Monitoring Your Infrastructure's PerformanceBy Tony Kontzer Print
Companies such as Advance Auto Parts and Visa maintain their edge by knowing how their IT infrastructures are performing, including virtual components.
What really makes Vital Signs stand out is the fact that it doesn't just monitor Visa's environment; it also monitors the environments of its partners. Quinlan explains: "It looks out to external participants to detect problems around the edge of our network and advise our partners when they are potentially experiencing issues."
Doing so allows Visa to protect not just its IT footprint, but rather its entire ecosystem. If a credit card issuer is experiencing a serious performance issue, Visa can have its network perform authorizations on behalf of the bank rather than having to cancel transactions, which is obviously bad for business. Some companies, says Quinlan, have Visa handle approval of small transactions that occur during peaks in their network traffic, rather than building their own infrastructures to accommodate those traffic spikes.
Naturally, as this occurs, Vital Signs is assessing the risk presented by all of these scenarios. "It's instrumented all the way down, not just for performance, but from a security perspective," says Quinlan.
Looking to the Future
As companies like Visa and Advance have learned, how well a company monitors its infrastructure will go a long way toward determining how innovative and forward-thinking it can be. Among the benefits Gartner's Fletcher says infrastructure monitoring delivers are faster resolution of issues, improved quality of service, cost avoidance and, perhaps most important, huge savings of staff time that can then be devoted to revenue-generating activities.
"It doesn't get any more core than infrastructure monitoring," Fletcher says. "If you don't automate this core function, you don't have time to ever get to rethinking your architecture or rolling out a new application. More often than not, how well you do this determines how many resources you have that you can dedicate to new things."
Companies with more mature monitoring setups can take things a step further by measuring the impact incidents have on productivity. For instance, says Fletcher, a small percentage of companies take a weighted percentage of their labor costs, compare it against the average length of their failures, and determine how many employee hours they're losing during outages so they can work on minimizing that impact.
And there's more: Fletcher says that without effective infrastructure monitoring, companies can't get the full value of their investments in more advanced tools, such as application monitoring. "You need something that is at least giving you an idea of what exactly is having an issue and as much info as possible about that issue," he says.
Advance Auto Parts' Paine is getting a clearer picture these days because of technologies like OpNet's. He says it wasn't long ago that he was only concerned with monitoring the network's behavior, not its actual traffic. But that's not enough anymore.
"We need to know what's going on with these networks," he says. "One poorly behaved application can wreak havoc on everything on the network."
Still, no matter how much insight today's monitoring tools provide to Paine, he knows he needs to stay proactive—ready to constantly up the ante with new monitoring technologies as Advance's network performance becomes more important to the success of the business.
"It's a moving target," he says. "There's no saying, okay, we've done it. Once a company does that, it ends up obsolete in a year and a half."
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