See Inside the Black Box: IBM Helps IT Visualize Public Cloud Workloads

What's the best way to monitor workload performance in a public cloud?

Service Management in Action

The public cloud computing model is already a juggernaut, and every year it acquires more momentum than the year before. The case for public clouds is very strong: improved service scalability, reduced operational costs, and an increased focus on business goals and strategies instead of the technology needed to pursue them.

The flipside of the public cloud coin, however, is reduced visibility. Without direct control over the cloud infrastructure itself, organizations typically have a more difficult time monitoring workload performance and service health.

Public clouds are, by definition, owned by a completely different organization, the cloud provider—so how can cloud customers improve visualization of their workload performance without adding to an infrastructure they don't even own?

Answering that question is particularly important given the fact that workload characteristics have changed in recent years. Today, workloads are often smaller, more focused, more dynamic, and more short-lived than in the past—all of which makes them harder to monitor and optimize.

Another factor complicating matters: many public cloud customers are mid-market, growing organizations with limited IT budgets. They may be wary of deep investments in feature-rich, enterprise-class monitoring solutions that are really meant for private clouds, and deliver more capabilities than they need at present.

Better suited to their needs would be a lightweight solution—one that works with multiple provisioning solutions, is relatively simple to use, fast to deploy, and thus also fast to deliver value. Ideally, it would also have the flexibility and range of features required to ensure workloads are hitting target thresholds, and if they're falling short, identify and address the root problem to mitigate any business impact.

IBM SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight: Lightweight, yet powerful application monitoring for public clouds

Smart monitoring capabilities are embedded in virtual machine images. Subsequently, every time a new image is provisioned to a virtual server, that server will continually track application performance as well as related technical resources.

That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind IBM SmartCloud Monitoring - Application Insight. As the name suggests, this new offering delivers the key information about how applications are executing in a public cloud infrastructure. It can confirm workloads are up and performing in the intended manner—and creating the intended value.

Yet this offering has also been specifically designed to meet the needs of the mid-market customer with a restricted IT budget. And for cloud providers who would like to empower those mid-market customers with enhanced monitoring of workload execution, it's directly on point as well.

Getting started with SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight couldn't be easier. Installation typically takes only minutes—and no configuration is required at all. Subsequently administration is quite straightforward, because as new workloads are added to the cloud, they're automatically discovered, and information about them is automatically integrated into an intuitive dashboard.

Overall, the solution thus provides quick and easy visibility of just the kind that's needed, all without requiring a substantial initial investment of the kind that could diminish overall cloud ROI.

An innovative architecture well suited to the needs of cloud consumers—and cloud service providers

How does SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight work? Essentially, from the bottom-up—not the top-down.

Specifically, detailed monitoring capabilities are embedded in virtual machine images stored in one of the supported provisioning tools. Each time a new virtual machine instance is provisioned from that base image, monitoring starts seamlessly, and automatically.

All such virtual machines are, in turn, managed by a special "fabric" node—a lightweight virtual machine that provides services to the managed VMs, including event forwarding, distributed database integration, configuration, and other management functions.

Each time a new application instance is created in the cloud, that instance is automatically discovered by the fabric node and associated with the correct business application, and the information from it is incorporated into the overall results reported in the cloud consumer's dashboard. The interval required for discovery and reporting is tiny: mere seconds. As a result, cloud consumers are always continually apprised of changes to the cloud's virtual application infrastructure, and can easily track the results of those changes to application and service performance.

For cloud providers, too, this design is extremely well suited. For instance, they can utilize it to support multi-tenancy very naturally—simply by creating a new management node for each different tenant. The result is a monitoring layer for each tenant that is logically walled off from all the others, reporting to each consumer only its own information and only to that consumer, which is exactly the goal public cloud providers would like to achieve.

Additionally attractive: SmartCloud Monitoring - Application Insight supports not just IBM's own cloud provisioning platforms, but also some of the most popular third party options as well—Amazon EC2, VMware, IBM SmartCloud Provisioning, IBM Tivoli Service Automation Manager, and IBM SmartCloud Enterprise. In consequence, cloud providers can choose their provisioning solutions to match their needs; the IBM solution doesn't lock them into an IBM-only cloud infrastructure.

