Monitoring

Category: Monitoring

Old school thinking, new school stinking…

25 February 2020

By Emile Biagio, CTO of Sintrex

Sintrex recently hosted a coaching company to enlighten our staff on their personality types and behavior patterns… One of those really cool HR session where you learn a lot about yourself and your colleagues.

I arrived at the office about 15 minutes before the session started and checked in with the facilitator to make sure everything was ok – which it wasn’t.

She was panicking. She arrived early to set up and her laptop, but it did not want to project her slides. “That’s not a problem,” I said to calm her down, “we’ll just get our tech support in to assist.” “They’ve already been here and could not assist,” she responded.

Really?! Wednesday Thursday Friday! Apparently, the engineer walked in, looked at the setup, said, “Oh, it’s a MAC,” shrugged his shoulders and walked out.

Just like that.

Now, I thought long and hard about this (after the fact).

Why?

That’s the biggest question I had. Why would an engineer simply refuse to try and assist? It then became a discussion point within my network of friends and we’d reminisce about the good old days when we used to do tech support and there was just no opt out.

You owned a problem until it was resolved. No. Matter. What.

It forced us to try different things, test scenarios in labs and replicate the problems until we found solutions.

We used to communicate with each other, with service providers and whoever we thought might be able to give us just one more thing to try. It worked! We solved problems, all of them!

Is this something that’s been lost? Do our millennials or GenX’s just walk away when there is no quick fix? Have we created too many silos in IT and confined technologists to certain boundaries?  Is this why systems struggle?

Do we only look after our little portion of the problem and fail to see the bigger picture?

I may still struggle to understand the logic of what happened – and I’ll keep trying – but it took me 5 minutes to get the MAC projecting. Without Google 😉

Don’t sit back and watch things break, drive changes for improvement!

17 February 2020

Don’t sit back and watch things break, drive changes for improvement!

Monitoring systems that statistically indicate that things are bad, implies that certain actions must be taken to rectify. “But you’re telling me what my users are already telling me” is NOT the desired response.

Yes, monitoring systems will measure your users’ experience and provide you with factual proof that the user experience may be terrible, which you may require.

More importantly, however, it will also tell you why the experience is bad. This is why you need to understand the information – so that you can assist with actions to rectify.

There is no silver bullet, and nothing beats elbow grease to get systems running optimally.

So, for monitoring to add true value, you should:

  • understand the statistics and measures that you’re looking at and
  • be prepared for a service improvement project or focus group to action a few things to resolve.

The first bullet point above should be fairly easy – your monitoring provider can teach you all about the metrics and measures.

On the second point, however, you should be willing to do a little research and interact with more departments and/or service providers.

Example: you measure (monitor): network performance, application response and transaction speeds to the back-end database and find that users experience slow responses because of the database. You would then need to start investigating all aspects around the database.

This may not be an area that you’re familiar with or responsible for, but it’s an area that you need to stick your nose into because, in this scenario, it’s the area that needs tweaking to improve user experience of an application.

A monitoring tool does not fix things for you, despite development and progress in AI and machine learning – we’re not there yet.

Keeping to the above example/scenario, you could start by finding out who maintains the database, who looks after the hardware or VM that hosts the DB.

Then ask those people about maintenance, performance, size, speed, optimization options, etc… Ask “silly” questions and Google a lot. Each of these interactions should spawn a few actions that could improve the performance of the database.

After each action, re-check the measured user experience until you start noticing performance improvements.

In this way, you are not a passive consumer of data which ultimately adds no value – you are an active force of change, that helps improve performance! Remember to document your learning in a knowledge base… and keep measuring!

“We all know how important it is to ensure that business-critical applications are constantly up and running, but this is dependent on the effectiveness of the underlying infrastructure. It has never been more important for companies to understand how critical business services, the IT infrastructure, and applications work together, because a failure in one area can have a negative domino effect on others,” says Sintrex’s CTO Emile Biagio.

He adds that having an infrastructure that works does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy or available, monitoring is therefore a vital aspect in obtaining the insight needed to ensure optimal functionality. “The failure of one switch might not seem like a big deal, but can become mission-critical in one area of the business. The underlying infrastructure might be working, but if glitches occur, users will encounter challenges and complain about their IT ‘not working properly’.”

Maintaining a stable and functional infrastructure rests on an end-to-end monitoring approach. “An overview of your entire estate”, Biagio points out.

All of the elements that make up the business system need to be looked at from the perspective of the infrastructure, the applications, and the end user experience.

Only with this holistic approach can companies gain insight over their availability, health and ability to trade.

