Infrastructure performance management: The final piece of the puzzle

IT infrastructures are more crucial to running a business than ever before. End users expect access to their applications and data anytime, anywhere. IT is expected to keep the infrastructure up and running and performing optimally 24/7. At the same time, IT infrastructures are becoming increasingly complex  through layers of abstraction which raises the chance that ‘ghosts in the machine’ will be harder to find and will have a more significant impact. So, the question IT must answer is: How do you holistically manage performance across your entire IT infrastructure?

Unprecedented Levels of Complexity

There are a number of driving forces contributing to complexity in IT today, including:  

  • A growing number of end users and increasing data volumes, IT is managing a larger number of devices than ever before.
  • More customer-facing applications and systems, IT organizations are turning to virtualization and cloud computing to gain flexibility, efficiency and speed.
  • Over the past decade, data centers have doubled or tripled in size, which adds to the complexity.

IT organizations are now looking to consolidate data centers to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Many are turning to virtualization technology to help them get more value out of their existing assets while improving the environmental impact.  But virtualization adds an additional layer of complexity, making it difficult to see through the layers of abstraction into the underlying infrastructure.

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Utilization Does Not Equal Performance

Business leaders expect the IT infrastructure to be flexible, dynamic and consistently meet the needs of end users. Downtime or even a modest amount of latency is no longer acceptable. In the past, IT organizations overprovisioned their servers and storage to accommodate peak demand or spikes in traffic. With increasing use of virtualization technology at all tiers of the infrastructure, this is no longer possible. With a focus on controlling costs, CIOs are driving their teams to fully sweat the assets on the floor. That means IT must run at just enough capacity to meet the requirements of the business – no more, no less.

Many have long equated utilization to performance. Utilization measures the percent of capacity in use by either servers or storage. However, an infrastructure can be underutilized and have excess capacity, but still not performing well. Utilization was an effective measure of what might impact performance when organizations had the luxury of overprovisioning resources. Today, utilization alone is no longer sufficient to understanding the overall performance of the infrastructure.

Device-Specific Tools: Only One Piece of the Puzzle

Enterprise Systems Management (ESM), Network Performance Management (NPM), and Storage Resource Management (SRM) tools give IT a view into the server, network and storage layers of the infrastructure. Each provides a view into one piece of the puzzle.

Device-specific tools do a good job of reporting on the health of the infrastructure from their own point of view. The individual metrics they provide are important and can provide insight into the overall health and availability of the infrastructure. Yet, it’s impossible to take metrics from each device and add them up to get an accurate view of the real-time performance of the systems across the all of the layers of infrastructure. The data from these tools needs to be aggregated and correlated by a platform that provides a comprehensive, unbiased view into how the infrastructure is performing as a whole.

An End-to-End View of Infrastructure Performance

How does IT get an end-to-end view of their infrastructure? It starts with breaking down the silos within the IT department and starting a broader discussion around performance management. Through my conversations with customers, I am hearing more about the establishment of teams focused on performance management. These teams bring together experts in networking, applications, databases and storage to share data so they have a better understanding of where performance issues are popping up in various parts of the infrastructure. This group should collectively own the analysis of all of the data generated by the various performance management tools across IT.

In addition, IT leaders need the right technology solution that can look across the physical, virtual and cloud environments. An infrastructure performance management (IPM) solution provides visibility into the performance and health of the entire infrastructure. Such a solution provides insight into metrics such as infrastructure response times, which is the time it takes for an application to place an I/O request and get a response back.

An IPM solution also complements device-specific tools and can collect data from throughout the IT infrastructure, from the virtual machines, servers, fabric switches, storage arrays and disks. By correlating the data, it can help IT understand the interdependencies of the various infrastructure components in the context of system-wide performance. That way performance bottlenecks can quickly be identified and corrected, before they have an impact on the business.

Both the IT department and the business benefit from optimizing the performance of the IT infrastructure. For IT, this effort can help right size the capacity of the infrastructure, drive greater utilization, improve infrastructure response times and enable quick identification and remediation of problems. Implementing an IPM platform can also contribute to the overall success of the business by helping to mitigate risks, control costs and, ultimately, improve business agility. 

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