Application performance management as a service: What does it take?

Traditional network monitoring is fast morphing into application performance management, a growing market segment targeting enterprise users that has service possibilities for the telecom carrier, but only if the right vendor partnerships and service level agreements are in place. Not as easy as it sounds.

Over the last two years, technology vendors have been moving away from using the term "network monitoring" and replacing it with "application performance management." The main reason is that the performance of corporate networks is increasingly measured by the performance of the applications delivered over those networks.

Even though there are more than 40 vendors offering application performance management solutions, not all of these products are suitable for carriers.

Bojan Simic
Principal Analyst
TRAC Research

As a result, businesses are replacing familiar network-specific metrics, such as network uptime and time to troubleshoot network performance issues, with metrics like application availability and quality of experience as key performance indicators on their networks.

These changes are forcing vendors to enhance their product portfolios and provide more capabilities for monitoring the performance of networked applications in terms of measuring how fast information is delivered to end users via the network, the application itself or the Web services infrastructure, and pointing to possible problems. New opportunities are also being created in the emerging applications performance management (APM) market, including providing it as a managed service, although only a few telecom service providers have focused in on the trend so far.

Here's why it's important. Organizations that responded to a recent TRAC Research survey reported that they lose thousands of dollars when business-critical applications slow down, even for a few minutes. But few carriers offer service-level agreements (SLAs) around application response times. And while enterprises report that every minute of service downtime has a significant negative effect on their businesses, some telecom carriers are still offering SLAs with mean time to repair (MTTR) performance issues of 24 hours or more.

The combination of APM, network monitoring, quality of service (QoS) and WAN optimization tools would allow carriers to manage different aspects of application delivery. They can define acceptable performance baselines and offer service-level guarantees for meeting these baselines. If performance issues are caused by applications themselves, application performance management tools can point that out, even though carriers are typically not responsible for these problems (some, however, are also offering services around application management).

MTTR guarantees can be used for both hardware and services, but they can also be used for network or application performance. For application performance, even a two-to-three hour SLA for MTTR is too much, never mind 24 hours. Carriers shouldn't get rid of traditional MTTR, but they can add a set of metrics that go beyond uptime for effective application performance monitoring.

How carriers can enter application performance management services

Telecom carriers are in a good position to take advantage of the market shift toward networked applications and build managed services that address the key pain points of end-user organizations. Service providers should realize, however, that taking advantage of this opportunity is not as simple as changing their offerings from managed network services to managed application performance management services and offering visibility into application performance.

In order to provide APM as a managed service, telecom carriers need to partner with technology vendors that provide these capabilities. Even though there are more than 40 vendors offering application performance management solutions, not all of these products are suitable for carriers. In order to be truly successful in providing APM as a managed service, carriers need to partner with technology vendors that would allow them to address key pain points of application performance management from both operational and business perspectives.

Carriers don't need to be able to manage the application itself in order to provide application SLAs. Instead, they need a set of tools for managing the delivery of applications from a data center to business users. For example, Virtela offers SLAs around response times and the only capabilities it needs for this service are WAN optimization and APM solutions delivered from 40 to 50 cloud locations.

Discovering application performance management issues before they wreak havoc

The APM market keeps evolving, and to be clear, organizations are not asking for services that would enable them to manage application performance over the network. Instead, they are looking for services that would allow them to achieve their top goal for application performance management -- preventing performance issues before end-users are affected.

Many businesses are realizing that the number of help desk complaints is not a measure of how well they are handling critical application performance management. When an end-user files a trouble ticket or calls the help desk, it's already too late. The majority of organizations want to be able to resolve application performance issues before they have any business impact.

For that reason, businesses are looking for application performance monitoring solutions that would allow them to be more proactive and see potential problems coming before they affect end-users. To be truly successful in providing application performance management services, telecom carriers need to build their offerings around products that will enable them to achieve this goal.

Some telecommunications carriers have already built robust portfolios of managed application performance management services. Global Crossing, BT, Verizon Business and Orange Business Services are some of the providers offering advanced APM capabilities by partnering with vendors such as Virtual Network Systems (a division of Fluke Networks), InfoVista or Ipanema Technologies. These solutions allow carriers to provide some key APM functionalities, like measuring the quality of end-user experience, comparing actual performance to SLAs, and advanced troubleshooting and alerting capabilities.

Cisco also understands the potential of the market for application performance management services. Even though it doesn't have a specific APM product in its portfolio, Cisco grouped different solutions to enable carriers to offer application performance management services that include its network management technologies. APM capabilities are provided by Cisco partners (predominantly InfoVista and Fluke Networks), and Cisco's Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) capabilities offer WAN optimization and network traffic management.

Vendors must optimize APM tools for carriers' managed services

On the flip side, in order for application performance management offerings to fit service provider business models and strategies, technology vendors need to make their solutions better suited for a managed services environment. These include delivery methods and pricing models.

Telecom carriers need application performance management solutions that are easy to deploy and can be priced in a way that allows them to make a profit at low risk. This would include the ability to pay only for what they are using, so there is no risk of over-provisioning and being "stuck" with licenses they can't sell to their customers. For example, U.K.-based technology vendor NetEvidence is delivering its solution as Software as a Service (SaaS) to its managed service provider (MSP) customers while offering a pay-per-use model for the monitoring capabilities it offers MSPs.

The bottom line: Companies are realizing that the performance of business-critical applications has a growing impact on their business goals, including revenue growth, customer satisfaction, business continuity and brand reputation. Many of them understand that solutions that make their applications faster and more available can deliver a significant return on investment. Telecom carriers should be aware of the opportunity and use their position in the application delivery chain to offer services built around best-of-breed solutions that would allow enterprises to achieve their key goals for application performance management.

About the author: Bojan Simic is the founder and principal analyst at TRAC Research, a market research and analyst firm specializing in IT performance management. As an industry analyst, Simic interviewed more than 2,000 IT and business professionals from end-user organizations and published more than 50 research reports. Simic's coverage area includes application and network monitoring, WAN management and acceleration, cloud and virtualization management, BSM and managed services.

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