Common Business Challenges in ADC Management and How to Tackle Them


Introduction

For more than a decade, organizations have been utilizing application delivery controllers (ADCs) to improve the availability, security and overall performance of applications. In today’s world of application-driven businesses, a lot more can go wrong when an application is compromised.

In fact, a single application outage can cause millions of dollars and expose enterprises to significant reputational risk.

As a business grows, their NetOps team faces real difficulties in delivering ADC services, especially when they’re forced to address hundreds of service requests every week while also keeping management costs down. NetOps are coming to conclude that automation is the key to reducing delays in application delivery.

Improperly managed ADC services pose a huge risk to any organization.

Too often, organizations tend to ignore the problem until it is too late.

Simple errors in the ADC management process can cause problems like application downtime, delayed delivery, and extra overhead costs. When one combines this level of complexity with widespread distribution of ADC workloads across multiple teams, it becomes clear that ADC management is a challenge businesses must address both quickly and efficiently.

This white paper examines the five common challenges, the best practices and the solutions associated with ADC management and automation tools. When used to their full capacity, these tools can help NetOps build the most agile application delivery infrastructure possible.

Challenge #1: Managing Dynamic Change Requests

Organizations in all industries – particularly financial services, retail, and communications – are increasingly dependent upon ADC services to meet their business objectives. The advent of online business transactions has made ADCs into critical business components when it comes to ensuring minimal application downtime.

ADC infrastructure is extremely dynamic, and as a business grows, change must be made to the ADC to accommodate the new requirements that come with this growth. The changes can be simple operations like server rotation or the modification of an existing ADC configuration. Or, the changes can be more complex, like those seen with the creation of brand-new configurations, hardware replacements or version upgrades. Changes in general, whether to ADCs, firewalls, routers, applications or any other part of the IT infrastructure, are the single greatest cause of outages. If change is not effectively managed, it presents a serious risk to business continuity.

As customer expectations and demands rise, NetOps teams are focusing on IT service-quality improvement and achieving higher levels of availability. By re-examining processes and procedures – particularly in the area of change management, teams are starting to address outages and that often occur due to changes to the network.

Manual and other traditional methods of delivering ADC services are often primary causes of the problems and delays associated with ADC change management, ultimately resulting in piles of unfilled service requests. Some of the other key contributors are:

Lack of time: Time is the scarcest resource in IT. Most of the service requests are time-bound and manual methods are time-consuming. NetOps oscillate between delivering services on time and delivering services efficiently.

ADC complexity: The sheer complexity of any given ADC infrastructure can lead to a lot of mistakes, especially when it comes to multiple ADCs. Complexity is the enemy of agility, and you need to do whatever it takes to simplify your ADC environment and your management processes.

Impact of ADC changes: Not analyzing and thinking through how even the smallest ADC changes are going to impact the network environment can have dramatic effects. Without detailed analysis, you might not know which applications may go down. Research says manual errors are the major cause for outages. Post-validation is a mandatory step in traditional approaches to ensuring efficient configuration change.

IT processes: ADC change management requires detailed and concise steps that everyone must follow when changes are needed and the workload is spread across multiple teams. To simply enable or disable an SLB object, the application team must initiate multiple requests, and taking a manual approach is both labor-intensive repetitive.

The Solution:

No matter the circumstance, automation is the go-to-solution for addressing the current limitations of more traditional, manual approaches to ADC management. If ADC changes are automated properly, most of the challenges to application delivery no longer apply. You will not only build an agile infrastructure, but you will allow IT to serve its purpose by actually supporting business-driven application delivery.

To set your team up for success, you must arm them with the best tools available. In order to most efficiently manage ADC changes, it’s critical to standardize ADC deployment models and processes using automation tools that can:

  • Create and assign workflows to the multiple teams charged with addressing ADC configuration changes.
  • Automate various ADC deployment scenarios to yield quicker response times.
  • Create configuration deployment templates that can be reused to respond to the most common requests.
  • Provide complete visibility of your application delivery infrastructure.

By utilizing integrated third-party ADC automation tools to test various scenarios prior to production, NetOps can most effectively meet an enterprises’ needs quickly and accurately.

Challenge #2: Lack of Collaboration and Need for Self-Servicing IT

When application teams encounter business needs, they delegate tasks to multiple teams. Whether they are deploying a new application, creating a virtual server, allocating free IP, or adding a firewall rule, several teams may be involved in a single workflow.

This presents a new challenge: lengthy resolution times due to lack of collaboration across application teams. With hundreds of requests assigned to NetOps every week, it can take weeks – or even months – to address more complex requests, like application deployment.

