How useful is business process monitoring?

The main challenge I encountered while working with Monitoring tools is how to get the business involved. Where Actional (from Aurea) presents itself as an Application Performance monitoring tool, nJams (“not Just Another Monitoring Solution” from IntegrationMatters) presents itself as a business process monitoring tool. My personal experience is that both Actional and nJams are much alike. Both tools provide high scalability, high performance and automatic service discovery and correlation. Reason enough to investigate and compare both tools with each other. But first things first: why would you even consider using these tools? If you recognize one or more of the following issues you should surely continue reading:

  • No one really knows where the problem lies
  • Single problem or composite of several issues?
  • Everybody looks at their own management domain
  • Finger pointing (usually: “it must be the network”)

Why exactly should the business be involved?

Though monitoring tooling in general might be a little bit too technical for the business, the reporting is surely of their interest and eventually serves their common goal of improving customer experience. It gives IT a way to communicate with the business in terms they can understand and answers business questions by:

  • Maximizing ROI (Return on Investment) using capacity planning (making staff more effective)
  • Ensuring quality and service levels by reporting on Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) and  Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)
  • Confirming proper operations with real-time end to end visibility (chain-monitoring)
  • Anticipating and resolve issues (trend – , and root-cause analysis)

Even more value will be created by using monitoring tools during the whole software development and application lifecycle (Dev, QA, UAT, Prod). Preproduction monitoring advantages are:

  • Getting visibility into performance problems prior to production deployment
  • Reducing pressure on operation team by detecting problems earlier in the application lifecycle
  • Forecasting on capacity and performance
  • Rightsizing application platform (virtualization) and monitor setup
  • Improving manageability of deliverables from external partners (audit)
  • Establishing performance KPIs and SLA’s

Most, if not all, organizations have some technical monitoring in place on the network, machine and even on the application level. There are only a few tools able to give insight in the whole landscape (chain of applications working together). Actional and nJams monitor on both the transaction and application level. This means they give complete insight from the entry to the exit of a message. The business process (chain) becomes visible including all components involved. For example from web server via middleware to database and back. Therefore both nJams and Actional can be very valuable and complementary to system monitoring tools like Nagios and/or Zabbix.

MonitoringLevel   Metrics (examples)   Target

nJams

Actional

Nagios*

Zabbix

Transaction

duration of order input, time to interactive page

end to end over multiple applications

Application

(CRM, CMS, brokers)

memory used, queue sizes, throughput (msg/s), connection pools, etc.

Business rules, workflow

Code, flow, configuration

Frameworks, libraries

Service platform, app server

Virtual machine (JVM)

Machine

cpu load, memory, #processes running)

Servers, hardware, VM, OS

Network

up/down, bytes per second, roundtrip (response) time, flow matrix, illegal access

Routers, switches, firewalls

*nagios and all similar alternatives

Actional and nJams compared

Both tools require a minimum of effort to instrument your environment to be monitored. Big advantage of nJams is that it gives you a Clever like overview of the complete transaction. After installation and configuration some tuning should take place based on representative (production-like) test-data. Both memory and database size should be scaled carefully before and after going into production. Below an incomplete but useful first comparison between Actional and nJams.

Product

Actional

nJams

Installation

click and play

Manual but easy

Documentation

Extensive

Limited

Training

E-Learning

Workshops

Support

Mature

Upcoming

GUI

Web-based

Web-based

Functionalities

Advanced (mature)

Average but growing

Interfaces

DB, Client, LDAP/AD, Portal,

DB, Agent, LDAP/AD, Portal

Transport

JMS, http, soap, snmp, smtp

JMS, http, soap, smtp

Alerting (rule based)

Advanced

Limited

Reporting / Dashboard

Average

Limited

Vendor Strategy

Building on existing customers

Actively Selling and Improving the product

nJams started by monitoring TIBCO BW and Actional initially focused on Sonic. Both, especially Actional, have extended visibility into applications on various platforms and software programs like SAP, Oracle Weblogic, Apache, IBM WebSphere, JBoss and many others. For now nJams’ main focus is on TIBCO (BW and BPM), but has proven flexible to extend to other ESB platforms (e.g. Mule ESB from MuleSoft) and/or Software packages (e.g. SAP).

The bigger picture

What you actually want is to monitor the whole enterprise and break down the barriers between isolated groups and applications. You want your website (if you have one) to perform better, to retain and gain customers and avoid losing revenue to your competitors. You want to create a great user experience by being aware of what your customers are experiencing. Business Process Monitoring gives you that awareness and helps you to:

  • Understand how an application affects the business
  • Determine business impact of a failure
  • Predict and avoid disruptions
  • Get the complete picture of the business application landscape and its dependencies based on real-time and/or historical data

So in the end Business Process Monitoring is less about technology and more about a Strategy to increase effectiveness and efficiency.

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