Monday, March 21, 2011

Rethinking the Role of SARM in 2011

It is almost 1 a.m., and I am still up trying to finish up a bit of research via the Internet. By chance I came across an article that talks about Siebel Application Response Measurement (SARM). What is the chance for this to happen in the middle of the night? I thought. What's even more amazing is that the author referred to one of my previous posts (thanks, @lex)! Even though I am getting sleepy, I feel compelled to provide a response.

SARM is indeed not used by every Siebel customer even though it should be. In a survey that we conducted at Oracle OpenWorld several years ago, we learned that there were two reasons for administrators to not turn on SARM - 1. it was too hard to understand the data; 2. SARM was perceived to consume too much overhead. There was some truth in #1, but the Siebel Transaction Diagnostic Tool in Application Management Suite for Siebel should have largely solved this problem. Instead of you having to worry about fetching the right set of SARM log files and running SARMquery manually, the tool does it for you, and generates nice graphical reports that help you quickly visualize and understand the performance diagnostic data that SARM captures.

#2 is a bit of a myth though. SARM does consume capacity, but the amount that it consumes is quite reasonable for the critical insights that it provides in order to manage a Siebel application properly. The alternative of not turning on SARM is to have Siebel as a blackbox, which doesn't make it very manageable.

While SARM is useful, there are also other tools that one should use for managing Siebel application performance. I covered this topic in my previous article "A Holistic Approach to Siebel CRM Monitoring" a while back. The reason why SARM should be used in conjunction with other tools is that we have made available several newer complementary technologies that are more suitable for carrying out some of the application performance management tasks since we introduced SARM.

SARM was created in-house at Siebel. At the time, we thought we would use it as an all encompassing framework for both monitoring and diagnostic. However, as in any 1.0 software development project, there was not enough resource to building everything that we wanted, so we had to phase in the capabilities. SARM was first made available in 7.5, and we made subsequent enhancements to the framework in 7.7 and 8.0. In addition to resource limitation, we also had to live with technology limitation. The original intent of supporting the ARM 2.0 interface was to provide an in-memory feed to monitoring tools so that alerts could be sent if application response time fall below service level target. However, because ARM 2.0 API data fields were not wide enough for SARM to pass contextual data such as screen and view names, the usefulness of this interface for real-time monitoring was limited, and it is totally useless for performance diagnostic as the contextual data is critical to troubleshooting the application.

Another shortcoming of SARM is that SARM instrumentation is not available in the Siebel UI client frameworks. Consequently, SARM can only tell you server time, and not the end-to-end transaction request time that end users see. This means that any network related problems are totally invisible to SARM. By the time we tried to address this shortcoming, Siebel was already part of Oracle, and we had a new option available.

This new option was a new technology called Real User Experience Insight (RUEI). It turned out that Siebel was not the only application in which we had to solve the application performance management problem at Oracle. In fact, administrators of Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, and JD Edwards EnterpriseOne all need to monitor application performance. Instead of building something one off for Siebel, we needed something that worked across all those applications, and can be used in the future for Fusion Applications. RUEI fits the bill perfectly.

RUEI, which also is part of Application Management Suite for Siebel, goes beyond what SARM can do in several aspects and is the perfect complement to SARM. First, RUEI does not consume any processing capacity on any of the Siebel web, application and database servers. RUEI uses a network protocol analysis approach of gathering monitoring data, which does not require any software to be installed on the Siebel server boxes, hence it does not interfere with the Siebel application. The original approach that we thought about implementing would require running SARM in the client, and it would only work for the Siebel HI framework. Other approaches that require agents to be statically or dynamically installed on Siebel clients or servers to intercept Siebel end user traffic may also interfere with Siebel operations.

Second, because RUEI uses network protocol analysis, it can measure the end-to-end response time and the volume of network traffic that the Siebel application generates. The information can be used in the initial performance problem triage to decide whether response time problem is caused by the network or the server. Also, because RUEI captures network information, you can often determine the physical location of the user via network address mapping that is built into the tool.

Third, RUEI can measure not only end user response time, but also capture errors that end users see on the user interface. This insight is very important for carrying out tech support as end users may or may not report the errors that they see on their help requests properly. Error statistics may also be used to improve the usability of the application or user training, as repeating occurance of errors may indicate that the user interface is too hard to use, or users simply are not trained properly.