“The business is connected through a network – whether a local area network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN), or both. If there is a problem with a connection at any point on any of these networks, the users often associate the challenges they encounter with the applications they are trying to access rather than the network. Similarly, many workers these days are mobile, and can encounter problems accessing the organisation from external locations. Monitoring the IT infrastructure must therefore start with evaluating the connectivity enabled by the network.”

Connectivity is a key foundation upon which any infrastructure is dependent on, but workload and applications availability fuels any business’s productivity on a daily basis, therefor these areas must be monitored to ensure business continuity.

“The right monitoring approach can provide a comprehensive overview of the health of the infrastructure. This can be achieved with different levels of insight, so business can have an overview without having to know the specifics of the technical aspects, while IT can gains deep understanding and useful fast effective problem resolution time,” Biagio says.

“Proactive awareness of what is going on across the infrastructure allows for improved user experience as well as pre-emptive fault resolution. Not only is understanding the health of the infrastructure vital to the smooth operation of any business, it reduces costs in the long run, mitigates risks and effective planning.”

Application Monitoring – still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

In the IT Monitoring space, it has become a requirement to have eyes on everything in your infrastructure and everyone has become used to the single pane of glass, API integration with drill-through capability and full stack service monitoring.

As a result, many specialist companies are punting complete visibility of your entire infrastructure and positioning their tools as the panacea to keeping an eye on it all, the entire time.

Looking at the features and capabilities of the more prevalent vendors out there, it appears to be realistic enough, but can one specialist tool really manage all of this in one go?

Is it possible? Yes!

Does is ever work?  Hardly…!

Here’s why…

Supposing you have the Rolls Royce of application monitoring tools, as soon as you start investigating last hop network latency on a per transaction basis to troubleshoot your customer portal’s performance issues – or something just as intricate, but relevant to your IT service – in most cases you will find a mundanely basic network error is actually affecting normal service delivery.

Most of the marquee application monitoring tools that you come across can see any level of detail into the most critical IT services.

Embarrassingly, but most often upon implementation, these tools end up pointing out bad housekeeping, like misconfigured DHCP or how network flows are being directed to discontinued IP addresses.

Despite the grand visions that we have for our IT environments, the ground level is not as stable as we expect or want it to be and will always be something that requires our attention.

One way of looking at it is the TCP/IP model of networking communications. Application monitoring tools are used to look at, troubleshoot and alert on the upper layer, as the name suggests, where transaction details can be decrypted for DPI – Deep Packet Inspection.

Following this the Transport, Internet and Physical Layers are the supporting communication layers and essentially constitute physical and virtualized network equipment, VLANs, Quality of Service Bands and their configurations – everything that the business applications need to serve the end users with information.

If this TCP/IP model is viewed as a tower of building blocks, which it does represent in many ways, it stands to reason that the foundational layers need to be in place and under control before the upper layers can be used to any effect.

These are areas and functions that need to be maintained.

Don’t take my word for it though, refer to any operational lifecycle or governance framework. Somewhere between the planning, design and operation of any service in IT, maintenance is required.
ITIL labels it as “Transition”, COBIT says “Review Effectiveness” and the Sintrex in-house methodology chose to call it “Verify”, but it still speaks to evaluating existing structures for effectiveness and performing maintenance where necessary.

But “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, so unless something goes wrong and gets rectified, how would one maintain the lower layers of this tower?

There should be emphasis on the lowest level of the model continuously, but your focus can only move to the upper layers, provided that the current layers in focus mature into established processes of maintenance and upkeep.

This should ring true for anyone involved in networks, as the first port of call when assigning blame is invariably, the network. More trust in the network and higher visibility into the lower layers translates into less time you need to spend hunting basic errors.

And when an end user claims the ERP system is not working, IT support should first and foremost confirm that the physical network servicing the system is up and running.

If you can say with confidence that the basics are in place and the network is doing what it should, it enables you to build up from this foundation to view all the intricacies that depend on the network.

This is the level of confidence you should have in your network, before you should be able to put your trust in Application monitoring.

Finding method in the madness

In 2018, IT spend in South Africa totaled a whopping R276.6 billion (Gartner, Inc). The core challenge remains determining how to derive value from all this investment…

People, Process and Technology:
This is the foundation of any established IT management domain. It may come with proprietary terminology and be straight from a governance framework playbook, or it could be a customized set of rules based on requirements for your own environment. Whether you are the owner, an outsourced service provider, consultant or even vendor, you will need to fulfill your role within the boundaries of this framework.

