Why network operations should care about AppDynamics

Network engineers can use AppDynamics to quickly diagnose the cause of poor application performance. And if the network is the problem, use the tool to resolve it faster.

network operations should care about AppDynamics

Earlier this year, Cisco surprised many industry watchers when it forked out a cool $3.7 billion to acquire AppDynamics, which was about 2x the valuation it had going into its IPO. Most people know Cisco as the de facto standard and market leader in networking. AppDynamics lives higher up the stack and provides a view into how applications are performing by collecting data from users, applications, databases and servers.

One might surmise that Cisco will use AppDynamics to go after a different buyer, and that assumption is correct. AppDynamics paves the way for Cisco to have a meaningful discussion with lines of business, application developers and company leaders. However, thinking AppDynamics isn’t for Cisco’s current core customers, network engineers, is wrong. AppDynamics can provide an equal amount of value to that audience.

I assume many of Network World’s readers are network engineers. I, myself, am a former network engineer and know the pain this group feels when things aren’t working. If an application is performing poorly, for some reason, everyone thinks, “It must be the network.”

The typical troubleshooting process goes something like this: A user calls the help desk and opens a ticket, the ticket is passed to the app developer who says, “not me,” and passes it down the stack. And the IT team plays “resolution Ping-Pong” with the ticket until it reaches network operations, who has no one else to pass it to. At this point, a network engineer will investigate, often to find the problem isn’t the network and then relays the information back “up the stack” and the Ping-Pong is reversed until the problem is found. 

Last week, AppDynamics held its annual AppDynamics Summit, which I attended and got a good feel for why network operations should care about the company. At the event, AppDynamics announced it is adding in two sources of data that are important to this group — network and Internet of Things (IoT) data. Given Cisco is, by far, the world’s largest network solution provider, it seems to be a no-brainer that these sources of data would now be included.

AppDynamics provides a common view of applications, networks, servers, databases

More important, AppDynamics provides a common view of applications and all the components that comprise it to all responsible parties, including C-level executives, line of business managers, server operations, application developers, network engineers and others. The dashboard shows how specific applications or services are performing. When a problem is found, the app turns “red” and then can be drilled down on to see all the components involved. Very quickly one can look at each server, network link, database or other IT element and see how it is performing relative to normal operations. Any element not performing as it should is flagged, and the remediation process can begin.

For example, an e-commerce website might be slow and causing so much frustration with customers that the contact center is overwhelmed with calls. With a traditional management model, a trouble ticket is generated and passed down several times to network operations. Engineers set out to work only to find there is no network problem. From a networking perspective, I have referred to this as “mean time to innocence,” which is when a specific group’s sole task is to prove the problem isn’t theirs. The problem is then handed off and then something else is found — a server is out of memory or perhaps a load-balancer is having a problem and needs to be restarted.

With AppDynamics, the IT operations person would see the e-commerce app turn red. They can then drill down and quickly see the problem is the server or the load balancer, bypassing the game of Ping-Pong leading to resolution in a fraction of the time.

Getting around and removing IT silos

In an organization where IT silos still exist, which is many, AppDynamics’ common view and drill-down capabilities let network engineers significantly reduce the mean time to innocence from something that might have taken hours to just a few minutes. The quicker network operations can prove the network isn’t the problem, the faster other groups can begin their own troubleshooting process — leading to a speedier resolution.

Eventually the silos in IT and between IT and the lines of business will fall. In many organizations, this has already happened, and AppDynamics can be a valuable tool in the process. Frankly, everyone in the organization should care about user experience instead of their own little fiefdom. The challenge in bringing the various groups together is that most management tools are domain specific, so it’s hard to create a single view that provides value to everyone.

Think of AppDynamics as the equivalent of Bilbo Baggins’ Ring in that it’s the “one console to rule them all” where one GUI can now be used. At the AppDynamics event, I had a chance to chat with Bill Hineline, director of APM for United Airlines, and he told me every group at the company loves using AppDynamics because it gives everyone the same information. No more having to guess the source of a problem.

If you’re a network engineer working in an organization with legacy silos, you can use AppDynamics to quickly prove the network isn’t the problem. Or if the network is the problem, use it to resolve it faster. Also, use the information provided to help get closer to the other infrastructure and application development teams. This shift is going to happen, so get out in front of it. 

If work at a company where the organizational structure has already changed, use the rich data provided in AppDynamics to collaborate better with the other teams and move to a predictive management model where the source of application problems can be anticipated and fixed before they cause customers to go somewhere else.

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