Getting a handle on transaction mgmt.

Software helps pinpoint problems with performance.

As enterprise applications grow more sophisticated and evolve to support environments with service-oriented architectures, a new breed of management software is growing up to manage the transactions that make these applications run.

Transaction-management software measures transactions' performance along the many hops an application makes between a user request and back-end systems. The software captures response-time metrics, application content errors and system workload details that help reduce performance problems in real time. Essentially, it's application performance-management software - on steroids.

Transaction-management software, for instance, homes in on the exact SQL query to a database that caused an application to slow down. In contrast, application performance management software might only send an alert that the database is the source of the problem. Without the transaction management software notification, IT managers could spend hours searching system logs to discover the error on the database.

Unlike many application performance management products available - which often manage the application based on the performance of the server hosting it - transaction management software monitors the application across multiple tiers as it fulfills a user request. A typical implementation requires multiple agents installed along the application path and a central repository to aggregate and correlate the data to determine the exact source of a performance problem. A notification feature alerts IT managers when performance thresholds aren't met.

"Transaction management technology could include the monitoring of transaction response times, the monitoring of resources used in performing the transaction and the quality of the data that is returned as a result of the transaction," says Jean-Pierre Garbani, a research director at Forrester Research. "These tools were originally aimed at Web-based transactions, then [Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition] apps to packaged apps, and now are spreading to legacy, or mainframe, applications."

For instance, transaction management software could provide detailed response-time information on everything from the network, database and servers to a user's machine. The software also helps developers build applications to run more smoothly on distributed networks. Because of that, some industry watchers say the technology could be used as a tool to bridge IT operations staff working to catch a performance problem.

Management software makers such as IBM and HP provide software applications that go beyond managing host servers to see deeper into specific transactions and help IT managers resolve performance issues more quickly and build better applications from the start. BMC Software and CA in the past year increased their transaction-management portfolios with the acquisitions of Identify Software and Wily Technology, respectively.

As a result, BMC earlier this year launched a product portfolio including two new applications: Transaction Management Application Response Time, which monitors applications on client machines to get a read of performance as the user would experience it; and Mainview Transaction Analyzer, which tracks transactions on IBM mainframes. In addition, newcomer OpTier launched its company on the premise that more customers would be looking to manage transaction workloads.

Applications drive need

The need for such technology is intensified by the growing popularity of loosely coupled applications, Web services and SOA-based environments. These types of applications depend on reusable components that are brought together on the fly to deliver application services. Traditional management software, which resides on one server, cannot keep pace with dynamic SOA applications that touch and depend on multiple IT resources.

"SOA requires a dynamic management infrastructure, not a passive one," says Stephen Elliot, a senior analyst at IDC. "Transaction management software is near real-time, not agent-based monitoring that is tough to implement with composite-based applications."

According to a recent IDC survey of more than 280 U.S. organizations, more than one-third have SOA projects or application-level initiatives under development or planned for the next 12 months. The research firm estimates that SOA-driven software spending worldwide will reach nearly $9 billion by the end of 2009.

"SOA presents good news and a bit of bad news," says Scott Metzger, CTO of TrueCredit in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "Loosely coupled applications are great when it comes to reuse, but SOA creates a different set of challenges from a management perspective. It becomes exponentially more difficult to isolate performance issues in that environment, especially in the database at the services tier."

Metzger, a customer of start-up OpTier's CoreFirst software, says the product helped his IT staff collect the data to optimize application performance in the near term and plan for future capacity.

CoreFirst 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, Metzger says he gives priority to the applications supporting TrueCredit's annual credit-report service for its customers. CoreFirst agents monitor the workload on the servers used by the prioritized applications; when a transaction associated with those applications competes with another transaction for compute resources, the agents allocate resources to the higher-priority applications ahead of other transactions.

Application correlation

"If you get the right monitoring tools in place, you can use the data collected to see the definitive correlation between business performance and application performance," Metzger says. "We've become data addicts."

Keith Kelly, vice president of Web technology at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in White Plains, N.Y., says CA's Wily Technology division's Introscope software will help him more smoothly make the transition from a legacy application environment to a Java-based system. Introscope includes server software and distributed agents. Wily also offers a centralized console called the Enterprise Manager, which sits on a dedicated server and has a Web-based interface for analyzing data and viewing reports.

"We are in the process of migrating our entire reservation environment from a CICS mainframe environment to a Java-based SOA environment," Kelly says. "Introscope will expand to cover this entire environment and will be the foundation of our distributed-application performance and availability-monitoring infrastructure."

Jean-Philippe Draye, a system architect responsible for application performance in the IT enterprise architecture department at Avaya, near Brussels, Belgium, says coupling HP's OpenView Transaction Analyzer (OVTA) software with the company's OpenView Internet Services (OVIS) helps him quantify the user experience and pinpoint problem transactions. Draye says he tracks specific transactions of SAP and Siebel applications, for instance, to determine whether an alarm indicates a problem with the application code or an issue with how the application is using network resources.

"OVIS tells us if something is broken, for example, if a portal is slow and slow for everyone, so we know it's a problem on the server," Draye explains. "OVTA provides details for all the Web-based applications, and it will allow us to drill down into all the scripts in the modules supporting the transaction to see which SQL query and how long it took."

Despite the transaction management tools available today, industry watchers say advances in the technology will need to be made to better support the dynamic nature of SOA environments. More importantly, the technology isn't intelligent enough to relate system resource use directly to user performance and fully enable dynamic resource allocation in the on-demand environments proposed by such vendors as IBM.

Extreme application management For customers taking application management to the next level, transaction- management software can provide diagnostics, visibility and analysis based on the performance of transactions comprising applications. Here's a sample of the products available today.
VendorProductKey features
BMCTransaction Management Application Response TimeMeasures business application performance by executing transactions and monitoring response times.
HPOpenView Transaction AnalyzerPerforms client, Web server and application server monitoring of application and transaction-response times.
IBMTivioli Monitoring for Transaction PerformanceVisualizes transaction paths through application systems, including response-time contributions of each step.
OpTierCoreFirstManages transaction workloads across heterogeneous infrastructure tiers, such as Web and application servers, legacy systems, and databases.
OpTierIntroscopeProvides visibility and root-cause analysis of problems with transaction tracing across multiple Java Virtual Machines.

Learn more about this topic

IBM Tivoli digs deeper into app transactions

Source: Network World, 10/04/04

BMC announces transaction management tools

Source: Computerworld, 02/14/06

The many faces of application management

Source: Network World, 02/16/05

BMC sets sights on Identify Software

Source: Network World, 03/27/06

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in