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New SteelCentral probes deeper into application behavior

Riverbed upgrades SteelCentral with support for public cloud, containers and Skype for Business.

Riverbed Technology has beefed up its application performance monitoring software to allow companies to track application behavior more accurately across a host of settings, among them public clouds, platform as a  service, or PaaS, containerized environments and other virtualized infrastructures.

The latest iteration of Riverbed SteelCentral attempts to broaden the product's historical network and infrastructure focus to encompass a company's entire application framework -- from internal servers through external providers, said Julie Craig, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates Inc. (EMA), based in Boulder, Colo.

Tracking application behavior a 'hot topic'

"Application performance management is a hot topic right now, and for a number of reasons; people are becoming aware that they need some way to monitor not just the servers, but also the horizontal big picture of what the application is doing [throughout the network]. Riverbed is positioned very well to manage the cloud," she said.

Application performance management is a hot topic right now.
Julie Craiganalyst, Enterprise Management Associates

Container and PaaS support is a particular plus, Craig said. As the use of containers continues to gain traction, tools that can review container processing are becoming more critical. PaaS offerings frequently use containers as a way to package microservices and applications.

At the same time, enterprises continue to shift more of their applications to public cloud providers. Cloud revenues, estimated at $70 billion last year, are expected to double to $140 billion by 2019, according to IDC.

As more cloud-delivered applications deploy throughout the enterprise, IT finds it more difficult to track application behavior. That's because the applications themselves -- incorporating multiple third-party elements and complex back ends that all must work in sync -- have become more complex.

"We're trying to make it a lot easier for people -- both on the APM side, as well as on the network configuration management side -- to quickly identify and resolve application performance problems," said Erik Hille, director of product marketing at San Francisco-based Riverbed. "From an IT perspective, we're offering improved monitoring across cloud technologies, better communications, and faster troubleshooting and resolution. This will let IT focus on strategic initiatives, rather than firefighting."

Probing application, network behavior

SteelCentral analyzes application behavior through lightweight agents that probe myriad networking devices and software programs, among them routers, switches, databases, Web servers and application servers. The new release features upgrades across a number of SteelCentral components, including AppInternals, NetProfiler, Portal and UCExpert, Hille said.

Application behavior and performance is tabulated by a reporting layer that records transactions throughout a company's infrastructure. Riverbed retooled the reporting tool in the most recent release by designing a new application performance graph that makes it easier for managers to determine where performance issues are occurring, regardless of where the applications are hosted.

In addition to providing a simpler performance graph, SteelCentral now integrates more closely with Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, the leading public cloud providers. Previous versions of SteelCentral relied on virtualized instances of AppInternals instead of direct hooks into Azure and AWS. The software also now works with Microsoft's Skype for Business, reflecting increased enterprise adoption of the unified communications program.

The enhancements will help IT managers unearth application performance problems as they dig through the mountain of network transaction data generated every day, Craig said. "In the end, the network will be the Rosetta Stone," illuminating issues that affect both network and application behavior, she said. "Enterprises need tools that track each one, and that is the sweet spot that Riverbed occupies."

Next Steps

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Understanding APM and its role in the enterprise

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Dig Deeper on Network application performance

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How challenging is it to get good statistics that measure application performance?
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In my opinion, fairly difficult. Performance metric needs can vary greatly based on the type of application and how critical the job its performing is. Our most useful performance metrics were created by a script, implemented as a scheduled task, that runs queries, builds a report and emails it. 
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Thanks for the comment. Gathering accurate performance statistics has become an important challenge.
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