance was degrading.

For example, a company could be experiencing a sharp slowdown in order processing. An ITSM product could identify that the problem was at a particular point in the corporate network during certain days of the month. So rather than spending a lot on higher bandwidth services on a continuous basis to clear up the problem, a company could provision higher bandwidth for few a days before and after an expected bottleneck, Negri says.

"The information [one network performance] is provided in the context of the service," he says. Negri says this benefit was realized by BEA, which was able to see traffic patterns over a period of time using BusinessAware and was able to accommodate higher traffic. The company added incremental bandwidth for that period, and reaped significant hundreds in telecom costs.

One of the most significant benefits of ITSM, Negri says, is that it allows different areas of IT to work better together by providing more visibility into how different segments of the IT infrastructure are performing. "You can have huge benefits when you take otherwise siloed groups within IT and alert them" to events such as application failures and network outages.

In the case of BEA, the benefit is not just more informed IT personnel but more satisfied customers.