Intelligent Infrastructure for DevOps: Using a GUI to manage and monitor instead of scripts

Application Performance Management tools have been around in one form or another for many years, mostly operating anonymously and unnoticed. While most of these tools were home grown, there were a few vendors who supplied generic APM tools. These tools addressed application infrastructure needs in the background and were not considered a strategic part of IT; they kept applications running with a series of scripts developed by the architects of the applications. Since this software is neither development nor operations specific, they were often not claimed by either department. Until DevOps became a buzz word, they operated under overhead accounts or were assigned to different departments in spite of the job that they did. However, since Agile Development has become mainstream, the need for an intelligent infrastructure and the unification between Development and Operations (DevOps) has refocused attention on APM tools. Agile infrastructure is now a necessity to ensure the rapid and accurate deployment of newly developed applications as fast as the Agile Development tools that were used to implement the new business logic. For years companies have developed their own script based infrastructure and due to internal changes it has evolved into obsolescence over the years. This has happened for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the scripts were written for one purpose and once the author departed, no one knew exactly how it worked – so it fell into disrepair. Out of this need, many companies have turned to DevOps companies like Chef and Puppetlabs, et. al. that have developed command line, template or script based tools to provide this intelligent infrastructure, primarily focused on the linux platform. Some of these scripts are Ruby based, but in most cases the scripts and templates are a proprietary language. These proprietary scripting languages can perform many different intelligent functions to handle deploying new applications and even creating new systems to deploy them to. The advantages of this approach is that scripting language is very powerful and simple to learn, making the ability to generate intelligent infrastructure easy to implement and deploy.

The problem with using scripts is that they are:

a. written to handle a specific action, requiring constant change whenever the infrastructure changes.

b. written for specific platforms, so one change has to be propagated to the others.

c. requires knowledge of the infrastructure.

d. requires knowledge of the scripting language.

More complex scripts becomes difficult to read and understand beyond a few lines of trivial operations, which makes it hard for maintenance by anyone other than the author. Unlike the goal of DevOps, which is intended to unify Development and Operations as a team with one goal, scripting languages requires an analyst maintain the scripts so that new development can be seamlessly managed or deployed. Operations typically does not have this knowledge and it can be difficult for them to develop this skill (not being programmers as such). In order to facilitate a DevOps environment, the complexity of the scripts required to implement this infrastructure intelligence needs to be abstracted into simple actions so that operations can use it. This is usually accomplished with a Graphical User Interface. Historically, Operation’s goal is to keep everything in system running smoothly and applications are an unknown area: they perform business logic on data, consume resources indiscriminately and typically don’t handle system problems very well. So operations rarely understands the infrastructure of each application; they simply monitor it from the system resources aspect to see if there are any problems. Using scripts to automate this function is helpful, but tools to display the results are arcane. They are more familiar with desktop tools that have menus and displays because they are easy to use, easy to understand, and easy to modify. Operations is familiar the system operations and how it provides resources to applications like CPU, Memory, Disk and Network speed. These are things they can understand using commands for. However, for DevOps to be successful, using command line scripts  or knowledge of the application infrastructure should not be required to manage applications. What is needed is a tool that manages the infrastructure from the application side and notifies operations of any potential problems before they impact the overall system.

Now application management and monitoring tools have been around for many years and a few of these existing tools can be adapted to meet this need. One such tool is a third generation application management tool called NXTmonitor. NXTmonitor’s heritage comes from the Open Environment and Borland tools known as Netminder, Appminder and AppCenter. These tools evolved from simple monitors to a three tier architecture (presentation, business and database layers) to manage applications with a rules-based configuration file to specify each application’s environment. By leveraging middleware to facilitate multi-tier communication for agents and master servers, these tools were built on a fast, scalable infrastructure that enabled UNIX and Windows applications to be managed by an independent middle tier through a GUI presentation layer. The best description of this powerful tool is Application Orchestration: a tool that enables the definition and maintenance of complex applications and powerful monitoring capability with definitions of interdependencies across multiple platforms. This allows a complex structure to be captured in an intelligent, XML based configuration file that is built with the help of a Graphical User Interface (GUI). By recording the structure required to start the applications across multiple nodes to a configuration file, NXTmonitor can replicate the development environment exactly and even scale it up for production use. The use of environment variables enables NXTmonitor to assign variable infrastructure components to values that can be changed, making the tool easy to use in defining and replicating a complex environment. When the environment changes, these variables can be captured in environment variables which are different for each environment.

