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ITOA as a Strategic capability for the Business

By Sameer Padhye, Founder and CEO, FixStream

In many ways ITOA is still in a formational stage and there's plenty of opportunity for it to move beyond day-to-day operations to become strategic at the business level. In particular there's lots of talk about analytics and visualization and using these capabilities to leap ahead of traditional monitoring tools by providing a new level of actionable intelligence. I was intrigued by Sasha Gilenson's recent piece on blended analytics and other articles that highlight the importance of working across silos. I want to support and expand on that with the concept of what we call converged analytics and visualization that combines cross-domain correlation, analytics and rich visual dependency mapping of applications and infrastructure working together across locations.

With this triple play ITOA will become the de-facto interface between the world of IT operations and higher-level IT and business functions. This is an area where leaders have traditionally felt exposed or even held hostage to lack of visibility into all the various systems their teams are responsible for. "A picture is worth a thousand words" as they say. Here are a few real world examples I've heard from customers where ITOA can make a strategic difference.

1. There's an acquisition M&A is a business driven activity but its success is largely in the hands of IT. A recent report states that the "lack of IS integration has been cited as being the third most important reason for M&A failure. On the other hand IS integration capabilities, if managed well, can lead to the realization of the economic benefits in M&A." The merging or splitting of IT departments creates huge step functions and risks as teams try to rationalize all the different applications and infrastructure platforms. ITOA systems can make integration less risky by showing how applications and infrastructure are built in different environments so it's easier to integrate them together.

2. Migration Many customers are going through some type of migration to gain agility and economic efficiency. This might involve shifting internal legacy systems to software orchestration like Openstack, moving them out to hybrid or public cloud or in some cases doing the opposite by insourcing systems that have been running at a hosting provider. For any migration it's critical to quickly assess what are the dependencies between systems are before moving them. ITOA systems that correlate and visualize across domains can show these dependencies.

3. Chronic application performance issues We see customers struggling with long standing performance issues that can last for years. For example, we recently worked with a healthcare company with over a hundred hospitals and performance issues it its patient record systems used by hundreds of doctors. A key requirement for the solution is to be able to overlay many different types of contextual information from different sources including legacy NPM tools on top of a new visual map of the application landscape. The idea is to accelerate the troubleshooting process by being able to see these different attributes like configuration, performance, fault and alerts in context with each other in a single view.

4. Your team, the people who know the environment, leave It might not sound like a strategic topic but maintaining knowledge can be one of the toughest challenges for IT. People come and go, along with their tribal knowledge. An ITOA system that maintains a broad dynamic view of how applications and infrastructure are working together in an easy to understand visual format can empower everyone and lessen dependence on individual players.

5. Going "All in" with Cloud Building on the migration example, many customers want to take advantage of the agility and economics of cloud. Given the many compliance constraints this often ends up being more of a hybrid approach where more sensitive corporate systems stay on prem and other parts run in the cloud. See GE's public statement here: "We're going all-in with public cloud". One of the biggest challenges is gaining operational visibility across multiple locations and control domains. ITOA tools that plug into cloud APIs and show this distributed application and infrastructure landscape can be a critical enabler.

ITOA as a Strategic Business Enabler The common thread with all of these situations is the need for deep insight and broad visibility across all aspects of IT. In every case there are questions about how applications are built out of their underlying infrastructure and service entities, where they are located, how they are utilized and how they are performing.

This converged visibility between high-level business processes, applications and infrastructure is a strategic opportunity for ITOA to fulfill. People often complain that legacy tools provide tons of data but very poor ability to connect the dots in meaningful ways. ITOA is catalyzing the solution by breaking down the silos and gaps between the traditional ITOM segments. The end result will be a combination of newer players working together with legacy systems in an ecosystem approach. Here are five capabilities needed in a converged solution.

1. Build dynamic awareness of what is there – It's critical that you have real time knowledge of all application services and infrastructure. Often this can be done by ingesting data from existing ITOM tools already deployed and augmenting with native data collection where there are gaps.

2. Enrich the data through Correlation and Context – Take the huge amount available data and crunch it down through progressive levels correlation. This requires extensive domain knowledge of the infrastructure is connected, how applications are built and what parameters are used to understand health and performance. Flow analytics as very important in this area since it can be used to infer how applications are communicating, making dependency maps much quicker to build. In terms of the back end engine the best is Apache Storm that Twitter developed. It provides guaranteed correlation and scales more or less infinitely on commodity VMs.

3. Visualize to Internalize – With everything becoming virtual, dynamic and distributed it's critical to develop efficient methods to see where they are and how they're performing. This is perhaps the hardest problem to solve given the dynamic nature. We get inspiration from many of the consumer tools like Google Maps, Waze, Uber that provide incredibly powerful yet simple ways to view complex data. In terms of technology we're big proponent of AngularJS, D3 and other visualization tools.

4. Analyze it – The Holy Grail is a platform that can quickly address to new business questions. There are many ways to approach this area but our approach has been to build widgets on top of the base platform which leverages the mass of data and the visualization capabilities along with analytics techniques to solve specific customer questions around capacity utilization, potential areas of failure and so on. R is the default analytics environment.

5. Ecosystem approach – Lastly as stated above there's an opportunity to build new value on top of the many ITOM tools already in place rather than ripping and replacing. In particular using the existing data sources to feed the ITOA platform gives us all a head-start.

I've spoken to well over a hundred CIOs and business leaders this past year and bar none they get excited about the ability to see applications and infrastructure together in an end-to-end business centric way. IT centric customers who need to move fast or be on the leading edge must look to the newer generation of ITOA players who bring the latest techniques, speed and an open mindset to the game.

About Sameer Padhye
Sameer Padhye is the Founder and CEO at FixStream. Prior to FixStream he served in a variety of senior management roles at Cisco Systems Inc. for twenty years. Most recently he was Senior Vice President of Worldwide Service Provider Line of Business at Cisco. He also chaired the company's strategy board in this area. Earlier he worked as Vice President of Service Provider Marketing, and was responsible for marketing Cisco Systems® products, services, and solutions to a worldwide base of service provider customers. At different points he was responsible for enterprise and service provider sales in different theaters including Vice President of Sales in the Cisco Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), Japan and AsiaPac region. Currently he is based in Cupertino, California, where he is responsible for FixStream Inc.'s global operations. Sameer is an avid badminton player and early in his career worked as a commercial airline pilot.

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