Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Sematext Blog, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Containers Expo Blog, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud, API Journal, Agile Computing, Wearables, Apache

Containers Expo Blog: Article

Web Application Lifecycle Maintenance

A ten-point tune-up check list

Like an automobile, a web application needs occasional maintenance and management over its life cycle. Although it doesn't need oil changes, it will probably need version upgrades. There may not be manufacturer recalls, but sometimes servers fail or hang. An application doesn't need to be washed and detailed, but it does need to be backed up. And both cars and applications need occasional performance tuning.

This article provides a complete list of the system management functions that need to be performed on a standard architecture web application, with a particular emphasis on doing so in an Infrastructure-as-a-Service environment.

1. Evaluation
Anyone who has implemented an application without sufficient evaluation, only to realize too late that it does not solve the business problem, will understand why evaluation is part of the application lifecycle.

Evaluation is facilitated with two primary components: information about the application and a try-before-you-buy capability. Many questions about an application can be answered efficiently with basic feature and function information, and ideally a competitive comparison from several similar applications will give visibility to their strengths and weaknesses. But these are prerequisites rather than substitutes for actually trying and using the product. Ideally, a "test drive" will not require any setup or configuration, since the goal is only to determine whether it meets your needs. You want to spend your evaluation time using the software, not learning how to deploy and configure it.

2. Deployment
Deployment is the tip of the system management iceberg - it is the most visible procedure because you cannot even get started without it.

Automating a deployment has many benefits, even if it is superficially a one-time deployment, because the automation script provides documentation and a kind of checklist to ensure that configuration details are handled properly the next time. If the upgrade is performed by re-deploying to a new server entirely, (this is much easier with virtual machines and cloud servers), then the upgrade process is just a matter of re-running the automation.

Another benefit of automating deployments is that best practices are made repeatable and documented, thereby reducing the chance of human error.

3. Backup
As soon as you begin to use your application, you should begin backing up the data it stores in a location that is both physically and logically separate from the primary data store.

Ideally, a backup contains the minimum unique data necessary to reproduce the state of the system. This keeps the cost of transporting and storing the backups low, which in turn encourages a higher backup frequency.  However, sometimes this minimization should be traded off against the amount of time required to restore the system to working order.

4. Monitoring
Applications and servers fail or bog down unpredictably. Persistent automated monitoring, with appropriate forms of notification (email, text message) frees you from having to explicitly check on the status of the application, but still ensures that you hear about problems when they happen, rather than when they are reported by users hours later.

Importantly, applications must be monitored at the application level - by robotic access through the application itself. It is common for servers and virtual machines to seem perfectly fine while the application is unresponsive. Remember that users and customers do not care about "server uptime" - they just want to use the application or site.

Deeper monitoring can signal trends that suggest that an imminent failure before it happens. For example, by tracking memory utilization and number of web server processes, a monitoring system may be able to predict that a server is about to overload. This type of deeper monitoring can also be useful for automated scaling procedures.

5. Job Scheduling
Many applications have scheduled jobs in addition to monitoring and backups: data rollups, log file archiving, end-of-day reporting.

If the application has this requirement, there must be an easy, flexible, and reliable method of scheduling and automatically performing these jobs. It is common to use cron or Windows Task Scheduler for these procedures, and as long as these tools are accessible this is a workable solution. Even better is an off-server job scheduling mechanism, so that the status of the server and application does not affect whether the job runs and whether failure notifications can be delivered.

6. Upgrades
Most application software and its supporting technology stack are subject to occasional version upgrades and patches.

It is extremely convenient to be able to easily duplicate the entire application environment and perform the upgrade first on a copy. Running manual or automated tests to confirm that the upgrade worked can improve reliability. If the upgrade failed, because (for example) a step was left out or a configuration change conflicts with the new version, the duplicate environment can be used to check and repair these issues and the upgrade process repeated until it works properly. This best practice minimizes the downtime associated with the upgrade.

7. Recovery
Many environments assume that backups will only rarely be used, so accessing them is expensive and possibly time-consuming. In an IaaS environment, with the right tools, it can be relatively easy to retrieve and restore backups to either a production system or to a copy.

