Network World's Network/Systems Management Newsletter, 12/06/06
Application management appliances are worth a look
By Julie Craig

When a network manager needs a new router, he goes to Cisco, buys a box and plugs it in. It may not actually be quite that easy, but most of the work involved in installing new network equipment is in design and configuration.
However, when an enterprise management engineer needs new application management products, his first impulse is to turn to software. Deploying software designed to manage applications, however, can require almost as much effort as deploying your typical ERP system - we are talking months or years.
Application management appliances are often perceived as pricey alternatives designed to gain control of an infrastructure gone awry. Companies ante up the cash necessary to buy appliances that give them deep perspective to execution environments when their backs are against the wall. Drivers for such purchases range from recurring problems that defy diagnosis to composite transactions experiencing perennial performance issues.
Business applications are becoming so complex that even large enterprises are falling short in terms of their ability to manage them. If we use the ITIL definition of problems, which is "the unknown root cause of one or more incidents," recent EMA research shows that the percentage of IT problems actually solved in many large companies is between zero and 10%. The traditional "war room" team approach to problem determination is becoming far too expensive to be viable. Instead, companies tend to add horsepower, develop workarounds for recurring problems or turn to the reboot as the management product of choice.
Today's application management appliances are perfectly poised to address these challenges. Their ability to deliver application intelligence via visibility to execution environments will undoubtedly contribute to market share gains as application architectures continue to become increasingly complex. Compuware, Coradiant and Wily appliances, designed to analyze messages embedded in HTTP traffic, have been in the marketplace for some time. Products that analyze lower level network traffic, such as EMC (Smarts) and more recent application management offerings from Network General and Network Physics, approach the same problem from a different angle.
Forum Systems, Layer 7, Reactivity, and IBM DataPower are all designed to analyze, parse, and transform XML messages. While these products currently focus primarily on XML acceleration and security, their technology also positions them to extend their reach to application management over time.
Collectively, appliance-based products have some advantages over software-based solutions. First, their visibility to execution environments can significantly streamline the problem resolution process, enabling them to pinpoint trouble spots in near real time. They also have the advantage of quick and relatively simple deployment compared to agent-based approaches. Finally, the fact that they are appliance-based gives them tremendous processing power. One of the vendors cited reportedly tested their product on non-specialized hardware and found that certain common chips actually burst into flames.
Application management is complex, and software-oriented applications make it even more so. Over time, application management appliances will become increasingly common in the data center, especially as autonomic computing gains a firmer footing in the marketplace. Companies will look to automation to provide robust management capabilities with minimal manual intervention. As this market matures, these vendors will be worth watching, as they are well positioned to provide innovative solutions for complex application problems.

Copyright Network World, Inc., 2006

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008