Please read the interview of Dutch IT channel editor Dick Schievels, with Lex Crielaars from SMT and Marc Samsom from Cisco. The entire article is also available on the Executive People website.

Use of analytical tools of growing importance in digital innovation

SMT and Cisco have recently joined forces in the field of analytical tools for the IT infrastructure. Their main challenge is the successful application of digital innovations with customers. Cisco provides two powerful tools: AppDynamics, an analysis platform for application performance management, and Tetration for network analysis. While SMT has earned their role as ‘best of breed’ tooling expert, and excels in Big Data analytics using Splunk.

SMT was founded 20 years ago, and is a supplier of software products. We sell products in network, performance and end-to-end chain monitoring, explains Lex Crielaars, CTO at SMT. Around eight years ago, Splunk joined the analytics market, and SMT soon saw its potential for Big Data analysis of IT infrastructure data. “We became the first Splunk partner in the Benelux. This has given us a lot of experience and a lead in providing added value by transforming data to information. Because collecting data in itself is not enough. That data needs to be converted to information that the organization can use in areas such as cyber security, DevOps or the business itself.”

Crielaars is responsible for SMT’s product portfolio. What products does SMT sell, next to Splunk? “Many of our products are complementary to Splunk, so we can provide even more insight and more analytical capabilities. Two of these products are AppDynamics and Tetration from Cisco.”

Cisco and analytics

“We see that customers are more often hosting their applications with cloud service providers rather than in their own infrastructure and data center,” says Marc Samsom, Manager Data Center & Cloud Architecture at Cisco Netherlands. “Where many customers are currently in the process of setting up such a hybrid IT environment, you see that we are now building software on top of the hardware infrastructure that allows our customers to manage everything across the entire hybrid infrastructure. AppDynamics and Tetration, in particular, can play an important role in achieving a more efficient and effective delivery and performance of applications.”

Cisco used to be mainly a hardware supplier, but because of technology developments it is selling more software and delivering services in cooperation with partners. “With the hardware we provide scale, with the software we provide flexibility,” Samsom summarizes.

AppDynamics

AppDynamics is a Cisco acquired analytics platform specifically in the area of application performance management. The tool’s sweetspot is where organizations are in contact with the customer through their IT facilities, usually via the website or mobile app. “Companies want to optimize that contact as much as possible. In case of failures, AppDynamics allows them to zoom in on the problem, as if it were a magnifying glass.” Samsom said.

However, it is about the performance of the entire chain, he emphasizes, and not just about the performance of that website or app. “Of course, there is a whole chain behind it and what we capture is the end-to-end performance of that entire chain.”

Tetration

Tetration is analytics software, developed by Cisco, that, according to Samsom, can be compared to a time machine that lets you retrieve your network traffic. Whether it’s cloud or your own datacenter doesn’t matter, Tetration records all the traffic that occurs on your network and stores it. Based on that, you can perform all sorts of actions such as: Go back in time, see which applications depend on each other, determine whether it’s necessary to customize your network policies, and so on.

An analysis tool like Tetration also provides a baseline to determine whether a particular trend or event in the network should be considered to be abnormal. “This brings you to the world of machine learning,” says Crielaars. “In particular in the IT Ops and security world, static thresholds were often used to detect deviations. With the help of machine learning, we can now define automated baselines for what is normal behavior for a server, application, or person. More data provides more accurate baselines and thus qualitatively better alerts for the people who need to act on them.”

Partnership and synergy

SMT and Cisco have recently entered into a partnership and the obvious question is of course how SMT and Cisco came together in the analytics area. Crielaars: “Before AppDynamics was acquired by Cisco, SMT was already a partner of AppDynamics. So, when Cisco was looking for a partner to move on with AppDynamics, continuing the relationship with SMT was an obvious choice. And as the combination of AppDynamics, with a tool like Splunk, can also provide added value, the match between Cisco and SMT is almost self-evident.”

Asked about the degree of overlap between products like Splunk, AppDynamics and Tetration, Crielaars continues: “The products are mostly complementary and it is becoming increasingly interesting to use the combined products. This gives a synergistic effect. We have been able to generate a lot of insights for our customers that were previously unavailable. Insights that led to cost reduction and efficiency increase. The combination of tools now gives us even more opportunities, because you can correlate types of data from one single data platform, previously unthinkable. This provides possibilities for discovering obstacles in the infrastructure through Splunk, which can then be zoomed into at detail level by AppDynamics or Tetration.

Automated management

Using analytics, you can also manage your SDN infrastructure (Software Defined Networking) in a better way. Samsom: “In fact, you can even automate that management based on certain feedback from the analysis software. This way, you can automatically take the right steps based on the performance of an application, rather than doing that manually. Today, that is even more necessary in the field of security, because the speed of intervention becomes more and more important.”

 

September 2017