And for cloud consumers, the provisioning choice of the cloud host doesn't prevent them from deploying SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight if they'd like to. Since the offering is software-only, implemented via embedded technology in the virtual machine images, the consumer doesn't need the cloud host to make any changes to its infrastructure at all. This translates into remarkable value, achieved remarkably fast.

Application and user experience monitoring

Let's walk through some of the specifics of SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight.

Key to getting the intended value from workloads executing in a public cloud is establishing what kind of demand those workloads are facing, how well the cloud is scaling (or not scaling) to meet the demand, and what kind of experience the end users of cloud-based applications are actually getting.

Despite its lightweight architecture, SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight delivers on all three of those bullet points. To begin with, it tracks both query volumes and user response times; these are displayed in the context of system resource events in the user dashboard. The result is that what had been a "black box" of workload execution—the public cloud—is now much more lucid.

An innovative IBM-developed distributed database is used to collect and centralize monitoring data, drawing it from each node for federated analysis. This helps reduce the bulk and complexity of the monitoring infrastructure—a particularly compelling point, since the entire goal is to improve application execution, not consume cloud resources for the monitoring process that the applications themselves might have needed.

If resource issues are affecting workload performance, those issues are clearly revealed. For instance, if a given virtual server is stalled—essentially resulting in a shortage of computational resources to a given application—that information will be revealed, and the application administrator can then take steps to remediate the problem.

Furthermore, the solution doesn't necessarily require an administrator even to be watching in real time. This is because it also supports event forwarding. If an event transpires that results in performance falling below a given threshold, alerts can be sent either to a designated e-mail address or a designated event server.

Correlated holistic view of workload execution

Even the most impressive cloud monitoring capabilities are of limited value if they are too difficult to use. Application managers may spend more time wrestling with the monitoring tool than making sure applications are performing up to expectations.

Fortunately, SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight was designed from the start with this principle in mind. It provides a Web-based user interface accessible from anywhere on the Internet, using any standard browser. This simultaneously maximizes the number of possible administrative workstations while also reducing to zero the work required to create a workstation in the first place. The interface is also easy to configure, allowing different consumers the flexibility to tailor it to their exact interests or business contexts.

Since many consumers will have more than one application running in the cloud, and yet those applications may tend to fall naturally into logical groups, the interface also supports "grouping" along these lines—yet all groups can also be overseen through the single, holistic dashboard. This means business workloads can be tracked as a whole, no matter how many separate cloud-based applications they may involve.

And that tracking is available at the level of granularity the consumer needs. If at-a-glance insight into workload execution doesn't suffice, administrators can also "drill down," establishing just what the user experience is for a given application in context of technical resource data such as the virtual machine's operating system, storage, and network performance. All of that data is in turn correlated to infrastructure events so that problems can be rapidly isolated and resolved, and capacity planning is as accurate as possible.

Interested? SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight is now available!

Just one element in the growing IBM cloud monitoring solution portfolio

While SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight is specifically intended for mid-market cloud consumers (and the cloud service providers they choose), it is really only the latest addition to IBM's larger workload monitoring suite, which spans a wide variety of IT infrastructures, cloud models, technical challenges, and business needs.

For example, IBM SmartCloud Monitoring is capable of monitoring the virtual infrastructure of almost any form of cloud (public, private, or hybrid are all supported), as well as the virtual machine workloads. This offering is additionally attractive due to the recently expanded list of virtual machine hypervisors it supports: VMware, IBM PowerVM, Linux KVM, Citrix XenServer, and Citrix Xen Desktop Shop. It also now offers extensive capacity planning capabilities via smart analytics that can optionally be made even smarter through integration with IBM Cognos business intelligence solutions.

And organizations looking for exceptional insight into applications running in a private cloud can achieve that from IBM SmartCloud Application Performance Management. This offering features five different forms of analysis to help IT better understand, visualize, and quantify application performance in extreme detail—and resolve any technical issues that may apply if that performance is in any way compromised.

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