Obviously, when a server or application does fail, the first thing to try is to restore the operation of the application in place.  The next thing to try is deploying a new application environment, then restoring a backup or turning a replication slave into the master. The former will result in a loss of data based on how long ago the backup was performed. The latter will typically result in only the very last transaction being lost.  DNS entries must be updated.

Sometimes, a server failure is actually a consequence of an entire data center experiencing downtime.  In this case, it becomes clear why the backups must be kept offsite. The attempt to deploy a new application will fail in the original data center, so it must be performed elsewhere.

Ideally, a management system will provide the optional ability to sequence and automate all these procedures in connection with the monitoring. This can minimize downtime and avoid the need to have staff on call 24x7.

8. Scaling
The cost of frequently changing resources to match load must be weighed against the cost of having excess resources for some time. Burst scaling is much less common and substantially more challenging to handle well.

In single server application deployments, scaling consists of redeploying the application on a server with more memory and/or compute resources. Multi-server deployments are scaled by adding or removing servers from a homogeneous horizontally scalable tier, usually a web tier and possibly a separate application server tier.

In addition to deploying fully configured web or application servers, they must be properly added to (or removed from) a load balancer queue, and this must be done in a way that does not affect active connections. Thus, whether these scale changes are initiated manually or dynamically in response to monitoring output, it is crucial that the deployment (or un-deployment) of resources be automated to avoid configuration errors and to ensure a transparent user experience on the production environment.

9. Tuning
Sometimes application deployments can be tuned to perform better independent of resource scaling.  Typically this involves changing configuration parameters and restarting the web server or rebooting the server.

If system management for the application is largely automated, any manual changes need to be reflected in the automated deployment procedures to ensure that they are reflected in later re-deployments (including restoring backups, deploy from scratch upgrades, and the like). A very sophisticated management system might actually perform tuning automatically based on load and performance characteristics of the application. However, this is unusual because it is typically very application-specific.

10. Utility Management
Many application deployments include utility software that provides, for example, security, log analysis, caching, or email delivery. These utilities are often more challenging to install even than the technology stack or the application itself, and configuring them to connect to the application is almost always tricky. Consequently, a compatibility matrix along with automated deployment procedures to allow independent installation of each utility is an enormous time-saver. Automated removal of these utilities is also crucial, as it can be even more difficult than installation.

Conclusion
We have seen that there are numerous system management activities to be performed in a typical web application deployment. Accomplishing these tasks manually is relatively burdensome and requires a fair amount of skill. In the Infrastructure-as-a-Service world, most of these procedures can be automated or automated with manual initiation; and, further, they can be performed in ways that are more reliable and testable than in a bare-iron data center. With an appropriate IT Process Automation system, a single-tenant application deployment in the cloud can be almost as easy as Software-as-a-Service, but without the attendant loss of control and flexibility.

More Stories By Dave Jilk

Dave Jilk has an extensive business and technical background in both the software industry and the Internet. He currently serves as CEO of Standing Cloud, Inc., a Boulder-based provider of cloud-based application management solutions that he cofounded in 2009.

Dave is a serial software entrepreneur who also founded Wideforce Systems, a service similar to and pre-dating Amazon Mechanical Turk; and eCortex, a University of Colorado licensee that builds neural network brain models for defense and intelligence research programs. He was also CEO of Xaffire, Inc., a developer of web application management software; an Associate Partner at SOFTBANK Venture Capital (now Mobius); and CEO of GO Software, Inc.