In the building, maintenance and management of any IT environment, direct costs are incurred from the People and the Technology. These two terms represent most expenditures from infrastructure to cloud and software subscriptions, to permanent employees, consultants and service providers.
Unpacking all of this, you end up with all of the building blocks that show up on the company’s financial ledgers against IT. All of these building blocks put together are what IT has to ensure delivery of a service that enables business.

To best deliver a service that satisfies requirements, there are questions that need answering like:

Which team looks after WAN CE links?
What dashboard(s) do you grant to service provider XYZ?
Which processes should I keep internal and which should I entrust to an outsourced provider?
What SLA’s need to be negotiated and imposed on each team involved in service delivery?

… to name but a few. As a whole, questions related to this will very likely range far beyond these and dig much more into particular details.

It is indeed a daunting challenge.

With due respect to all vendors and service providers, there is seldom a clear winner when it comes to a particular software toolset and the same can be said about service providers. A few obvious choices come to mind but most purchases, that are seen as strategically important, go through a like-for-like comparison, exhaustive and often extended proofs of concept as well as carefully negotiated contracts terms.

In and of its nature, this purchasing of software or signing of service agreements is something that experience can teach you. The rules of the game do not change all that often and investing in technology can – in most cases – be measured and justified by a prior success internally or reference sites where the same purchase has proven to be successful. “Company A” might thrive on open source software and specialists capable of running systems smoothly, in which case you could follow the same mix of skills and solution sets. Or “Company B” is able to show ROI on high end proprietary solutions that come with marquee price-tags, in which case a value proposition can be built.

Despite having to service your own unique environment, there is most certainly a recipe for buying toolsets and selecting service providers or employees to meet your own requirements.

Why then, do some succeed and others fails with certain technology toolsets?
OR at the same token, why do some partnerships with a service provider work, while others do not?

If you have followed along to this point, it should be obvious that the third part of the introductory management framework has been left well alone. It is the part that cannot be purchased, but instead that each management team needs to build, grow and evolve to suit the needs of their own business:

Process!

This is the “secret sauce” unique to each environment that can ensure success.
Without it, any mix of “end-to-end” solution sets won’t work, nor will any amount of product specialists run an IT environment successfully. The process is what defines who gets the correct information at the right time and what to do with this information.

There should be a set procedure for every eventuality in an IT infrastructure. If an event occurs that impacts the ERP system, what remedial steps need to be taken and who needs to be informed?
What is the time frame and standard response to resolve an incident? Which steps in this procedure is repeated and thus suitable to automate?

Unfortunately, process is often overlooked. Not to the extent there is no process, but rather that the process is not adapted to changes within the environment. The trick is to acknowledge that this is a “live” document and to ensure that these adaptations are made to keep in line with today’s environment.

A technology specialist might leave the organization and someone inexperienced is appointed as custodian of a system they cannot properly use. There might be changes in your company’s e-mail or internal communications and the automated messages are just not being delivered anymore. Any part of the IT infrastructure that changes will have an impact on the tools used and the people running them and vice versa.

Provided that the process is documented and available to the various stakeholders and responsible parties, the impact of the changes mentioned above can be minimized. It enables one person to hand over to his or her successor and could be used to outline minimum requirements for replacement software. The process lays the platform for growth and sustainability in how IT delivers value to business. You cannot get this off the shelf, but if it is not maintained, your process can be the most costly component of your IT management framework. We can therefore safely say that effective and efficient processes are paramount to deriving value from your investment in IT!

SD WAN’s impact on network monitoring

SD WAN providers claim that application performance can improve by up to forty times when migrated to SD WAN technologies…  That’s a phenomenal statistic! But how true is it? How did this number roll up to the marketing department to lure you into clicking the “Subscribe to SD-WAN” button?

Strategy guru Peter Drucker once said: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” So these claims imply there being some form of measurement to back up the statistic. This also means that the initial concern is having the visibility to actually measure performance, before being able to improve on it.

Recently at the Interop ITX in Las Vegas, one of the breakfast briefings was hosted by the IDC. The topic was “Intelligent Automation of Networks” and, more specifically, the rise of “intent based networking.”

IDC claim that network visibility is critical for all companies looking to digitally transform or improve their cloud architecture deployment. Those facing pressure to support a massively complex infrastructure should start by taking a good, hard look at their network monitoring capabilities.

It’s not just about monitoring a massively complex infrastructure to ensure a better user experience, but also to baseline the current user experience to ensure that user experience actually does improve. Migration for the sake of trying to resolve user perceived problems may not yield the desired user satisfaction, increased productivity or operational saving.

