Jason Dover is a Product Director at KEMP Technologies, a New York City headquartered company, putting intelligence, flexibility and resilience into application delivery since 2000. Jason has over 10 years’ experience in enterprise IT and application delivery, working at organizations such as Deutsche Bank, New York Stock Exchange, Citigroup, Bank of America and Alliance Bernstein. He is based in New York.
KEMP Technologies has over 40,000 worldwide deployments and is the industry leader in advanced Layer 2 – 7 Application Delivery Controllers (ADC) and application-centric load balancing. KEMP are frequently asked by IT departments of global enterprises if application delivery infrastructure can be monitored proactively giving them the visibility and control they need to transform their businesses.
I asked Jason about how application delivery management is changing and what this means for large enterprises.
Q. Who is responsible for the applications most of us use daily within companies?
A. Traditionally, the application administrator is responsible for the software applications most of us use daily within companies. Stepping back, you have the engineering or architecture group who are responsible for development of these applications. They are responsible for the proof of concept testing and for how an application should run once it’s operational for production. The operations or administration team is responsible for the daily operations and maintenance of applications. Related, but not directly responsible for applications, is the infrastructure team or SAE who look after the underlying layer or operating system that the application sits on. For businesses working in a virtualized environment, this is the team responsible for the hypervisor. Although there are multiple parties involved, the frontline for applications within an enterprise is the application administrator. He or she is the person who will get the call from the CIO visiting China with an iPhone that isn’t downloading email.
DevOps is a new paradigm evolving where the people who are developing & releasing software applications are also responsible for the day to day operations of the application. DevOps are now taking those support calls from application users within the enterprise. So, lines are blurring between building the application and handing the application to someone else to manage. DevOps can no longer say they don’t worry about operation of the application. This has changed the way software applications are developed and managed in enterprises.
Q.What challenges do application administrators face? What level of application expertise is required in enterprises today?
A. The application administrator is the person facing the challenge of the digital transformation trend within enterprises which has been happening over the last few years. Larger enterprises want to have the same agility a smaller business has in terms of making changes. One of the biggest challenges of becoming agile and responding more quickly is being hampered by processes. Going through large ITIL processes for change management slows things down. If I need to develop a new service that will solve problems for my customers, even if I know how to do it at a technical level I can’t just go and do it if I work within a large enterprise with lots of process, red tape and bureaucracy.
Some forward-looking leaders in IT are saying let’s just do it. Let’s throw those processes away and allow ourselves to be able to react quickly. The challenge that results is that change naturally starts to break things. If you are bringing change into an environment you are introducing more risk. So, one of the questions enterprises have is how do we manage change? How do we allow more fluidity and flexibility within our infrastructure, while still maintaining a level of control?
Over the past decade, the trend toward cloud and virtualization, has moved enterprises in the direction of being able to run applications anywhere. It shouldn’t matter if the application is in this row or rack, inside an on-premises DC, or inside the public cloud that I have a data center interconnect to. The idea sounds great. If I do have a hybrid infrastructure, it would be good that my workloads can operate in any in any of those environments so that if I have a capacity issue, or a failure, the data is in the right place at the right time to allow operation in the same environments. The challenge with that is “How do I control the blast radius, if I don’t know that the exact location of an application within a certain time frame?” …I can’t. When issues happen, I can now be allowing for the failures that are affecting more systems than I would like.
There’s a balance that must be struck, of allowing more fluidity and flexibility of where applications are running, how they are running, when you are applying patches, etc. but still having some level of control and construct around. I hear the big questions people asking are “How do I strike the balance?”, “How do I get the right processes?”, which is why DevOps is not a technology problem, it is a cultural and people problem. I need to have people with the right mind set & skills, but it’s mostly the culture piece that is the biggest challenge being faced. Getting that culture right means getting the people actually doing the work and organizational leaders to allow for this.
Q.How are companies dealing with application related issues now?
A. Companies are exploring how they can deal with application related issues. There is no magic blue-print yet, but businesses are starting to explore, to get the right people and that’s why DevOps engineers and folk that have right skill set are making tons of money these days. Businesses are still figuring out the patterns that work, the pieces of technology they need, the type of leadership they need and the type of skills they need. It’s something that’s evolving whether we think it’s a good approach or not. ITIL is a very structured process, people know it and they know how to implement it, yet those familiar with it sometimes shake their heads when it’s mentioned. I would say that in the new paradigm of allowing for a greater level of flexibility, there is no pattern, no standards yet, so it’s a kind of “figure it out as we go” thing. Some organizations are doing it better than others but the ones that are doing it well have instilled inside the people they are hiring and the leadership the vision of what they are trying to do, why they are trying to do it and how it’s going to help them to service their customers better. They have to ensure those ideals are instilled within the people on the ground. That’s actually what’s helping them, again because it’s not so much a technology challenge as a cultural and thinking challenge.