Fourth, RUEI provides much finer grain real-time alerting of Siebel performance issues than is possible via the ARM 2.0 API approach that SARM implements. With RUEI, one could set KPI target on specific Siebel screens, views or applets, and have alerts go off when certain percentage of activities on those objects go above the acceptable service level target.

Finally, RUEI comes with a built-in OLAP database and a very nice set of tools for generating both ad-hoc and pre-defined performance reports. You can even use it to carry out click stream analysis that is typically done with web analytics software to answer questions that business analysts care about. Think of it as a business intelligence tool for understanding end user experience.

If RUEI is so nice, does it mean that SARM is no longer needed? Of course not. RUEI can tell you from a business perspective and end user perspective who the end users are, where they come from, what they tried to do on Siebel and the kind of response time and errors that they received. However, except for network problems, it won't tell you why the application is running slowly. You need SARM for this.

In addition to RUEI, which provides real user monitoring within Application Management Suite for Siebel, the suite also includes tools for synthetic user monitoring, workflow monitoring, Siebel component monitoring, log file monitoring, and configuration change monitoring. More information about the product can be found on this website.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 IT New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year!

A new year brings new hope. While it is still too early to declare victory on economic recovery, it is probably fair to say that the worst of Great Recession is behind us. The question then is “how to position for growth?”

The economic crisis that we have had with us has had significant implications for IT. Cutbacks to budget has reduced available resources for carrying out new projects that are often needed to support business growth, and it is unclear whether those resources will come back quickly. To position for growth, IT has to become more efficient. The mantra of being able to do more with less is more true than ever.

So how can IT become more efficient in 2011? Here are several things to consider:

Be More User Focused

IT exists to support line of businesses to help drive efficiencies and enable new business models. When times are tough, it is even more important for IT to serve its users well and become even more indispensable. The ability to measure the level of service delivered to end users is critically important, as it would be very difficult to improve IT services without the information. Do you know how your users are using your services? Do you know what kind of experience they get? If not, it is time to find that out so that you can use the information to make improvements. Knowing how your end users use your services and the experience that they get can help you focus your precious resources on things that benefits your business the most. Consider implementing user experience management tools to help you get these insights.


This one may seem obvious – if there are fewer people to do the job, either you automate or you work longer. The fear, however, is one could get automated out of a job. I am not sure if this is a constructive way to think about things though. People want your service if you add value. The more value you add, the more valuable you become. If you can come up with ways to improve efficiencies, you are adding value. Who wouldn't want you for that? Automation can be done in many ways, with scripting a common approach. However, scripting introduces its own problems. Instead of writing scripts from scratch, consider implementing them on top of packaged tool. By building on top of packaged tool, you can achieve better automation with less effort.

Demonstrate Your Value-Add

As you add value, make sure you document your contributions, preferably in quantifiable ways that are relevant to your end users. IT sometimes get bad rap as problems are highlighted and progress are not communicated effectively. Consider implementing service level management processes so that goals are set, progress is measured, and results are reported clearly. This will help you communicate your success and the value that you add to your organization.

2010 is over, and we get to start things over in 2011. Let's make the most out of it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Your App, Your Brand

This past week, I attended OpenWorld in Beijing, China. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet with customers and partners in Greater China and throughout Asia Pacific to discuss the challenges that they face in managing their applications, and the solutions that Oracle provides to solve their problems.

I have been to Beijing several times, so I have gotten to know the airport quite well. Still, I had not visited the Star Alliance lounge hosted by Air China in the newer T3 terminal, so I decided to check it out on my way back. This caused me to get to my boarding gate a bit late. When I got there, I noticed that the plane looked different. It looked like a Continental plane.

Several thoughts came to my mind at that moment:

  • Did I get to the right gate?

  • Maybe this is actually a United codeshare flight operated by Continental

  • Will the seat and the amenities be better or worst since Continental 777s are configured differently from those of United?

After I got on the plane, I found out that it was actually just another United 777 but it was one of the first 3 planes in the fleet to be repainted to the combined United Continental livery, so there was no need to be concerned. Nevertheless, it was interesting to note the effect that the brand identity change had on my expectations of the flight. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and the flight experience was consistent with what I expected to get from the airline.

This brand identity change generated a bit of debate in the past several months, as some United customers and employees lobbied to keep the old United logo. As the above example shows, the brand identity change may cause some minor confusion. However, the brand is more than just the logo. It is the total promise that a company delivers to its customers, and increasingly, this promise is about the experience that is delivered at every touchpoint with the customer. I think this old video from United says it rather nicely. Everything in the video defines the United brand.

You may wonder – what does this topic have to do with application management?

A lot, as it turns out. These days, the United experience is defined not only by the flight services that it provides, or the people that carry them out, but also by the self services applications that are used to provide better services to customers at lower costs. I think the importance of these self service applications in maintaining United's brand is not lost to United's leadership, as it has steadily improved its applications. United's competitors are not standing still either. American, Delta and Southwest have all rolled out improved websites.

One of the key factors in delivering great customer self service experience is good user experience management. It starts with a business-driven definition of user experience, and proactive monitoring in order to understand how end users interact with self services applications and the experience that they receive. At OpenWorld Beijing, one of our customers co-presented with us some really good work that it did to manage its online presence. I will talk about it more in the next article after returning from Christmas vacation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Application Management Suites from Oracle

Oracle OpenWorld is over! It was a busy week filled with presentations, demonstrations, customer meetings, hands-on labs, etc... On the other hand, it was also a relatively quiet week on the news front for Oracle Enterprise Manager, as the 11g version of the product was released only a few months back so there was not a whole lot of new news to talk about. The major news was on the application management front.

New Application Management Suites are available!

These management suites are the results of development efforts that began several years ago with the release of Application Management Pack for PeopleSoft, which was followed by additional Application Management Packs that covered Oracle E-Business Suite, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and Oracle Communications Billing & Revenue Management. To further expand Enterprise Manager's product platform capabilities, we also acquired several emerging companies, including Moniforce for real user monitoring, Auytuma for Java diagnostics, ActiveReasoning for IT compliance management and mValent for configuration management, and the new Application Management Suites added these technologies to provide more complete solutions for managing Oracle Applications.

We have followed three key principles in designing these management suites. First, we offer complete management solutions. Administrators are constantly faced with a wide array of management problems, which require different tools to address. Take diagnostics, for example. Depending on the nature of the application problems, different diagnostic tools are needed to determine problem root cause. Some problems are caused by mis-configurations, which are best solved by performing configuration analysis. Others are caused by inefficient application implementation, in which transaction diagnostic provides the much needed visibility to find the bottlenecks. Some problems may not even be caused by software, as end users may be using the applications improperly, and data collected from real user monitoring tools can help spot this kind of errors much more effectively. Point products only exasperate the problem by giving administrators incomplete set of tools to work with.

Second, we aim to provide integrated user experience for our management tools. Much of the functionality of our Application Management Suites run within Enterprise Manager Grid Control, a highly integrated management platform that is also used to manage everything from Oracle Database to Oracle Fusion Middleware to O/S, virtualization, and storage devices. The integrated capabilities make it easier to deploy and use the management tools. Another aspect of integration is with My Oracle Support. Traditionally, system management tools and vendor support were two completely different domains. Administrators used tools that were deployed on-premise to perform various tasks. When they needed help, they logged on to vendor support website and used a completely different set of tool to work with tech support. This sort of arrangement was highly inefficient. Oracle Enterprise Manager is the only management tool on the market that is connected to My Oracle Support, and this integration facilitates a more collaborative approach between customers' IT staff and Oracle support associates to manage Oracle technologies more effectively.

Third, and most important of all, we focus on providing application management tools that are designed specifically for managing Oracle Applications so that they work better out-of-box than 3rd party tools. This is an important distinction, as the IT market is flooded with management tools from vendors large and small. Most management products on the market, however, provide what I call "generic" management tools. They are used to monitor servers, or operating systems, or network devices. They can generate alerts and display data in dashboards. These are rather commoditized technologies. The difference between generic management tools and specialized management solutions that we offer for managing Oracle Applications is that our management suites provide much better visibility of our application artifacts and in-depth capabilities that address the unique management needs of Oracle application products. Features such as Siebel Workflow Process Monitoring, PeopleSoft Domain Administration and Oracle E-Business Customization and Setup Management are simply not available from major management tool providers. These capabilities were developed by our application experts using the best Oracle Applications insights available in the industry across our development, support and services organizations.

We hope that you find our new management suites compelling. Additional information about these products are available on Oracle Technology Network. Click here for more information.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Oracle Enterprise Manager 11g is Here!

We hope that you enjoyed the launch event. If you missed it, you may still watch it via our on demand webcast, which is being produced and will be posted very shortly.

