Today's IT systems are getting more and more complex, and there are potentially any number of reasons why applications don't perform well - it might be how the code is written, it could be to do with system bottlenecks, or maybe there are scalability or integration issues.
Whatever the reason, standard load and performance testing won't always identify all these issues, so organisations are now looking to a broader performance engineering approach that collectively looks at how all your IT components should work together.
At Facilita we believe that such an approach allows you to continually monitor the availability and performance of all your IT applications and infrastructure.
By analysing their performance, testing them often and monitoring them vigilantly, you can start to move beyond performance management to address key issues such as IT governance, where organisations increasingly focus on aligning their IT with strategic business goals, and demonstrating how and where value is being achieved.
Performance really matters today, with organisations increasingly expecting high performance and the ability to cope with increased load and demand as key elements of the integrity and reliability of today's IT systems.
In sectors such as financial services particularly, firms are now capturing and analysing massive amounts of market data in real-time, and are looking towards a new generation of IT systems to help them provide a differentiator in hyper-competitive markets.
According to Intel's director of Worldwide Financial Services, Nigel Woodward: 'We're increasingly finding that market timing can make the difference between profit and loss, and for IT this translates into a challenge that simply cannot be met by the traditional approach of just adding more servers to boost capacity.
'For fast, responsive processing, organisations need to look for increased processor performance, greater bandwidth, increased density, reliability and manageability and built-in assets for virtualisation. It is also important to understand the value that performance management provides in delivering effective solutions for today's trading environments.'
Businesses are under increased pressure from new compliance, governance and risk management initiatives, and the raft of regulations being passed down to organisations grows daily.
More government and regulatory legislation and regulations are on the horizon, with businesses and their executives often now liable to serious penalties for failing to meet their compliance requirements. Not surprisingly, many organisations are turning to IT solutions to deliver a framework for effective compliance adherence and monitoring.
Organisations are finding that trends such as outsourcing, while offering many potential business benefits, also raise issues relating to efficient compliance and the need for the effective avoidance of operational risk.
The added complexity of multiple, interlinked projects can also make understanding and assessing compliance risks far more difficult for management, particularly when their compliance obligations require them to report on the progress of complex IT-based systems across multiple sites and even different organisations.
Businesses are also now having to come to terms with the challenge of corporate governance, and IT governance particularly, which focuses on the IT aspects of overall governance.
From a board-level perspective, IT governance is all about setting a clear definition of overall IT quality that looks at both the relevance and suitability of the IT application and then considers the quality of return that the business gains from that investment.
As part of an overall performance engineering approach, we're seeing a number of organisations now turn to a new generation of dashboard-style reporting tools that integrate information to give them an immediate snapshot of the current structure and status of all their different IT projects.
At a glance, they can now see how the systems are performing against business objectives, current compliance status, budget and timescale adherence, resource allocation and overall risk status.
Collectively, issues such as compliance, governance and risk management are helping IT departments to get a clearer perspective on their own projects and goals, while also giving them a framework to better demonstrate the value that IT can add to the business. But are businesses taking it all seriously?
Restoring faith in IT
According to the Butler Group: 'senior management in many large organisations have become intolerant of sizeable investments that don't demonstrate a tangible return. Measurement is the key to restoring faith in IT, and only total transparency will satisfy a critical gaze.'
One initiative that is increasing focus on compliance is MiFID, the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, which is due to come into force on 1 November 2007. MiFID is a major part of the European Union's Financial Services Action Plan that is designed to create a single market in financial services.
MiFID will introduce a single European securities market for all financial instruments. Its paramount objectives are market transparency, accountability and protection for the retail customers.
PJ Di Giammarino, founder and CEO JWG-IT Limited - the technology Think-Tank focused on the implementation of financial services regulatory changes - certainly understands what the MiFID impact will be for businesses and their CIOs. It is estimated that MiFID will affect in excess of 3,000 firms, but so far it seems that less than 10 per cent have engaged.
PJ says that 'the systems that are running the banks today might not run the bank tomorrow - banks really need to get on with implementing and testing the required changes.
We need to start testing systems in 31 different markets by the end of Q1 2007 if we are to expect an orderly transition. CEOs need to be assessing business risks and opportunity costs arising from MiFID, and assessing their IT operations gaps and risks.'
What MiFID and other similar initiatives show is that simply hoping IT systems are going to work just isn't enough any more. For example, the MiFID requirements on best execution will mean some important changes, with firms required to take all reasonable steps to obtain the best possible deal for their clients.
This looks beyond price to take other key factors such as cost, speed and likelihood of execution and settlement into account.
So, from an IT perspective, organisations looking to compete in this space will need to understand the performance implications of their entire IT infrastructure, from processors and systems right through to continuous tuning and monitoring. MiFID makes performance engineering an essential component of the broader IT mix.
Value still a key part of the overall performance equation
Applications such as MiFID place a huge requirement on the highest performance levels and rightly so in that market, but for other sectors the focus on speed and performance can often overlook the need for value in terms of the system's outputs.
You can test a system's performance and tune it for optimal speed but as recent IT governance initiatives show, just because a system is running fast doesn't mean it's necessarily doing the right things for the business.
In the past this lack of detailed performance-based approach wasn't so much of an issue as organisations didn't always have clear specifications for their systems. Today, however, the deployment of the latest generation of service oriented architecture (SOA) based systems is proving invaluable in building up a more detailed picture of overall systems performance.
Because SOA systems are built up from a series of contractual relationships between different SOA modules, it's now possible for organisations to map their high-level business processes through SOAs and as a result know that the overall speed of a process can't ever be less than the combined service total times of the different SOA systems.
Once you start breaking overall solution performance down into individual SOA services, it becomes increasingly possible for organisations to break even the largest and most complex IT problems down into more manageable pieces.
IT departments can now adopt a more confident approach to performance engineering, knowing that they can map projects from their basic code through components, classes and business processes to get more specific performance measures for their overall solution.
Adopting a more holistic approach
Effective performance management is all about managing risk and being able to predict with confidence that your applications will meet the most demanding business requirements. It is key to ensure that performance requirements are specified at the beginning of the development cycle and validated through each stage of an application's life.
Also by ensuring that in production, application performance and availability are continually monitored; potential problems can be identified earlier and resolved before they get a chance to impact the overall performance of a system.
SOA-style solutions bring real opportunities here, but we need to remember the value element of the equation - by analysing performance, testing and validating often, and monitoring vigilantly, organisations can improve overall performance and meet their compliance, IT governance and risk management goals - providing they haven't set themselves unrealistic targets!