Q.How does application management fit into the bigger picture of the IT Department’s work & the wider company?
A. The IT department regardless of whether it is fully centralized or IT responsibility is distributed across individual lines of the business, they are accountable to the business for applications operating properly. They are responsible to the business for supporting their stakeholders, shareholders and external customer requirements, so it’s of absolute importance that they have a good way of managing risk that comes with the greater degree of change required in modern day businesses. Ultimately this impacts the wider company whether its sales, operations or other units. The trend that’s happening now is that customer experience has become far more important.
With more access to information, more access to competitive offerings, a stronger ability to hold companies or vendors responsible for delivering a good customer experience you have higher requirements from customers, with organizations as a whole placing much more emphasis on customer experience. A big part of that are the services and applications that you are offering to them. Are you meeting their SLA’s & requirements? So, it has a benefit across the entire organization because the folks driving sales, marketing and various other business units, are starting to put more focus on keeping customers happier and differentiating for their customers based on that end-to-end experience, based on the NET promoter score, based on the perception they have on Glassdoor.com and various other forums starting to develop. We are talking about things very centric to technology and IT, but permeating the entire business of the organization.
I’ve just read a book called Lovability written by Aha! co-founder and CEO Brian de Haaff. It’s about product lovability and he makes it super clear that your product is about everything, the experience that the customer has, is it a good one or a bad one? It made me think of times I try to log in to a service and it’s just not working or I’m consistently getting notifications from a vendor such “sorry we are having an outage, we will be in touch with you soon”. All of this encompasses product and ultimately you have the CxO suite who have responsibility for the products that are in the market, even though it’s other folks beneath them that are managing these products daily, so again the way that applications perform is another touchpoint that has an impact on the entire organization. Being able to meet SLAs, being able to have a quicker time to discovery when there are issues and most of all being able to have a quicker time to recovery, is absolutely something which is central to any company that’s cognizant of the times and pressures that exist in their market.
Q.What is the business case for managing applications differently?
A. If I’m running an organization and I’m trying to maintain a competitive edge, I have some things to think about. I probably need to allow for more change in my infrastructure than I was previously was accustomed to. The market is moving a lot faster, and as we have seen over the last decade, trends organizations used to gain competitive edge took hold quickly and had impact affecting the entire market. Not that long ago, the phrase SDN (Software Defined Networking) had existed for a while and although it wasn’t a household name, there certainly was some hype. We got to the peak of people’s expectations and when Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2016 was published, SDN was on the downward slope of hype towards where we actually get usability from it. We’ve seen some use-cases of software-defined storage and software-defined WAN but being able to shorten time it takes to make branch-office changes from a network perspective by leveraging SD-WAN offerings – yes, that helps me to be more efficient and agile. Various use-cases evolve from Internet of Things, the MQTT protocol that has been around forever and the applications of it are being used in unique ways that organizations can leverage in actual business applications making them more competitive and effective. You can no longer wait around with the mindset of “we only do changes on the 3rd Sunday of every month”. You must be willing to do more experimentation but with that additional change, you are introducing additional risk. Regardless of how innovative you are trying to be, you still need to manage risk. That’s a responsibility that the organization has to their investors, shareholders and other key stakeholders. So, the business case is about allowing the organization to move forward while managing that risk.
Adding to the business case is being able to differentiate around customer experience. Part of customer experience is ensuring that you’re able to prevent outages from an application performance perspective and have optimized user experience. Of course, issues are going to happen where any type of technology is involved, but having a framework, a mindset and a culture and the right tools and technology in place, will allow you to shorten your meantime to discovery and meantime to recovery and that is a powerful business case. Think about industries that are crowded such accounting, legal, research, etc., you have a more saturated market where you must figure out how to keep a competitive edge.
Q.What’s the one big thing readers of this interview should walk away understanding?
A. Organizations should understand that these challenges are real and for them to maintain a competitive edge, digital transformation, sometimes an overused marketing term, is required. This means transforming your organization, then leveraging technology in ways that help your business operate more efficiently, deliver value to customers more quickly and ultimately deliver a unique and differentiated customer experience.