A White Paper. Best Practices Guide To Improving The End-User Experience: How to Maximize SLA Performance with Synthetic Web Transaction Monitoring

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1 A White Paper Best Practices Guide To Improving The End-User Experience: How to Maximize SLA Performance with Synthetic Web Transaction Monitoring

2 Introduction Synthetic transactions, or transaction tests that model the user experience, have become a valuable part of the IT manager s toolkit. Recording the steps of selected transactions and playing back the macros on an ongoing, scheduled basis provides real-time, proactive feedback on service levels as perceived by users: how fast users are able to execute transactions in a business application, whether customers have responsive access to frequently visited web pages. Yet it s impossible to realize the full potential of synthetic transactions when they do not show a relationship to the service components behind the user experience, as has been the norm. This paper describes three best practices for getting more value out of synthetic transactions so your organization can increase service level performance and improve IT utilization: Speed troubleshooting: combine synthetic transactions with business service monitoring Improve management reporting of business service levels Use synthetic transactions to validate consolidation/virtualization Speed Troubleshooting: Combine Synthetic Transactions with Business Service Monitoring You are ready to log out at the end of a long, yet uneventful day. Then trouble pops up: Your synthetic transaction test warns the performance of your most important business application is slow and is getting slower. Bad news, because users in the next time zone still have hours of work ahead. You call home to say you ll be late again while you track down the source of the problem. The situation is familiar, and persists because transaction tests are meant solely to indicate the user experience. As useful as that is, synthetic transactions have existed largely without links to the tools that monitor the IT components behind the transactions. So even though your transaction test notifies you that user experience is deteriorating, you are on your own to find the cause(s). Think of the user experience as a variable that, to support service levels most effectively, is best correlated with other variables: service conditions. Say the user experience consists of accessing information through a web-based application. Is network throughput acceptable? Is database performance sufficient? How busy is the CPU? Of course, IT professionals have for years used various monitoring tools to make the association between unsatisfactory user experience and the underlying conditions. But that takes skill, not to mention that issues can get worse while you uncover the source of the problem. Using automation to link synthetic transaction performance with related service conditions in real time compresses the discovery process for experts and novices alike, and increases the probability of identifying the root cause correctly. In many cases you

3 also gain a larger window of time to address issues before they tarnish service level agreement (SLA) performance. Page 2 Example Mapping Synthetic Transactions to Service Conditions Root causes of poor performance become visible when results of a transaction test are mapped to service conditions, as illustrated by this display produced by Heroix Longitude software. The section circled (for purposes of this paper) shows yellow, orange, or red bars at time intervals when performance of the service conditions selected fall outside an acceptable range. Correlating synthetic transactions with service conditions not only narrows down the root cause but it also can provide actionable information to every member of your IT staff. Regardless of whether someone is responsible for the application, system, or network, they see the impact their components have on the user experience and the business service. Time-to-resolution accelerates when accountability is not in doubt. In the figure above, the synthetic transaction being tested is web page response time (top bar in the circled portion of the display). Below that, the remaining bars in the display present the supporting service conditions (from top to bottom): memory on the application server; database availability on the back-end database server; CPU busy time on the application server; and bandwidth, reflecting network traffic. You can observe that slowdowns in web page response are mostly accompanied by CPU bottlenecks. However, in a number of instances insufficient network bandwidth leads to response time degradation.

4 Page 3 Improve Management Reporting of Business Service Levels Synthetic transactions are recognized as a big step up from trying to infer the quality of the user experience by looking at the health of discrete IT components. Knowing that CPU utilization is satisfactory 98% of the time and network bandwidth is satisfactory 97% of the time, for instance, is not enough to judge or demonstrate how well the end-toend performance of a business application is meeting your SLA. If CPU utilization is degraded 2% of the time, and network bandwidth is degraded 3% of the time, the overall SLA could be degraded anywhere from 3% to 5% of the time, depending on whether the CPU and network degradations overlap in time. That s why in addition to relating the user experience to the status of IT components, you want to correlate the many conditions that support the experience into a holistic view. Your first condition in that business service view is the user experience metric as simulated by synthetic transactions: whether that experience is loading a web page, logging into an account, or executing a transaction. The other service conditions reflect how well the IT components required to deliver that experience are functioning. The overall SLA view reflects the sum of the user experience metric and the underlying transactions at any point in time. This correlated view provides a meaningful bottom line for management reporting. Example SLA View of a Multi-Tiered Application The display above correlates and presents service conditions in a holistic view that quantifies their combined impact on SLA performance. While the horizontal bars show which degradations are due to CPU and to network bandwidth issues, the pie chart and vertical bars (circled) show overall service delivery. Annotations (marked by blue push pin) allow IT staff to provide explanatory text for management reporting purposes.

5 Of course, incorporating a user experience metric into an SLA view also brings more clarity to the process of service management for both management reporting and troubleshooting, as discussed earlier. It s a practical way to support best practices for service management, such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework. Page 4 Use Synthetic Transactions to Validate Consolidation/Virtualization Cost efficiency is part of effective service management. That has helped put system consolidation on many IT departments must-do lists. If your organization is pursuing system consolidation, using virtualization or otherwise, you may be concerned how that will affect the user experience and SLAs. Starting with a baseline that relates user experience to service conditions provides a complete picture for informed consolidation decisions. You want to save money by making your systems work as hard as possible, but not so hard that the user experience goes downhill. After consolidating or virtualizing, it is important to validate that the effort is producing the expected results. The capacity margin gets thinner when your system runs multiple applications and operates at a higher rate of utilization. Be sure to monitor not only virtual machine images themselves, but also the impact of those virtual machines on the physical hardware. Ongoing transaction testing, in combination with service monitoring that accounts for the true impact of virtualization, helps ensure that usage does not overrun the available capacity. Example Monitoring Synthetic Transactions in Virtualized Environments Shown above: Longitude can correlate changes in synthetic transaction response time to underlying conditions, including those related to virtualized environments, and notify you proactively when performance may be compromised.

6 Page 5 Conclusion Synthetic transactions have given IT managers an effective method for modeling user experience, although their full potential has not been widely realized. Relating transaction test results to the underlying service conditions has remained a challenge without automation. Today lightweight, agentless monitoring in the form of Heroix Longitude software supplies that missing link as part of a complete suite of multiplatform monitoring and management capabilities. Organizations are able to harness synthetic transactions to identify the root cause(s) of poor user experience, speed time-to-resolution, and incorporate user experience metrics into up-to-the-minute service level views. Better SLA performance is the result. Using synthetic transactions paired with monitoring data also brings an opportunity to improve IT resource utilization without impairing the user experience. You have meaningful information to predict and measure the outcome of system consolidation and virtualization. Once again, you are getting ready to log out near the end of the day. You cross your fingers that everything stays quiet. No such luck. Yet this time, it s different: While your monitoring dashboard shows a poor result for your transaction test, you also see the service conditions responsible. You and a colleague move fast to resolve the issues in your respective areas. Not a single call or comes into the help desk. How great it feels to go home on time.

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