NetOps professionals are always trying to think of new ways to address this challenge as nearly everything they do ultimately affect the business itself. Even the most experienced network administrators can make mistakes, so NetOps are traditionally extremely cautious when it comes to change requests. In this age of digitalization, delays are not acceptable, but security can’t suffer in the name of speed and agility either. As a result, ADC management efficiency suffers.

The Solution:

As DevOps becomes more mainstream, a broader team is now involved in managing ADC services. However, it is crucial that this larger team work collaboratively to achieve true IT agility. The popularity of enterprise chat applications has given way to a new phenomenon known as ChatOps, which is the result of these new messaging systems being used to automate operational tasks. The same concept applies when addressing ADC deployment requests.

The best approach to cohesively bringing multiple teams together is to utilize an ADC management solution that provides role-based access control. These same advanced ADC management tools also provide centralized control of your complex ADC delivery infrastructure, enabling self-serving capabilities to applications teams. With defined roles, workflows and approvals are done seamlessly through a single window.

Combining your organizational needs with the right automation tools allows NetOps to address ADC change requests proactively, rather than waiting weeks to resolve them.

Challenge #3: Frequent Backup and Upgrade Requests

Keeping up with consistent network change requests and managing these configuration changes on hundreds of ADCs at many locations poses an obvious challenge for NetOps. And, routine tasks aside, if managed inefficiently, taking backups and upgrading devices can consume nearly all of NetOps valuable time and resources.

Backup: With so many ADC changes happening all the time, the margin for error increases leaving room for outages and downtime. Unfortunately, managing the backups used to respond to these outages is much easier said than done. In fact, this process can be just as challenging as processing a critical service request.

Configuration backup methods usually include a combination of utilities, scripts, and manual tasks, all of which are prone to errors. With this traditional approach, archives are unorganized and difficult to search for, making it hard to locate the most current configuration backup.

Upgrade: Vendors release new, upgraded versions of devices to tackle both availability and agility issues. With the complexity of ADC infrastructure in mind, NetOps knows that a lot of preparation, coordination, and risk is involved in version migration. Each ADC may be handling multiple applications owned by different business units with distinct priorities. A manual approach to this migration is not only cumbersome but error-prone.

The Solution:

The importance of backing up ADC device configurations is not lost on network administrators. When a device fails or someone destroys a configuration, you can simply restore the last working one. It is important to back up both starting and running configuration files on ADC devices because ADC device configurations change all the time due to rising numbers of service requests. Unfortunately though, backups can fail due to network changes or service outages, which may result in not having a backup file when needed.

Related Articles:   All You Need to Know about ADC Management

The right automation tool solves this by managing backups on an on-demand or regularly scheduled basis, saving you time and effort. By saving an inventory of device backups, this tool helps to store configuration data centrally, enabling quick and easy searches.

With these ADC management and automation tools, you can plan your ADC version upgrade well in advance. You can create workflows to automate the entire step-by-step process, seamlessly migrating either bulk configurations or individual configurations.

These ADC management and automation tools minimize downtime by providing simple solutions to managing your backups and upgrades.

Challenge #4: Optimizing ADC Configurations

Maintaining a clean set of configurations is one of the most important ADC management functions. In many enterprises, it is common for 10 to 20 percent of ADC configurations to go unknowingly unused. Unlike firewall optimization, load balancer optimization is less likely to be a priority for NetOps. This oversight contributes to overhead associated with configuration maintenance, especially if cloud migrations or version updates are involved.

What is an unused ADC configuration?

A single server load balancer (SLB) object configuration or a whole set may not see any traffic for three months or more. However, many network teams continue to maintain these SLBs without even realizing they are going unused, wasting significant time and resources (IPs).

How it happens

Whenever network teams migrate something to a new environment or to the cloud, SLB objects can unintentionally be left behind. And, as soon as you direct DNS to new code (cloud or different environment), the old code is left untouched and unused. This can also occur when multiple teams are involved in the migration process or when the number of unused SLBs is too difficult manually. Given applications are now at the core of so many businesses, decommissioning SLB objects without proper impact analysis is simply too risky.

The Solution:

Just as ADC change management can be automated and standardized, so can ADC configuration management. The proper ADC management tools offer a comprehensive view of the entire infrastructure, allowing you to eliminate or optimize configurations accordingly, while also showing you the direct implications those actions. They can automate the entire process, eliminating the need for time-consuming and inaccurate manual checks. Other major benefits to optimizing load balancer or ADC configurations are:

  • Efficient allocation of IP resources. Unused IPs can be used elsewhere.
  • Reduced service costs
  • The elimination of unnecessary management and monitoring overhead resulting from unused SLB objects

Challenge #5: Knowing the State and Status of Applications

A key aspect of properly managing application delivery is having a clear view of your service infrastructure. The ability to see the application status at any point of time directly affects the success of your ADC management abilities.

