Application services are a set of interconnected services such as load balancing, performance monitoring, security, proxy, and service discovery, required to deploy, run, and manage applications.
Load balancing refers to the distribution of application traffic across server pools in a way that improves application delivery speed, server performance, and application availability. Load balancers (the device that performs load balancing) can be both hardware-based and software-based. Load balancers that distribute traffic based on the geography of the request are called Global Service Load Balancers, and help reduce latency by directing traffic to servers or other load balancers closest to the origin of the request. A new breed of load balancers, called Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs), perform additional functions such as SSL offloading, data compression, and caching, other than load balancing.
DNS translates queries entered by humans (such as appviewx.com) into a machine-readable IP address. It works like a phonebook, mapping domain names to IP addresses. DNS is sometimes expanded as Domain Name Server; however, rather than a single server, Domain Name System is a network of interconnected servers, each of which performs a particular step in domain name resolution. In the example appviewx.com, the request is received by a Recursive DNS Resolver. It searches its cache for the IP address – if it finds the record, it returns it to the client, else it forwards the request to a Root nameserver, which directs it to a TLD server. The TLD server resolves the Top Level Domain (.com) and directs the DNS resolver to the Authoritative Nameserver, which returns the IP address of the domain (appviewx.com) to the DNS resolver. The DNS resolver sends the IP address to the client, which then contacts the web server at that IP address to fetch the application.
WAFs are the first line of defense for applications against attacks over the internet. WAFs monitor and filter HTTP/S traffic to the web application from the internet based on a set of policies or rules that are configured on it. They prevent malicious traffic and protect applications from a variety of application-layer attacks such as cross-site forgery, cross-site scripting, SQL injection, etc. WAF functions as a reverse-proxy by sitting in front of the web servers and forcing traffic from the client to the server to pass through it.
Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools ensure applications meet performance standards and deliver value to the end-user. They collect data on performance metrics such as resource utilization, error rate, response time, availability, user satisfaction, etc., and provide administrators and engineers with the insights required to detect and resolve issues. APM tools help application administrators reduce MTTR and meet SLAs.
Service discovery is the process of automatically discovering devices and services (server pools, firewall, vault, etc.) in a network that an application can connect to and use. The service and endpoint locations are stored in a database called Service Registry, which is updated as and when services are added or terminated. The applications discover and connect to these services through REST APIs. Service discovery eliminates the need to set up new configurations each time an application needs to access a service. Service discovery is especially useful in multi-cloud and microservices architectures, where network locations of services change dynamically.
The process of configuring, automating, and orchestrating the above application services is called application service management. Application service management is traditionally done by Application Service Providers (APS), who provide full-stack applications to end-users and also manage them at a fixed cost. These days, most organizations either have their own data centers and in-house NetOps teams, or host their applications on private, public, or hybrid clouds, with the cloud provider’s team managing the network and application services in the latter two.
Application service orchestration involves automating the way applications connect to and consume these services, with minimal manual intervention. It stitches these services together and provides a single service environment for the applications to consume. This way, network engineers and operations teams do not need to configure each service separately during application changes (new application deployment, updates, or scaling-up/down resources for traffic management). Application service orchestration significantly reduces configuration errors and service request processing times and improves application performance and availability.
Tools that orchestrate application services are vendor-agnostic and operate across on-premise, hybrid, and multi-cloud deployments. Integration with ITSM tools is a must-have for continuity of operations and mapping with the overall business process. Orchestration tools also provide a level of self-servicing for application teams to manipulate the services that their applications consume, with appropriate role-based access controls. They also function as an APM tool themselves, performing troubleshooting and incident management.
Application services in the cloud and microservice architectures are highly virtualized and dynamic, and they come with their own management platforms. While they’re ideal for born-in-the-cloud greenfield deployments, brownfield deployments that still have some legacy network components need tools that bridge the divide between the old and the new deployments. Application service orchestration tools come to the rescue here – being environment-agnostic, they operate both on-premise and on cloud/microservices, and ensure application performance and availability don’t take a hit. They also help in the automatic migration of applications and service configurations from on-premise to cloud, eradicating the need to script from scratch.
Another important aspect of cloud and microservices is the sheer number of moving parts that these two deployments involve, from services to toolchains. This is where governance comes in. Service orchestration tools should ensure standardization of processes across systems and check for deviations from the IT policy. Governance involves detecting and rectifying configuration drifts, which the tool automates.
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