Weblogic Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Michael Meiner, Michael Bushong, Avi Rosenthal

Related Topics: Weblogic

Weblogic: Article

Design for Production Meets the Application Delivery Process

Lessons from the world of manufacturing

An anecdote that an engineer shared with me recently reminded me of a long-standing concept in manufacturing, design for production (DFP).

The concept has to do with evaluating how a given operation - production line, supply chain, or an entire factory - is performing. DFP ratings are supposed to help product development teams pinpoint bottlenecks and decide what steps might be needed to raise productivity and profitability. DSP isn't something you hear very often in the application delivery space, but it is interesting to imagine what criteria would provide a holistic assessment of how the application life cycle is working, and help determine what tools or processes might improve the process.

The anecdote concerned a large shipping/logistics company, where the engineer had been involved in the final delivery of new and re-worked WebLogic applications to production. The company had a farm of 600 Linux machines, and his role was to automate new WebLogic deployments as much as possible and troubleshoot any issues that arose. The automation portion of the job was fairly routine: back up the config.xml, stop the admin server, zero out the file, regenerate a new config.xml for use as a template on a bare bones administrative server install, and finish by restarting the server and configuring all of the components necessary to run the clusters in a given domain. Due to the existence of all those hosts, the need to constantly revise the scripts to automate new WebLogic deployments was no trivial job; however, the main challenges he faced were always on the troubleshooting side.

One day he received a page around 6:30 p.m. and returned to the office to find that one of the company's primary shipping acknowledgement systems had completely crashed. The fact that it happened late in the evening was helpful from a severity standpoint, but going over the entire infrastructure stack line-by-line, hunting for configuration errors, made for a very long evening - and represented a task he had encountered many times previously. What was the issue? One of the engineers working on a major upgrade to the application went in and accidentally modified loads of configurations on the wrong host. He applied the changes to production instead of staging. It's easy to see what happened - the standard way for developers to compare their staging environment to production is to bring up two administration consoles side-by-side, and scan line-by-line for discrepancies. While reviewing the settings, this developer simply got confused and made his edits in the wrong browser window.

It is an easy mistake to make. The only way to tell the browser windows apart is to look up at the host names of the preproduction and production machines at the top. This is the kind of problem that often is easily dismissed with, "Sorry, I messed up," until the loss of revenue and business impact results in a painful escalation. The fact - and often the challenge - remains that developers have to access real-time production settings. Even if access were barred to live servers, errors such as this are common, even in IT. Who hasn't heard of "fat fingering" while manually updating configuration settings in production? (see Figure 1)

All this leads me to muse about what sort of criteria might be useful to assess the comparative health of an application delivery system, similar to "design for production" standards. My goal is to help managers assess weaknesses in the overall application delivery chain, and provide areas to target as they go about the work of implementing improvements. Here are five areas for consideration at a high level:

  1. How good are you at centralizing all of your configuration artifacts? In my own experience, this is an extremely tall order. The design of a repository is not so difficult, but the actual will to stick to using it on an ongoing basis is next to impossible. Configuration artifacts come from all over the stack - Web servers, application servers, clusters, middleware, LDAP servers, databases. You might be able to assemble everything into a single place for a week or so, but how do you make the metadata usable? For this you need some sort of UI that can expose the settings in a normalized way, thereby allowing the Database administrator, the System administrator, the WebLogic administrator, etc., to make sense of the configuration metadata and feel comfortable using it themselves.
  2. How well can you gauge what has changed as an application progresses across the life cycle? This includes detecting out-of-band changes to running application configurations, and monitoring the steady stream of changes that occur along the application's path to production. By enhancing the ability to compare environments up and down the infrastructure stack - and determining good and bad changes when an application moves from QA out to the staging environment - companies can gain more confidence when it comes time to unleash a new application on the production environment. More often than not, the inability to model the impact of changes before committing them to production leads IT to simply implement the change and "watch for smoke" - which has always struck me as a pretty risky way to run a business.
  3. The third set of criteria that I think would be valuable in a DFP assessment - and one that consistently comes up among managers of IT infrastructure - is the extent to which standards are defined and enforced around changes to the IT infrastructure stack. Standards have a general appeal, especially now that change management and reporting have become such hot topics. However enforcing standards around changes to the IT infrastructure stack represents more than just trying to set up a common way of reviewing or reporting on the changes. It requires setting a reliable, consistent process for how to make changes, and ideally, a set of rules that declare which changes are considered valid or invalid. If applied effectively, standards can be enormously useful in helping streamline tasks, as they establish procedures for reusing processes that are known to work. In the long run, standards also lay the foundation for a much-desired state within IT - true automation of time-consuming tasks and processes.
  4. The fourth DFP yardstick, in my opinion, should be evaluating how well the organization eliminates wasted effort. This is an area that probably has the biggest impact on the bottom line, and seems quite hard to remedy. I have a hypothesis about why this is so: it's the "blow up the data center" mentality. For reasons I've never been clear about, architects and other senior IT people seem to always conclude the worst about how inefficient business areas need to be addressed. "Our processes are so inefficient, we should just start over" is often the response. It is of course optimistic to plan to solve these problems in one big push, but it just doesn't seem realistic to me. Instead of ripping everything apart and rebuilding, how about defining a solution that solves 80 percent of the pain, and trying to execute on that as a starting point? One way to begin is to look across silos of responsibility and identify tasks that are constantly being repeated. By addressing these repetitive tasks, managers can increase application quality and throughput, and also lay the groundwork for further savings through automation.
  5. My final candidate for judging an organization's DFP state of health has to do with relative consistency. In a real-world environment of hot-fixes, patches, upgrades, and new releases, the IT infrastructure team is typically very hard-pressed to combat configuration "drift." It is commonly accepted that as a particular server in one area of the staging environment or the data center undergoes a series of consecutive changes, it will naturally drift out of alignment with the proper standard or policy. To make a lasting impact on the overall health of the application delivery process and achieve a high level of consistency and reliability across all stages of the application life cycle - from development, QA, stress/performance testing, to staging and production - the life-cycle environments have to remain in sync and be verifiable within the correct constraints set up by the IT department.
The anecdote related by the engineer that prompted this line of thought wasn't unusual. It was merely a symptom of an IT infrastructure approach that is significantly handicapped. In order to push higher-quality applications out faster, IT has to expose the underlying configuration settings that power the infrastructure stack in a transparent way, and provide the right degree of access to these same artifacts across teams of stakeholders who are not in a position to share this type of access today. The WebLogic administration console is very well suited to managing configuration changes to the application server layer, but it cannot single-handedly automate repetitive processes across the entire application life cycle. Handling that burden requires introducing tools and technologies capable of normalizing metadata from a broad range of target systems and allowing individual administrators to manage the data more efficiently.

