Steve Wrenn, senior director of IT service management at insurers the Liberty Mutual Group, says his job used to be "a lot like fire fighting rather than fire prevention."
Liberty Mutual operations center had good systems management in place but the IT operations staff couldn't tell how well the firm's applications were performing for users. With no knowledge of application response times, Wrenn didn't know whether IT was meeting his service level agreements.
"Historically, we'd watch the mainframe, the network and the server hardware. That's like saying Interstate 95 is up. That means nothing. It doesn't tell you anything about how an application is performing," he recalls.
Liberty Mutual is an early adopter of Mercury Interactive Corp.'s Business Availability Center, a set of monitoring applications that takes Mercury beyond its accustomed realm of testing tools and application monitoring into optimization of production operations. Mercury said Oct. 10 that its new BTO Enterprise package, which includes Business Availability Center, was an expansion of its product line into managing changes to an application during its whole lifecycle, including managing its performance in production. The move was announced Oct.10 to the 2,200 attendees of its user group meeting, Mercury World 2005, Oct. 9-12 in Las Vegas. At the same time Mercury unveiled new or upgraded products that make up BTO Enterprise. Business Availability Center 6.0, one of the updated products, has become a cornerstone of Wrenn's IT operations. Liberty Mutual has been a user of the application management suite since February, he says.
Wrenn is responsible for monitoring the performance of 30 applications. One of them, claims processing, would experience slowdowns periodically through the summer but Wrenn's staff had no insight into why the slowdowns were occurring. They learned about slowdowns through calls from customers. Once the IT staff gained visibility into the application's performance statistics, they could see that spikes in claims during the summer--many customers get into mishaps while on vacation--were dragging down the application.
"The mainframe didn't show any problem, the network was fine, but the claims processing was down," he noted. Once the problem was identified, Liberty Mutual was able to make more memory and application processing resources available to claims processing during its peak period.
"Now we see the slowdown before the calls come in. We gone from reactive to pro-active," says Wrenn.
Another advantage of Availability Center is consolidation of performance monitoring. Wrenn's staff previously had many people monitoring parts of data center operations part of the time. A system administrator would keep an eye on a particular server with its application, or a database administrator would check on Oracle operations. "Everybody stared at their own silo," says Wrenn.
Now the Availability suite allows a handful of people to watch application performances from integrated consoles. "We have fewer people than before engaged in watching. On average, Availability Center catches over 100 customer-impacting events a day that are prevented."
Wrenn can plug in the requirements of service level agreements, then set thresholds for when a system administrator should be alert as that threshold is approached. "The indicators go from green to yellow. Before we didn't know anything was wrong until they turned red," says Wrenn.
The monitoring can apply to an application or be dialed down to focus on a particular transaction or business process. Other elements of BTO Enterprise include the Mercury IT Governance Center 7.0, Mercury Quality Center 8.2 and Mercury Performance Center 8.1. Quality Center and Performance Center are available immediately. Business Availability Center 6.0 will be available in November. Governance Center becomes available in December.
Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio