Most Read This Week
Monitoring & Testing
Application Performance Doesn’t Have to Be a Cloud Detractor
The transition to the cloud offers IT teams an excellent opportunity to emerge as protectors of their organizations
By: Ronald Miller
Mar. 24, 2014 09:00 AM
Introduction: The Cloud as a Point of IT and Business Disconnect
Therein lies a major conflict. Regardless, as numerous surveys like this one from IDC demonstrate, cloud adoption is moving forward at a rapid pace. Clearly, the cloud is where we're headed. IT must learn to accept the cloud as just part of how services are delivered today, rather than some exotic and potentially dangerous new technology. The good news is IT's concerns about application performance are not insurmountable and can actually be eased with specific approaches.
This article will discuss factors leading to IT's wariness of the cloud. It will also highlight recent survey findings that show just how concerned IT professionals actually are, even as organizations move to the cloud en masse. Finally, the article offers several recommendations to help assuage IT's concerns and minimize risks as cloud adoption continues at a rapid clip.
Why Is IT Uneasy?
IT's concerns are exacerbated by the fact that when major cloud services do fail, they tend to fail spectacularly. Media often flock to this news like vultures, further undermining IT's confidence. As an example, this past summer Apple's iCloud service, which helps connect iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices to key services, went down for more than six hours. This captured headlines around the world. While Apple claimed that the outage impacted less than one percent of iCloud customers, the sheer size of this user base - 300 million users - translated to approximately three million users being disconnected from services for 11 hours. Shortly thereafter, an Amazon EC2 outage rocked Instagram, Vine, Netflix and several other major customers of this cloud service, inflicting unplanned downtime across all of them and igniting a frenzy of negative press.
In an attempt to ease IT's worries, several cloud service providers have begun offering "premium" performance features along with cloud instances. For example, Amazon EC2 now offers its customers dedicated IOPS (input/output operations per second) to benchmark disk performance. Other cloud service providers are also marketing ways to configure their platforms for different performance thresholds. The challenge here is that few companies can afford premium features for every cloud-based node and service. Without a view into the cloud's impact on end-user performance on the other side of the cloud, it is nearly impossible to identify poor end-user performance, never mind where these premium features could be applied for maximum ROI.
Finally, an awareness of their growing - and often precarious - reliance on cloud services further forces IT to face their own vulnerability. Enterprise use of cloud technology grew 90 percent between early 2012 and mid 2013, according to Verizon's recent "State of the Enterprise Cloud Report." Another important trend worth noting is that businesses are hosting less and less of what gets delivered on their websites. Instead, they're relying on a growing number of externally hosted (third-party) web elements to enrich their web properties, such as ad servers and social media plug-ins. This often results in a company becoming a cloud customer indirectly, without their even knowing it.
Recent Survey Results Demonstrate IT's Wariness
What is surprising is the fact that 79 percent of these professionals expressed concern over the hidden costs of cloud computing, with poor end-user experience resonating as the biggest management worry. According to the survey, here are the four leading concerns with cloud migration:
Ironically, these responses come at a time when the cloud is increasingly being used to support mission-critical applications like e-commerce. More than 80 percent of the professionals surveyed are either already using cloud-based e-commerce platforms or are planning to do so within the next year. It's evident that even as cloud adoption marches forward, a layer of trepidation remains, at least among IT staffs.
Business managers believe the efficiency benefits of the cloud are just too mission-critical to ignore. But IT's primary concern - application performance - is also mission-critical, and perhaps a bit more visceral and tangible. After all, a major service outage is a blatant, clear-cut scenario while efficiency gains or losses are often more subtle and less quantifiable. Ultimately, it's IT that takes the blame when business services don't work exactly as planned.
It used to be that issues like security and cost dominated the list of cloud concerns. But application performance is increasingly making headway as users grow more demanding. For the average user, 0.1 seconds is an instantaneous, acceptable response, similar to what they experience with a Google search. As response times increase, interactions begin to slow and dissatisfaction rises. The impact of a slowdown can be devastating: Amazon has calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year. In addition, Google found that slowing search response times by just four-tenths of a second would reduce the number of searches by eight million per day - a sizeable amount.
Getting the Performance You Need from the Cloud
1. Don't Be Afraid to Experiment: Cloud computing offers businesses the opportunity to leverage computing resources they might not otherwise have the expertise or wherewithal to employ. But it can be intimidating to move critical operations out of one's own hands. That's where free trials come in. A number of cloud computing vendors offer free test runs that let companies figure out how cloud services would meld with their current operations.
Getting the most out of a trial period takes some planning and effort, and this includes making certain to measure the cloud service provider's performance. Unfortunately, most cloud service providers today don't measure and provide performance statistics as part of these trial periods, so it's incumbent upon prospective customers to do so. It's often best to experiment in the cloud with a non-critical system, such as a sales support application that doesn't have a huge impact on customers, should performance degrade. Organizations should also be sure to measure performance for as broad a cross-section of users as possible.
2. Insist on Performance-Focused SLAs: Inherent cloud attributes like on-demand resource provisioning and scalability are designed to increase confidence in the usability of applications and data hosted in the cloud. But the most common mistake that people often make is interpreting availability guarantees as performance guarantees in a cloud computing environment. Availability shows that a cloud service provider's servers are up and running - but that's about it. Service-level agreements (SLAs) based on availability say nothing about the user experience, which can be significantly impacted by the cloud - such as, when an organization's "neighbor" in the cloud experiences an unexpected spike in traffic. Yet, despite the mission-critical nature of many cloud applications, our survey found that 73 percent of companies are still using outdated methods like availability measurements to track and manage application performance.
The fact is that most traditional monitoring tools simply don't work in the cloud. Effectively monitoring and managing modern cloud-based applications and services requires a new approach based on more granular user metrics such as response time and page rendering time. This approach must be based on an understanding of the true user interaction "on the other side" of the cloud. It must enable cloud customers to directly measure the performance of their cloud service providers and validate SLAs. With this type of approach, cloud customers can be better assured that application performance issues will not undercut the benefits of moving to the cloud. In addition, an understanding of true end-user experiences across key geographies can help companies identify the most strategic opportunities for applying premium performance features, as discussed above.
3. Utilize Industry Resources: There are resources available to help companies better assess if the source of a performance problem lies with them or with a cloud service provider, as well as the likely performance impact on customers. As an example, Compuware's Outage Analyzer is a free new generation performance analytics solution that tracks Internet web service outages, including cloud service outages, in real-time around the world. Outage Analyzer provides instant insight into the performance of thousands of cloud services and the resulting impact on the websites they service. Resources like this may not prevent cloud service outages from happening, but they can help companies better understand the source of performance problems so they can get in front of them more confidently and efficiently.
Conclusion: Cloud Computing Is the "New Normal"
In reality, neither IT nor the business is wrong when it comes to their strong opinions on adopting the cloud for mission-critical applications. Ultimately both sides share the same goal, which is to maximize a company's revenues and profits. It's just that the two teams approach the problem differently: IT emphasizes application performance as a means of driving productivity and conversions, while business leaders look to increase cash flow, seek greatest return on capital investments and lower operating expenses.
The move to the cloud can be a very good thing for today's enterprises. It's also a good thing to be cloud-wary, and this is where the business will ultimately depend on IT to be vigilant. By paying due attention to performance issues, the transition to the cloud offers IT teams an excellent opportunity to emerge as protectors of their organizations, thus maximizing return on cloud investments.
Reader Feedback: Page 1 of 1
Subscribe to the World's Most Powerful Newsletters
Today's Top Reads