Model rally car in race

Business Transaction Management

Systems that handle high-volume transaction processing present demanding challenges for IT managers. Business Transaction Management can help.

Keeping track of  IT as it is commissioned and decommissioned is tricky enough, so how can you provide accurate transactional-layer monitoring and problem resolution? Achieving this 'granular', transaction-level view calls for specialist tools, which are becoming the domain of an emerging technology Business Transaction Management (BTM).

Businesses place exacting expectations on IT and platforms applications. After all, it is no consolation to the account manager who's just seen millions in revenue bounce to a competitor that the fault lay with a system that 'hiccupped' at the critical millisecond. This places a high value on transaction-based processing and other transaction-based applications, thereby driving the requirement for BTM.

The lay attitude toward IT is akin to someone who wants to race a performance rally car, but loads it down with heavy luggage in order to enjoy a nice vacation after winning the championship.

The first step in improving the performance of applications is understanding their role; how to monitor them proficiently; and in managing the expectations of end users.

The high value of many business applications particularly in the financial sector means that even minute performance degradations can result in big financial losses or missed opportunities. With trading-based systems, for example, it is critical that applications run to millisecond timing: lapses in transactional throughput need to be remedied immediately. This also important to utilities providers and online retailers.

System views

Businesses often buy IT departmentally as specific needs arise, rather than via a single point of procurement. This may benefit the budget in the short term, but IT managers can be left unable to get a comprehensive view of what is happening on their environment, and therefore are restricted when it comes to fully managing application performance. The pace of IT change within many organisations means that, while a reasonably accurate view of the 'technology landscape' is possible one week, it is out of date the next.

System diagnosis

Businesses need to have a way to undertake dynamic, real-time analyses of the transaction paths of applications across their IT environment. Doing so will show exactly what is operating, allowing a real-time view of potential problems before they cause damage.

The earlier a diagnostic tool is able to highlight symptoms of application under-performance, the more time IT managers have to tend to it. Businesses must be able to track applications at the transaction layer.

IT is made up of many applications and systems that jointly perform small tasks to get user transactions processed. To conceptualise the process, it is useful to think of each action as embarking on a journey.

Each business transaction from a user travels through the IT system sometimes repeatedly, back and forth along the same route, sometimes via alternative routes. At stages it might encounter various technological potholes, bends, or blockages.

A concomitant requirement comes from data that confirms applications are working as required. This data informs the metrics that make comparisons possible, and help to plot. By capturing and tracking all transactions across all IT tiers, organisations can then see the whole impact that transactions have on the business.

To get the most accurate view of a given situation, analysis must provide immaculate granularity. Each business transaction provides clear evidence of how an application is performing, and if there is evidence of problems looming. Another advantage is that transactions also tell the 'cost' side of IT, so not only are performance problems quickly resolved, but also the cost of performing those transactions is optimised.

Role of SLA

BTM works to understand the importance of business transactions that flow through an organisation's IT infrastructure. This results in an enhanced understanding of the service quality and flow and also of dependencies among databases, servers, and applications throughout the entire transaction lifecycle. This requires clear two-way communication between the business and IT to be successful; it also highlights the key importance of realistic and relevant service level agreements (SLAs).

One aspect adding to BTM's value is the fact that it enables IT managers to monitor the performance of applications from their users' perspective, and concurrently to have detailed visibility into how each transaction flows across the entire infrastructure, and uses each shared resource.

The discrepancy between the requirement for better application performance management tools and the understanding of what this actually means for users translates into a complex relationship between the IT function and the business.

SLAs have been used to set expectations of managed IT services customers, but are now being used internally to manage expectations between the IT department and the business. The trouble starts when SLAs are mistakenly regarded as some kind of catch-all cure-all: they can become out of date, causing confusion rather than ensuring high-quality service delivery.

To extend the earlier rally car analogy, the notion of placing a screw on the throttle of a car to make it consume less fuel going uphill is a technical control; the business focus of the transaction is fuel efficiency. For this 'transaction' to be successful, it needs accurate and granular data regarding the angle of the hill, and how far the screw must be turned for optimal fuel consumption. This technical control is of no practical use because the driver would need to stop the automobile, compute the angle of the hill, and know how far to turn the screw including actually turning it every time a hill incline is encountered on a journey.

Implementing dynamic, real-time, application management tools is vital to being able to understand the complete environment and efficiently manage it. While IT has become the cornerstone of business, from high street retailers to the fast-paced world of financial trading, it has also come under extremely close scrutiny. Just as IT's existence is key to business success, so too is it true that any slowdown of process or downtime can have major financial and reputational repercussions. IT managers now have to ensure that they have the redoubtable ability to manage IT at its most granular level and beyond.

Colin Rowland is senior vice president EMEA operations at OpTier 

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