Sustaining the benefit of digital transformation

23 July 2020

Darren Anstee, CTO, NETSCOUT

Darren Anstee, CTO, NETSCOUT

We have all seen, and in many cases experienced, the positive impact that digital transformation projects can have within organisations. The lifecycle of a successful digital transformation project should start with a well-defined business goal and should end with the sustained delivery against that goal. Herein lies one of the challenges facing CIOs – sustaining the business benefit - the support of these new, evolved often much more complex and distributed service infrastructures.

The use of multiple public, private or hybrid cloud environments, combined with virtualised/containerised multi-tier application implementations, orchestrated by systems that automate care-and-feeding has led to a huge increase in the complexity of monitoring and troubleshooting what is actually going on. Of course, we have SaaS thrown into the mix as well. How do we know that everything is working properly?

Where do we look when something goes wrong? What was the root cause of a fault or performance degradation?  These are just some of the questions that, have become a lot harder for IT organisations to answer, and answering these questions is more important now than ever before.

Businesses have embraced new technologies for their business benefits.  The costs have been high in many cases, and good returns on investment are expected. So, how should we ensure that our IT operations teams can help our businesses to sustain the benefit promised by new technologies?  

The users of our business networks and services, whether external or internal, expect a consistently good level of performance and availability. As we migrate workloads to multi-cloud and/or hybrid environments we must ensure that we can obtain consistent visibility across technology boundaries. This is essential if our operations teams are to have the information they need to monitor, understand, report-on and trouble-shoot what is going across the melange of technologies we now utilise.  

Consistent visibility across multiple platforms is key and must be built-in from the ground-up as new projects are implemented. Relying on disparate data-sets and attempting to massage data from different sources, at different granularities into an holistic picture of activity doesn’t work well – we can end up with gaps and inconsistencies that lead to incorrect assumptions, inaccurate reporting and higher Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR) when things go wrong.  

If we want to assure the performance and availability of the services our users’ access, then we need to understand the different technology domains that are in play and the boundaries between them. It isn’t enough to collect information from a SaaS application about its response time to an action; a user’s perception of that response time is based on everything that occurred end-2-end across multiple application and network domains. We need to be able to tie together user activity across these domains to understand their experience.

This means understanding where our users are coming from to reach the services they need, the paths they may take and the dependencies within our service infrastructure. This is especially true right now, where we have a lot of users working remotely from environments without any specific instrumentation. When they report a fault, where do we look?

To get the visibility we need, we must combine both passive and synthetic monitoring techniques. We need consistent visibility of activity across each ‘edge’ so that we can understand ‘where’ things go wrong (if they do), and we need synthetic transactions to monitor the ‘real’ end-2-end experience a user would get of a service, across different access pathways. This dual level view is essential as we optimise and trouble-shoot the performance of our overall service delivery platform.

Beyond having good visibility into what is going on within our environments, our IT teams also need to understand not just how it all works, but how to work with the vendors of different aspects of their infrastructure and services to get the best response if there is an issue. IT teams have seen huge change in their day-2-day activities and in the systems they interact with.

Continuously upgrading the knowledge of the IT team with training on the technology being used, and coming down the line, is essential. As is holding regular reviews with each of the cloud, SaaS vendors etc., to build knowledge of each-other’s systems and people. Here, an evidence-based approach, leveraging the visibility and reporting mentioned above, can yield a huge advantage in quickly clarifying ‘where’ a problem occurs and ‘why’ it is happening, skipping over the finger-pointing that can otherwise occur, leading to lower MTTR.

Fundamentally, managing the complexity of our new environments is the challenge that faces all IT teams and CIOs. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Out of Complexity, find simplicity’; consistent, complete visibility across the disparate technologies we use can truly enable us to reap all the benefits of complex digital transformation projects.