11gR1 is a major release of Oracle Enterprise Manager, and as one would expect from a big release, there are many new capabilities that appeal to a broad set of audience. Before going into the laundry list of new features, let's talk about the key themes for this release to put things in perspective.

First, this release is about Business Driven Application Management. The traditional paradigm of component centric systems management simply cannot satisfy the management needs of modern distributed applications, as they do not provide adequate visibility of whether these applications are truly meeting the service level expectations of the business users. Business Driven Application Management helps IT manage applications according to the needs of the business users so that valuable IT resources can be better focused to help deliver better business results.

To support Business Driven Application Management, 11gR1 builds on the work that we started in 10g to provide better support for user experience management. This capability helps IT better understand how users use applications and the experience that the applications provide so that IT can take actions to help end users get their work done more effectively. In addition, this release also delivers improved business transaction management capabilities to make it faster and easier to understand and troubleshoot transaction problems that impact end user experience.

Second, this release includes strengthened Integrated Application-to-Disk Management. Every component of an application environment, from the application logic to the application server, to database, host machines and storage devices, etc... can affect end user experience. After user experience improvement needs are identified, IT needs tools that can be used do deep dive diagnostics for each of the application environment component, analyze configurations and deploy changes. Enterprise Manager 11gR1 extends coverage of key application environment components to include full support for Oracle Database 11gR2, Exadata V2, and Fusion Middleware 11g. For composite and Java application management, two key pieces of technologies, JVM Diagnostic and Composite Application Monitoring and Modeler, are now fully integrated into Enterprise Manager so there is no need to install and maintain separate tools. In addition, we have delivered the first set of integration between Enterprise Manager Grid Control and Enterprise Manager Ops Center so that hardware level events can be centrally monitored via Grid Control.

Finally, this release delivers Integrated Systems Management and Support for customers of Oracle technologies. Traditionally, systems management tools and tech support were separate silos. When problems occured, administrators used internally deployed tools to try to solve the problems themselves. If they couldn't fix the problems, then they would use some sort of support website to get help from the vendor's support staff. Oracle Enterprise Manager 11g integrates problem diagnostic and remediation workflow. Administrators can use Oracle Enterprise Manager's various diagnostic tools to begin the troubleshooting process. They can also use the integrated access to My Oracle Support to look up solutions and download software patches. If further help is needed, administrators can open service requests from right within Oracle Enterprise Manager and track status update. Oracle's support staff, using Enterprise Manager's configuration management capabilities, can collect important configuration information about customer environments in order to expedite problem resolution. This tight integration between Oracle Enterprise Manager and My Oracle Support helps Oracle customers achieve a Superior Ownership Experience for their Oracle products.

So there you have it. This is a brief 50,000 feet overview of Oracle Enterprise Manager 11g. We know you are hungry for the details. We are going to write about it in the coming days and weeks. There will also be additional webcasts and seminars worldwide in the coming months. For those of you that absolutely can't wait to find out more, you may download our software to try it out today. In fact, for the first time ever, the initial release of Oracle Enterprise Manager is available for both 32 and 64 bit Linux. Additional O/S ports will arrive in the coming weeks, and will be announced on the Oracle Enterprise Manager blog.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Next Generation of Oracle Enterprise Manager Will Arrive in 7 Days!

Seven more days to go before we launch Oracle Enterprise Manager 11g.

We invite you to join us for this exciting announcement. You may attend the event in person if you are going to be in New York City next Thursday (4/22) or over the web via our webcast. We will also be hosting a live simulcast event at the Collaborate conference in Las Vegas.

Click the links below to learn more about event agenda and to register.

Click here to register for the live event in New York City.

Click here to register for the webcast.

The simulcast event at Collaborate will be held in Palm B room on Level 3 of Mandalay Bay Convention Center starting at 9:45 a.m. local time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oracle to Acquire AmberPoint

Oracle announced this morning that it is acquiring AmberPoint, the leading vendor of SOA management solution. AmberPoint is widely recognized as the Cadillac in the SOA management space, especially with its ability to enforce policies that help improve application performance and security, and to diagnose transactions not only within a composite application, but also across different applications. There had been speculations for a long time whether AmberPoint wanted to stay independent, or be acquired by a larger vendor. The answer is now known, and it is good that we got it. :-) AmberPoint, along with Sun Ops Center, will add to Oracle's capabilities in delivering application-to-disk management to customers.

Click here for the official press release about this acquisition.