Once new approaches to standards are implemented and repetitive tasks have been rolled into automated actions, it is reasonable to expect that IT will have a solid foundation from which to easily push out new applications as fast as developers can deliver them. The point is not that mistakes should never happen in a highly automated IT organization; rather, the best way to guard against human error is to put in place a system of checks and balances that can take into account the broad base of specialized, granular system knowledge that exists across the entire application life cycle. In agreeing on such a foundation, it is vitally important to apply the same policies across the entire IT infrastructure, from development to QA to staging and out to production. In this way, the foundation for automation is laid far in advance of the production environment, and the whole application delivery mechanism improves steadily over time. After all, just as in a manufacturing line, the IT infrastructure stack is never better than the sum of its parts, and when one silo of technology gets something wrong, the entire value chain suffers.

More Stories By Raman Sud

Raman Sud is the vice president of engineering for mValent, developer of mValent Integrity. Sud has 20 years of experience delivering mission-critical software for enterprises and telecommunication service providers leveraging distributed development and building integrated teams in the US and India.

Comments (1) View Comments

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.

Most Recent Comments
SYS-CON Brazil News Desk 01/30/06 07:18:04 PM EST

An anecdote that an engineer shared with me recently reminded me of a long-standing concept in manufacturing, design for production (DFP). The concept has to do with evaluating how a given operation - production line, supply chain, or an entire factory - is performing.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Taica will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Taica manufacturers Alpha-GEL brand silicone components and materials, which maintain outstanding performance over a wide temperature range -40C to +200C. For more information, visit http://www.taica.co.jp/english/.
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities – ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups. As a result, many firms employ new business models that place enormous impor...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SourceForge has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SourceForge is the largest, most trusted destination for Open Source Software development, collaboration, discovery and download on the web serving over 32 million viewers, 150 million downloads and over 460,000 active development projects each and every month.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dasher Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dasher Technologies, Inc. ® is a premier IT solution provider that delivers expert technical resources along with trusted account executives to architect and deliver complete IT solutions and services to help our clients execute their goals, plans and objectives. Since 1999, we'v...
As popularity of the smart home is growing and continues to go mainstream, technological factors play a greater role. The IoT protocol houses the interoperability battery consumption, security, and configuration of a smart home device, and it can be difficult for companies to choose the right kind for their product. For both DIY and professionally installed smart homes, developers need to consider each of these elements for their product to be successful in the market and current smart homes.
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale, a leading provider of systems and services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale has been involved in shaping the computing landscape. They've designed, developed and deployed some of the most important and successful systems and services in the history of the computing industry - internet, Ethernet, operating s...
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, will discuss how from store operations...
In a recent survey, Sumo Logic surveyed 1,500 customers who employ cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). According to the survey, a quarter of the respondents have already deployed Docker containers and nearly as many (23 percent) are employing the AWS Lambda serverless computing framework. It’s clear: serverless is here to stay. The adoption does come with some needed changes, within both application development and operations. Tha...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, will lead you through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He'll look at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering ...
Infoblox delivers Actionable Network Intelligence to enterprise, government, and service provider customers around the world. They are the industry leader in DNS, DHCP, and IP address management, the category known as DDI. We empower thousands of organizations to control and secure their networks from the core-enabling them to increase efficiency and visibility, improve customer service, and meet compliance requirements.
Join IBM November 1 at 21st Cloud Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, and learn how IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Cognitive analysis impacts today’s systems with unparalleled ability that were previously available only to manned, back-end operations. Thanks to cloud processing, IBM Watson can bring cognitive services and AI to intelligent, unmanned systems. Imagine a robot vacuum that becomes your personal assistant tha...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend 21st Cloud Expo October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, and June 12-14, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, will discuss how they b...
SYS-CON Events announced today that mruby Forum will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. mruby is the lightweight implementation of the Ruby language. We introduce mruby and the mruby IoT framework that enhances development productivity. For more information, visit http://forum.mruby.org/.
Digital transformation is changing the face of business. The IDC predicts that enterprises will commit to a massive new scale of digital transformation, to stake out leadership positions in the "digital transformation economy." Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, Oct 31-Nov 2, will find fresh new content in a new track called Enterprise Cloud & Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that NetApp has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. NetApp is the data authority for hybrid cloud. NetApp provides a full range of hybrid cloud data services that simplify management of applications and data across cloud and on-premises environments to accelerate digital transformation. Together with their partners, NetApp emp...