Blue Cross Minnesota taps OpTier for application management

OpTier upgrades its flagship software to manage applications and transactions across IT domains.

For David Thomas, the technologies he had in place to monitor application performance were reminiscent of a line in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

His organization, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, had invested in multiple network, system and application monitoring consoles, but no one could quickly tell him what he needed to know more than anything else: Application response time is slow.

"We have our infrastructure pretty heavily monitored and if something goes wrong, we have many good ways to deal with that, but we didn't have anything in place to detect the problem in our infrastructure before things went wrong," says Thomas, director of technology support at Blue Cross. "We need those network and system monitors to drill down when something does happen, to get more granular details, but we really needed a type of application behavior monitor to alert us when things started to go off track so we could stop the problem."

Thomas, a longtime and by his account happy IBM Tivoli customer, evaluated CoreFirst technology from start-up OpTier that he says proved to be able to "track application transactions from start to finish" with real user traffic in near real time. Thomas integrates OpTier with his Tivoli deployment, having CoreFirst feed alerts to Tivoli Enterprise Console.

"There are tools that can simulate an end user, but then it's just a sample and the results are questionable. CoreFirst tracked real transaction traffic for us," he says.

OpTier, founded in late 2002 and backed by close to $32 million in venture capital funding, developed its CoreFirst software to manage application workloads across the various tiers within an IT infrastructure, such as Web and application servers, databases and legacy systems. The company this week is set to unveil the second generation of its flagship software, CoreFirst 2.0, which OpTier executives say is now more capable of managing applications at a deeper level in large enterprise environments.

"CoreFirst takes the top-down approach by mapping business services to IT and then monitoring the components to get transaction-level performance metrics," says Motti Tal, executive vice president of marketing and business development at OpTier. "We've added application capabilities to help customers dig deeper but also enhanced the products scalability to work across large environments."

CoreFirst software shows IT managers how applications depend on IT components, monitors application and infrastructure elements at the transaction level, and then enables automated actions across multiple platforms to support preset policies, OpTier says.

The software requires IT managers to install a central data repository on a dedicated server and to distribute agents on managed Web, database and application servers. IT managers must set the policies they want the software to use via a Web-based interface, which also serves as a management interface and reporting tool. Once deployed, CoreFirst discovers how applications traverse the network and use the managed devices, and the agents monitor the transaction workloads on the servers.

For example, an IT manager would prioritize the top-five applications for the company. The agents would monitor the workload on the servers used by those applications, and when a transaction associated with the prioritized applications competed for compute resources with another transaction, the CoreFirst agents would allocate resources to the higher-priority applications ahead of other transactions.

This release adds new features such as transaction instance drill down, which Tal explains allows IT managers to save transactions and display them to further troubleshoot specific performance problems with an application. The company also enhanced its Java 2 Enterprise Edition application monitoring, and included role-based security features that lets IT managers assign roles for configuration, policy creation and administration. OpTier also added support for WebSphere Versions 4 and 6, (the product already supports Version 5) and updated its software developers kit to allow customers to create custom tier extensions.

Blue Cross' Thomas has yet to tap all the features in his deployment of OpTier -- such as the application prioritization capabilities -- but says he'd like to see the software extend to Tivoli Access Manager as well.

"We need to do a lot of business discussion before we can accurately designate the importance of all applications. It's usually the squeaky wheel that gets the attention," Thomas says. "We are still getting our feet wet, but we will be talking to them about adding integrations into other products and adding dashboards to CoreFirst."

CoreFirst 2.0 is available now, with pricing based per CPU and starting at about $100,000.

Learn more about this topic

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10 start-ups to watch: OpTier

Start-up touts policy-based apps management

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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