Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Darren Anstee, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, James Pathman

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - comp...
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lea...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long dev...
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, will compare the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, e...
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
What are the new priorities for the connected business? First: businesses need to think differently about the types of connections they will need to make – these span well beyond the traditional app to app into more modern forms of integration including SaaS integrations, mobile integrations, APIs, device integration and Big Data integration. It’s important these are unified together vs. doing them all piecemeal. Second, these types of connections need to be simple to design, adapt and configure...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CDS Global Cloud, an Infrastructure as a Service provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CDS Global Cloud is an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider specializing in solutions for e-commerce, internet gaming, online education and other internet applications. With a growing number of data centers and network points around the world, ...
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...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
Major trends and emerging technologies – from virtual reality and IoT, to Big Data and algorithms – are helping organizations innovate in the digital era. However, to create real business value, IT must think beyond the ‘what’ of digital transformation to the ‘how’ to harness emerging trends, innovation and disruption. Architecture is the key that underpins and ties all these efforts together. In the digital age, it’s important to invest in architecture, extend the enterprise footprint to the cl...
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate a...
Internet of @ThingsExpo has announced today that Chris Matthieu has been named tech chair of Internet of @ThingsExpo 2016 Silicon Valley. The 6thInternet of @ThingsExpo will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, wh...
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
Technology vendors and analysts are eager to paint a rosy picture of how wonderful IoT is and why your deployment will be great with the use of their products and services. While it is easy to showcase successful IoT solutions, identifying IoT systems that missed the mark or failed can often provide more in the way of key lessons learned. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Peter Vanderminden, Principal Industry Analyst for IoT & Digital Supply Chain to Flatiron Strategies, will focus on how IoT de...
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...