The “Rubik’s Cube of Complexity” — Managing IT in an Interdependent World

Recently, Oracle President Marc Hurd said CIOs face a “Rubik’s Cube of complexity” managing today’s information technology, noting that aging applications, the cloud, mobile and social media, among others, are making life more difficult than ever for businesses large or small.

His comments couldn’t have been better timed. Just weeks later, Facebook’s “Like” button disruption had a wide-ranging ripple effect, slowing down thousands of sites worldwide. Amazon’s EC2 outage in early July took several big sites offline and slowed down many others. In the past year we’ve also seen outages from Microsoft and others which have had a cascading effect on companies that integrate with those services.

This is the downside of IT’s growing reliance on third-party components. These externally hosted elements, many of them cloud-based, include advertising or analytics code, social plug-ins, checkout functions, video or newsfeeds and many others.

While IT teams expect to reap the benefits of specialized external services to support more demanding consumer and enterprise workloads, these technologies add enormous complexity to corporate IT systems. Our research shows the typical U.S. Web site has anywhere from eight to 12 separate hosts contributing to a single transaction. Most of these are not from your own data center.

While the growing reliance on externally hosted elements provides richer customer experiences, they can also introduce risks because a single component can cause an application to slow down or fail. This interdependency raises a critical question: how can I manage my IT when it involves so many external elements out of my direct control?

Finding the answer requires new management approaches focusing less on the data center and more on the end user. Gartner notes this sea change is already happening: It estimates that 20 percent of the Global 2000 are trying to reconstruct their IT operational process frameworks in ways that accord with the monitoring and management of applications, rather than infrastructure, in a central place.

For many enterprises there’s a growing realization that applications are the business and that application performance — the speed and reliability with which you deliver content to end users — has a direct impact on revenue.

Third-party components comprise just one part of the complex set of services standing between your data center and your customers, all of which make application delivery more challenging. We call this set of services the Application Delivery Chain (ADC). IT managers know it has increased in complexity, and that problems can occur at any point along this chain, resulting in failed applications or slow load times (and lost business).

How can today’s IT execs tame the growing complexity of the Application Delivery Chain? Here’s how one successful enterprise, JetBlue Airways, handles it for its growing audience of mobile customers.

JetBlue is constantly refreshing its online experience, particularly in the mobile arena, because that’s where its on-the-go travel customers are. The company must deliver up-to-the-minute reservation bookings and flight data to travelers using numerous mobile devices over a variety of differing connection types.

According to Jonathan Stephen, Senior Producer Mobile Products, JetBlue addresses these challenges by:

  • Benchmarking its application performance. This means clearly defining what is, and what is not, acceptable application speed, based on the needs of users.
  • Engaging in a program of ongoing measurement of the user experience to make certain it meets the organization’s standards. JetBlue understands the application isn’t what leaves the data center; it’s what the user sees.
  • Continually monitoring its entire Application Delivery Chain. Is this overkill? Not at all. In fact, this mindset separates the leaders from the laggards. By monitoring its applications and the underlying mobile networks delivering them, JetBlue not only ensures problems are quickly identified and resolved, but can prevent some problems from ever occurring. This allows it to keep pace with the expanding complexity of IT systems and the growing expectations of customers.

This application-specific approach is working well for JetBlue. Its applications consistently provide fast, reliable performance that doesn’t keep customers waiting. It’s a great example of an organization employing a new generation of application performance management, as it fully understands the connection to its business interests. Not only is JetBlue successfully managing the complexities of today’s IT systems, it’s using performance as a competitive advantage.

John Van Siclen is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Compuware Corp.’s APM Business Unit.

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