New i3 moving in the right direction

New i3 moving in the right direction

“Diamond in the rough” is an apt description of Veritas Software’s i3 application performance management (APM) suite. Obtained when the company acquired Precise Software last year, i3 comprises three core components: the Insight analysis module, Indepth agent technology, and Inform alerting service. The components provide a solid foundation for monitoring application execution across multiple tiers in a heterogeneous network environment.

But my experience with Version 6.5 showed that i3 still has a few rough edges stemming from its transition from Precise to Veritas, edges that should be smoothed out in Version 7.0 due later this year.

At the heart of i3 is what Veritas calls the FocalPoint: a server-hosted central control point that serves as a hub around which the various agents and services are aligned. Administrators interact with the various i3 modules through the StartPoint Web interface, which provides a visually attractive, if somewhat incomplete, front end to the i3 system. During my interaction with the StartPoint — and its administrative cousin, the AdminPoint — I discovered the first of several inconsistencies in the environment’s operation.

For example, you handle most tasks, such as authenticating into the i3 environment or installing agent components, through the StartPoint and AdminPoint Web front-end.

But performing more detailed tasks, such as viewing data from the Indepth for SQL Server agent component, requires navigating a completely different, non-Web UI.

Although this non-Web interface is generally intuitive and provides copious data on SQL Server’s activity, it’s still a Windows application, and as such, it limits management of the underlying Indepth for SQL Server to workstations running some flavour of the Microsoft Windows OS.

I found similar inconsistencies during product installation. Thanks to a well-designed Agent Installer wizard that guides you through the various steps, much of the installation process is straightforward. And yet I still found myself having to make numerous educated guesses along the way — for example, the name of the SQL Server instance to monitor. The Agent Installer wizard’s lack of a clear completion page was also confusing. It kept offering to “resume” the installation process, even though I had finished configuring enough components to achieve a working environment.

Installation and usability issues aside, i3 generally delivers on its promise of painting a comprehensive picture of application performance. For example, during testing in a Windows Server 2003 environment, the Indepth for SQL Server agent provided extensive reporting on the internal performance of the server, including counters for transactions per second and the frequency and duration of various database and record locks. Likewise, the Web Client and Server agents allowed me to focus in on specific transaction paths and also to correlate activity across client, Web, and database tiers.

I was particularly impressed by the high-level graphical overview the i3 StartPoint provides. Displaying each connected tier as a kind of “planetary body” on a logical map, the StartPoint extracts data from the various agent sources and creates a series of colour-coded segments that form rings around the tiers. By matching a given segment to the map legend, you can quickly identify areas in which a given tier is being flagged for investigation — for example, a maintenance issue versus a performance bottleneck. You can then use the relevant i3 tool, either Insight or Indepth, to drill down for more details. It’s the ultimate at-a-glance console and is sure to spawn imitators among the leading APM providers.

Veritas continues to expand the coverage of i3. Version 6.5 was the first to incorporate support for Microsoft SQL Server. Other supported platforms include Oracle and Oracle Applications, BEA Systems’ Tuxedo, SAP AG’s R/3, Siebel, and various flavors of Web and application servers. Version 6.5 can also monitor OS and network statistics, and i3’s integration with the Veritas BusinessObjects and WebIntelligence environments allow for external data analysis and forecasting.

Overall, the Veritas i3 solution is a promising new entry into an increasingly crowded APM marketplace. The core plumbing seems solid, but Veritas needs to polish the packaging and smooth some of the aforementioned rough edges — something the company plans to address in Version 7.0, its first major revision since acquiring i3. In the meantime, customers who are willing to look beyond the surface will find i3 to be a competent solution to the majority of their APM requirements.

Solution selling

Veritas Software director of product management, Michael Landwehr, said there was a shift from an emphasis on storage infrastructure and into utility computing. The APM suite lets users determine how well the application is using the infrastructure. “It’s the next step,” he said. “The infrastructure works well, the data is backed up, but is business application driving the infrastructure correctly?”

Essentially, i3 provides organisations with a methodical way to manage performance.

“It’s not just the silo approach, it’s something wider and there’s a process from beginning to end, Landwehr said. “And by implementing a process, it eliminates the guesswork involved in performance problems, which can be sneaky.”

He said Veritas was looking to extend its reach into the channel with the APM range. To date, Secure Data is the main distributor because the company has expertise in the database space, he said, acknowledging the product can be a tad tricky.

“There’s a good synergy with Secure Data in terms of services and database skills,” he said. “A good fit.”

The contant monitoring aspect of the tool was a bonus, Landwehr said.

Other key features included the fact that the product looked at true performance activity rather than relying on synthetic activity. “We’re looking at true activity, run by real users opposed to other tools that use synthetic transactions, but don’t see what users are doing,” he said.

Additionally, users can track performance over time and out it in a historical context (and track trends).

Local information

Local Info: The i3 APM (application performance management) suite is distributed in Australia by Secure Data Group.

RRP: The product ranges from $10,000 (for the small machines running one product) to $50,000 (when deploying the whole solution).

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