NXTmonitor is the next evolution of DevOps infrastructure tools – managing the deployment of a multi-tier application with a GUI console which can define the intelligent infrastructure needed for agile development. Unlike other DevOps tools, NXTmonitor provides a full featured APM that supports application orchestration across multiple platforms like IBM i-series, z-series, OpenVMS, Windows, and UNIX in addition to Linux. Application Orchestration is a relatively new term: it is the ability to start a complex application consisting of multiple, discrete components that are interdependent in a concise manner so that the application can be ready to process information in an orderly manner. In essence, Application Orchestration captures the developer’s knowledge of the infrastructure in a configuration file that can be used as a playbook for starting up applications. It is intended to be displayed and monitored by operations staff, with mouse actions that allow them to easily inspect or modify the configuration for scaling or performance purposes. Action scripts and Timers enable custom execution of actions designed to resolve runtime problems and increase performance. The definition of Performance groups makes scalability simple and easy to modify capacity, failover and service levels.

One of the key benefits of using NXTmonitor is that the NXTmonitor Console GUI is designed to appear the same across all platforms and perform in the same manner regardless of the desktop software or the nodes upon which the applications are being managed. Once you understand the operation of managing applications on linux, you can do the same operations on Windows or OpenVMS, for instance. With this in mind, the Console is designed for maximum efficiency and understanding and includes these features:

  • Multiple node login capability from one console.
  • Short cut buttons at the top for quick reference and use.
  • Navigation panel to display nodes and components being managed.
  • Content panel provides complete application configuration and status information.
  • Audit function provide history of the process restarts, failures, starts and stops
  • System statistics for each node includes, CPU, memory bar chart, devices, and errors.
  • Operator access to the process table now includes the ability to stop or kill an individual process in case of deadlock or runaways
  • Performance groups can now have actions associated with state changes so that changes in status can be propogated to operations or development.
  • SNMP support for other tools like HP OpenView and BMC Patrol.

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Benefits

The benefits of using a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to monitor and maintain your infrastructure instead of creating scripts is as follows:

  • All Application sub-components are easily displayed in a console window.
  • Infrastructure rules are easy to change in a GUI.
  • Console GUI displays all application statuses in one, easy to understand display.
  • GUIs don’t require operations to learn a scripting language.
  • A GUI console can provide management, monitoring and configuration tools all with the click of a mouse.
  • Focuses interaction with the application performance and application monitoring.
  • A mobile device can display the GUI making management more dynamic.
  • Simple, pro-active health scripts prevent outages, increase performance.
  • Mouse click operations speed up scalability functions with copy and paste.
  • Configuration files capture application infrastructure for easy deployment to additional machines.

 

Summary

The difference in DevOps tools today is usability. Do you want to manage scripts for infrastructure intelligence, or would you rather use a Graphical User Interface? Is it easier to teach operations how to maintain scripts or learn an Operations console? It is faster to capture the developer knowledge in a script or in a configuration file read by a GUI console?

NXTmonitor, which has evolved application performance management for decades, has advanced the creation of this intelligence with a rich GUI console, making it easier to define, modify and monitor application configurations in Development, Test, QA and Production. Once you have the developer knowledge captured in an XML configuration file, you can monitor and maintain it easily in the NXTmonitor Console.

For more information, go to: http://www.ecubesystems.com/nxtmonitor.html

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