University measures virtualised performance

Virtualisation improves IT at Auckland University

Auckland University was an early local adopter of virtualisation, but with the move came the problem of managing the performance of user applications.

“Back in 2004 we were suffering because all our servers were on lease and we were spending an inordinate amount of time swapping physical servers in and out purely for financial reasons,” says senior enterprise architect Tim Chaffe.

“Most of our infrastructure is now virtualised, with large SAN and server farms. We have a concentrated packet switching layer but with shared infrastructure, there are a wide range of clients with a variety of devices operating at different speeds.”

With 4500 staff and 38,000 students, services vary from applications and networks provided for education and research to VoIP and wireless networks for campuses.

“In the past we tended to specify performance issues in a dedicated way, but it is harder to manage under virtualisation,” Chaffe says.

A while ago he heard of an application performance monitoring product from Compuware called Vantage, which the university began implementing this year.

“Application performance monitoring is not that well known or understood. Most people do system monitoring. I don’t know of anyone else in New Zealand who is doing it,” he says.

“We put in a probe at a logical concentration point and the technology measures the underlying TCP/IP protocol. It spots the client talking to the server and the server response. You can reconstruct the whole IP conversation and build up a time-stamped set of transactions.

“One of the problems today is when you begin tweaking stuff, you affect everything and you don’t know what the performance is.

Vantage measures the latency and the information can be base-lined. “We’ve gone from 80 percent of requests satisfied in one to four seconds to 90 percent,” says Chaffe.

The monitoring is done via a web interface that is essentially a dashboard.

Chaffe says the cost-benefit depends on the pain point. “Say you are running SAP on a wide area network, it takes a hell of a lot of knowledge and sniffing to know what is going on.

“Our time to resolve problems is now a lot quicker. The kind of information you get is not going to tell you what to do, but it tells you what is going on. Then you use your own knowledge,” he says.

In addition Vantage has enabled the university to more aggressively roll out web-based applications and monitor them.

Another advantage is when dealing with something like a mash-up, where the latency of each component can be measured.

Chaffe says the complexity of IT these days is such that most people regard it as a black box. “You don’t have a single view of the operation between customers and services.

“The ability to see an end-to-end transaction is going to save a lot of people a lot of heartache.”

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