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Monitoring Your Scaling Web Business

Posted on 6.30.2012

Change is a constant in today’s increasingly complex IT environment. There are internal and external demands for speed, availability and reliability — not to mention the continual pressure to do more with less.

Infrastructure availability and reliability are not competitive advantages. Instead, they are essential to the survival of any Web business. Web pages that won’t load, unresponsive applications and back-end systems that fail to complete transactions cost website owners in revenue, productivity and reputation. Even a delay by one second in page-loading time can double your bounce rate.

Ouch, that hurts!
IT staffs are getting smaller while infrastructures are now more complex. In addition to servers and databases, your infrastructure includes networking gear, applications and storage. Cloud computing, virtualization, clustering and failover systems add to the complexity.

Outages and service degradation can happen at multiple points, leading to downtime, resource inefficiency and lost revenue. With so many devices, your entire technology stack must be monitored to assure the continuity of your Web business.

IT monitoring solutions are a critical aide in optimizing today’s infrastructure performance. A monitoring system can proactively discover and help accelerate remediation of problems such as erratic network connections, slow webpage downloads, database inefficiencies and email delivery problems.

However, installing, configuring and maintaining monitoring tools can be daunting, especially for organizations with small IT staffs. For each device in your stack, you have to know the following things:

• what needs to be monitored
• how to collect the right data
• how to display that data in a useful, visual form
• at what point alert thresholds should be set
• how to set up escalating alert chains

These are onerous requirements for teams already overburdened with critical IT operational issues.

Bad medicine
While monitoring is essential, choosing the wrong system or approach can add to rather than alleviate the pain. Consider the experience of a social media website called

Ranker makes it easy to create lists on any topic imaginable. Visitors then vote and rank their favorites. The company launched in 2009, was associated with the hot tech startup accelerator LaunchPad LA, and now has 3.5 million unique visitors a month.

Ranker had a monitoring system in place, but the rapid growth it was undergoing was not helping the website meet its business goals for availability and performance. There were two major issues, according to Premesh Purayil, Ranker’s V.P. of engineering.

“Whenever we added a new server to our environment, we had to jump through hoops to add the new server into monitoring,” he says. There was also the issue of outages not always being detected and escalated appropriately, causing significant impact to Ranker’s traffic and growth. “There were times where the site might be down for an hour before someone realized it,” Purayil explains.

Ranker’s IT monitoring challenges are not unique. In most organizations, a “sys-admin” lacks the time and the operational experience to figure out what matters on a new device or software. With the fast rate of technology changes, not everyone can be expert in everything in their infrastructure. In addition, even the best sys-admins are human. For example, in the heat of resolving a technical issue, the sys-admin may create a new storage volume.

With higher-priority issues to solve, they intend to add the new object into monitoring but often forget. Six months later, the volume fills up, all hell breaks loose, and everyone wonders why the monitoring system didn’t warn them. Even when problems are identified, without good historical data, the engineers could easily devote from a full day of developer time to trace the issue.

Perhaps a cure?
A monitoring system adds value if the benefits of the system are greater than the acquisition, implementation and operational costs. Generally, the benefits obtained from a good monitoring system will be increased uptime, fewer service degradations and the elimination of downtime.

Two notable outcomes are reduced staff time to investigate performance issues and better utilization of, and transparency into, IT performance intelligence throughout the organization. A monitoring system that is easy to set up and does not require a dedicated sys-admin improves the efficiency of an IT organization. The ideal monitoring system UI should be intuitive, empowering the entire IT staff with real-time visibility into IT performance in order to quickly identify and respond to issues.

Your monitoring system should collect a wide variety of data, from all devices in the IT infrastructure, and that information should be able to be assessed in a way that provides operational efficiency to the business. For example, the overall performance of device types, of data center, collocated or hosted IT and cloud services, should be accessible by those who need access to the intelligence. The information should be made visible in graphical format and allow for automated reporting that makes it easy to spot trends, correlate issues and be utilized for decision-making throughout the IT organization.

Your selection criteria should be driven by business values, except for specific technical requirements such as the ability to monitor a specific protocol. Once you’ve identified monitoring-solution options, weigh the benefits against the acquisition, plus implementation, plus the operational ownership costs of each option.

After the assessment and discussions, however, your selection of a monitoring system comes down to one simple statement: Forget about features. Pick the monitoring system that adds the most value to your business.

About the Author: kevin McGibben, CEO, Logic MonitorKevin brings strong global experience in market strategy and channel implementation. He previously founded 32 South to assist mobile and new-media technology companies in strategically expanding into international markets. Kevin also founded firms in the VOIP, consumer products and Web 2.0 industries. His experience includes international marketing, channel development and general management positions with technology companies Fujistu, TEKELEC and CIDCO.

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