Dave earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@MicroservicesExpo Stories
Monitoring of Docker environments is challenging. Why? Because each container typically runs a single process, has its own environment, utilizes virtual networks, or has various methods of managing storage. Traditional monitoring solutions take metrics from each server and applications they run. These servers and applications running on them are typically very static, with very long uptimes. Docker deployments are different: a set of containers may run many applications, all sharing the resource...
Join Impiger for their featured webinar: ‘Cloud Computing: A Roadmap to Modern Software Delivery’ on November 10, 2016, at 12:00 pm CST. Very few companies have not experienced some impact to their IT delivery due to the evolution of cloud computing. This webinar is not about deciding whether you should entertain moving some or all of your IT to the cloud, but rather, a detailed look under the hood to help IT professionals understand how cloud adoption has evolved and what trends will impact th...
Without lifecycle traceability and visibility across the tool chain, stakeholders from Planning-to-Ops have limited insight and answers to who, what, when, why and how across the DevOps lifecycle. This impacts the ability to deliver high quality software at the needed velocity to drive positive business outcomes. In his session at @DevOpsSummit 19th Cloud Expo, Eric Robertson, General Manager at CollabNet, showed how customers are able to achieve a level of transparency that enables everyone fro...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
"Dice has been around for the last 20 years. We have been helping tech professionals find new jobs and career opportunities," explained Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 19th Cloud Expo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Rapid innovation, changing business landscapes, and new IT demands force businesses to make changes quickly. In the eyes of many, containers are at the brink of becoming a pervasive technology in enterprise IT to accelerate application delivery. In this presentation, attendees learned about the: The transformation of IT to a DevOps, microservices, and container-based architecture What are containers and how DevOps practices can operate in a container-based environment A demonstration of how ...
Application transformation and DevOps practices are two sides of the same coin. Enterprises that want to capture value faster, need to deliver value faster – time value of money principle. To do that enterprises need to build cloud-native apps as microservices by empowering teams to build, ship, and run in production. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Neil Gehani, senior product manager at HPE, discussed what every business should plan for how to structure their teams to delive...
As we enter the final week before the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in Santa Clara, CA, it's time for me to reflect on six big topics that will be important during the show. Hybrid Cloud This general-purpose term seems to provide a comfort zone for many enterprise IT managers. It sounds reassuring to be able to work with one of the major public-cloud providers like AWS or Microsoft Azure while still maintaining an on-site presence.
Without lifecycle traceability and visibility across the tool chain, stakeholders from Planning-to-Ops have limited insight and answers to who, what, when, why and how across the DevOps lifecycle. This impacts the ability to deliver high quality software at the needed velocity to drive positive business outcomes. In his general session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Phil Hombledal, Solution Architect at CollabNet, discussed how customers are able to achieve a level of transparency that e...
Much of the value of DevOps comes from a (renewed) focus on measurement, sharing, and continuous feedback loops. In increasingly complex DevOps workflows and environments, and especially in larger, regulated, or more crystallized organizations, these core concepts become even more critical. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 18th Cloud Expo, Andi Mann, Chief Technology Advocate at Splunk, showed how, by focusing on 'metrics that matter,' you can provide objective, transparent, and meaningful f...
Between 2005 and 2020, data volumes will grow by a factor of 300 – enough data to stack CDs from the earth to the moon 162 times. This has come to be known as the ‘big data’ phenomenon. Unfortunately, traditional approaches to handling, storing and analyzing data aren’t adequate at this scale: they’re too costly, slow and physically cumbersome to keep up. Fortunately, in response a new breed of technology has emerged that is cheaper, faster and more scalable. Yet, in meeting these new needs they...
@DevOpsSummit taking place June 6-8, 2017 at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Logs are continuous digital records of events generated by all components of your software stack – and they’re everywhere – your networks, servers, applications, containers and cloud infrastructure just to name a few. The data logs provide are like an X-ray for your IT infrastructure. Without logs, this lack of visibility creates operational challenges for managing modern applications that drive today’s digital businesses.
Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more business becomes digital the more stakeholders are interested in this data including how it relates to business. Some of these people have never used a monitoring tool before. They have a question on their mind like “How is my application doing” but no id...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
In IT, we sometimes coin terms for things before we know exactly what they are and how they’ll be used. The resulting terms may capture a common set of aspirations and goals – as “cloud” did broadly for on-demand, self-service, and flexible computing. But such a term can also lump together diverse and even competing practices, technologies, and priorities to the point where important distinctions are glossed over and lost.
Keeping pace with advancements in software delivery processes and tooling is taxing even for the most proficient organizations. Point tools, platforms, open source and the increasing adoption of private and public cloud services requires strong engineering rigor – all in the face of developer demands to use the tools of choice. As Agile has settled in as a mainstream practice, now DevOps has emerged as the next wave to improve software delivery speed and output. To make DevOps work, organization...
In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Claude Remillard, Principal Program Manager in Developer Division at Microsoft, contrasted how his team used config as code and immutable patterns for continuous delivery of microservices and apps to the cloud. He showed how the immutable patterns helps developers do away with most of the complexity of config as code-enabling scenarios such as rollback, zero downtime upgrades with far greater simplicity. He also demoed building immutable pipelines in the cloud ...