Moving Into The Cloud With Confidence


Cloud computing is changing the way businesses operate. Whilst there are clear business benefits to organisations migrating to the cloud, it too can provide IT teams with a number of performance worries. It has created new requirements for Application Performance Management (APM) solutions and what they must deliver.

A survey by Symantec revealed that reliability and performance were top concerns when considering migrating business-critical applications to the cloud or virtualised environments, with 78 per cent and 76 per cent of respondents indicating concern about those measures, respectively. These companies are justifiably concerned— in my opinion, many organisations simply do not have the processes or tools in place needed to measure application performance in the cloud.

Migrating business-critical applications from a physical environment to a virtual environment is undoubtedly a difficult process for any organisation to carry out. The main problem is that traditional monitoring tools use host-based instrumentation which do not work well in virtualised environments (where multiple virtual machines contend for CPU, disk, and network resources).

However, the transition can be managed successfully with the help from the right tools and technology. Distributing applications across the cloud requires an APM solution to work regardless of the location of the agent and as a result legacy APM tools are in many cases not suited to provide required level of monitoring. Therefore, organisations need to consider new tools that have both virtualisation and cloud-aware features in their APM solutions.

Managing application performance requires real-time performance metrics from real transactions across the application environment. In dynamic, virtualised environments, this is not a trivial task. Traditional host-based instrumentation must accommodate the activity of the hypervisor, which may assign low priority to a particular virtual machine, causing that application to appear slow. Also, the manner in which the hypervisor schedules CPU time to virtual machines results in “clock skew” and imprecise or approximate time-based performance measurements.

Is there any hope then, for migrating business-critical applications to virtualised environments and the cloud, and preserving application performance visibility in the process? Fortunately, yes, as it is possible to monitor application performance in a way that accurately represents actual transactions initiated by real users.

Network-based application performance management (APM) products have a natural advantage in providing an objective, outside-looking-in view of application performance. These solutions attach to either a physical SPAN or VMware’s vSwitch to measure real-time application performance across physical and virtual environments.

Network-based APM solutions collect a rich store of continuously updated data that IT teams can use to measure and map application performance across physical and virtual infrastructure. With data-driven insights, IT teams can more easily manage the migration process.

Network-based APM solutions provide updated baseline performance metrics that are crucial when comparing application performance on physical and virtual infrastructure, for example. This comparison is necessary to assure application owners who might be nervous about their application performance post-migration.

Network-based APM solutions also help IT teams contain virtual machine sprawl and perform audits of dynamic application environments. By analysing network traffic, these solutions automatically discover connected devices, both physical and virtual, including their name, IP address, and role based on those devices’ network activity.

Devices that respond to a large number of HTTP requests are automatically labeled as web servers, for example. Devices can be grouped according to shared activity or manually applied labels. IT teams can generate reports based on this data, such as application activity maps that visually display dependencies.

Migrating business-critical applications from a physical environment to the cloud can be a daunting process for many companies, but one that can succeed with the right tools. With the right solution, IT infrastructure teams can look application owners in the eye and, unblinkingly, promise accurate, real-time performance monitoring for application transactions traversing virtualised environments.

Owen Cole joined ExtraHop Networks in March 2011 as VP EMEA, following a 10-year tenure at F5 Networks. Previously at F5 networks, Cole held the position of Technical Director to which he was appointed in June 2006.