Many years ago, Sintrex was at the forefront of monitoring client experience while enterprises were migrating from private WANs to service provider MPLS networks. It was essential to baseline existing service levels so that new service levels could be compared. It’s not much different now. To retain control, organisations need to retain visibility.

A couple of other predictions made by the IDC include:

  • In the near term (6-to-12 months), monitoring for SD-WAN links and specific SaaS services will see the greatest levels of investment.
  • Over the 12 to 24 month period, enterprises will invest in and integrate new network performance monitoring capabilities with existing application performance management platforms.

Sintrex Executive, Ludwig Myburgh asserts that “from a Sintrex perspective SD Networks do not have a major impact on our monitoring paradigm. Devices will still have IP addresses, with management capabilities, interconnected via Subnets and perform similar networking services. “

“The configuration and changes applied dynamically to these devices is where there is a major change to the traditional WAN paradigm. To monitor, store, check for compliance, track changes etc. we see ourselves playing a major role. Vendors are exposing the information via API’s and particularly RESTful API’s.”

“This is where Sintrex will interconnect and collate information, store in the CMDB and bring into a consolidated warehouse to provide holistic IT intelligence.”

“From a Fault, Performance and Flow perspective there are no major changes as most of the information is still available via SNMP and NetFlow for the network based platforms and WMI for the Windows environment.”

This article was published in partnership with Sintrex.

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Sintrex invests in 59 unemployed learners to help launch their IT careers

Sintrex invests in 59 unemployed learners to help launch their IT careers

Sintrex has kicked off a learnership program that has enrolled 59 unemployed individuals at various institutions based in Cape Town and Johannesburg. That’s more than 50% of the company’s current headcount!

The learnership program was launched in 2017 with the goal of creating a talent pipeline of potential employees, either for Sintrex or other ICT companies in SA. The learners will participate in a one-year generic IT qualification program, to equip them with skills for a productive and successful career.

The learners study a combination of theory and workplace experience where they apply theory in a workplace environment.  This will empower the learners to be workplace ready at the end of their studies.

 

At the end of the one year, learners will be evaluated not only by the institution, but by Sintrex as well.  To be eligible for an one-year internship program with Sintrex, the learners will have to successfully complete the learnership and pass an internal assessment. Interns who then successfully pass the intern program are offered permanent employment at Sintrex.

 

Once employed permanently, the employee will start a career in system support as an operator with career paths that extend to engineering, development, product specialists or sales.

Sintrex CEO Keith Mclachlan visited the learning institutions where he introduced Sintrex to the learners and handed each learner a welcoming hamper.

 

Regular visits to the learners will ensure that both parties get to know one another better, and form a long-term relationship.

One learner, Abdul, explains that the program is structured to feel “more like a work environment than a classroom.”

Beverly Mvumvu, another learner in the program, adds that “with the internships, we got a great view of how one should handle and act in a work environment.”

“This program has broadened my sphere of understanding as to my chosen field and is a stepping stone in establishing myself as an individual – in the pursuit of prosperity,” concludes learner Lesetja Mogau Chuene. “With the current decline in the currency and employment, I’m happy to be recognised as part of this program.”

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The right way to transform your IT infrastructure

 

Modern businesses have extensive global networks, multiple service providers and utilise various technologies across a range of platforms.

However, monitoring and reacting to downtime or threats across these platforms can be strenuous and time-consuming without a solution in place.

In effect, this places your company’s corporate image in jeopardy when productivity decreases and customer service deteriorate.

When there is downtime, data needs to be secure and IT infrastructure management has to be faster, more agile, more easily scalable and cost-efficient.

Sintrex helps to manage complex environments to ensure maximum efficiency and consistent service to your end users.

Sintrex’s Infrastructure Management solutions also assist in protecting your business against downtime and threats which can result in lasting financial loss, brand damage, legal liabilities, and other extremely unpleasant consequences.

Infrastructure Management Services is essential to help automate, manage, and align your company’s IT resources and has become a must-have with the proliferation of virtualization and cloud technology.

Automation reduces the time it takes to perform a wide range of functions, making it possible to manage servers, storage and networks in converged infrastructures from a centralised location.

Sintrex services allow you to improve the stability, reliability and availability of the IT infrastructure and application services while constantly improving on performance levels and management of your IT investment.

It will also empower you to proactively identify any areas that are vulnerable and identify potential problems to prevent future downtime and disruption to end users.

As a local company, Sintrex’s team is highly familiar with challenges affecting South Africans, and their experience in a wide range of industries enables them to deliver custom results.

Sintrex