Most enterprises cannot truly say they have a full and centralized view of their application infrastructure. Complexity is usually to blame. Maintaining an application-centric view is key to effectively troubleshooting outages. If you can’t take a detailed look at the status of your application during an outage, the entire NetOps team must scroll through hundreds – or even thousands – of lines of configurations to identify what went wrong. Businesses can’t afford this kind of costly downtime.

The Solution:

ADC management technology has matured to the point of offering NetOps with much more than just automation to prevent them from enduring costly outages. These advanced tools can offer full application visibility along with the controls needed properly implement them.

In-house solutions can become unwieldy when you have more than just a handful of ADCs to manage. When you’re working on enterprise scale deployments that include a mixture of ADC vendors, third-party ADC management tools can help control the process by offering greater insight into the inner workings of your ADC environment.

Using ADC management tools, NetOps teams maintain complete visibility of critical applications and their respective traffic flows to better understand how minor outages affect them. They will gain visibility into what the applications are, which ADC devices the applications are on, which services they need to access, what other dependencies the applications have, who owns the applications and so on. With complete application visibility, you can ensure essential applications are available and operating as they should be.

This approach helps to quickly identify which service is down and uncovers blind spots in the application network. It enables application teams to clearly communicate their needs, and network teams to troubleshoot outages quickly and with greater context and visibility. These tools can even generate out-of-the-box reports on device memory usage, CPU utilization, audit logs and a summary of the ADC changes made on an application. You can also trigger alerts based on custom conditions or perform other dynamic actions.

Take the Next Step: The AppViewX Way

By helping NetOps to overcome the most common ADC-related challenges, AppViewX solutions are uniquely suited to enable the successful management of dynamic and complex ADC infrastructure.

AppViewX’s Application Delivery Automation solution provides role-based management, automation, and orchestration of multi-vendor ADC environments that serve mode 1 and mode 2 applications across data centers. It offers state-of-the-art management capabilities that map to the needs of application owners, network engineers and network operations. It simplifies version upgrades and enables self-service capabilities for various lines of business.

The AppViewX Platform supports A10 Networks, Akamai, Amazon Web Services (ELB), Avi Networks, Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, F5 Networks, HAProxy, NGINX and Radware.

Key Benefits:

  • Manage, automate, and orchestrate ADC application services across geographically distributed environments
  • Start creating more agile application delivery by building a bimodal infrastructure
  • Increase operational efficiency by enabling seamless collaboration among cross-functional teams
  • Reduce manual configuration errors across the network by more than 70 percent
  • Increase visibility across the application delivery infrastructure
  • Reduce risk and ensure compliance with application-centric service alerting and
    centralized reporting
  • Upgrade seamlessly to the latest ADC versions and reduce average delivery time from
    days to minutes

Enable self-service and automate ADC service requests

The AppViewX Platform makes it easy to provision, maintain and decommission applications across data centers. It enables the self-service and automation of various ADC delivery requests in both brownfield and greenfield environments. It reduces manual touch points and eradicates the errors caused by manual intervention. It also accelerates application delivery through simple self-service forms and automated workflows, and it gives self-servicing capabilities to application teams.

Gain app-centric visibility to troubleshoot outages faster

The application topology view gives application and NetOps teams a comprehensive view into application infrastructure, allowing them to troubleshoot application-related issues faster. It also provides a network map of the ADC infrastructure with its complete hierarchy. They can perform backups, restore a configuration, view a configuration or view change and audit logs.

ADC infrastructure management from a single window

The AppViewX Platform provides a single window view of complex ADC infrastructure, supporting physical and virtual devices from the industry’s leading providers and open-sources solutions. It simplifies backup building and version migrations with minimum application downtime. It provides application-centric, customizable reports to help monitor utilization and enable efficient capacity planning for the ADCs. And, nodes can be dynamically provisioned based on custom-defined thresholds.

Control access and improve operational efficiency with RBAC

The AppViewX Platform applies granular access control to application objects, certificates and configuration templates. The solution makes it easy to control access and delegate tasks and integrates with external directory service systems such as AD, RADIUS, TACACS and LDAP. Roles can be easily created, changed, or discontinued per the needs of the organization.

Conclusion

The complexity of today’s networks directly correlates to the challenges facing our NetOps teams. There are more ADCs, more types of ADCs, and more devices that closely interact with them that all must be managed. As enterprises march into the future, they are going to require continued innovation by both vendors and by NetOps teams to ensure their ADC management processes remains effective.

While IT goals may vary from organization to organization and time over time, there are common ADC-related challenges that will remain. Understanding these challenges and their solutions will enable organizations to successfully build an agile environment.

Ensure you’re using the right ADC management and automation tools that will help you to achieve agility and provide value with little to no impact on the business. Try AppViewX today.

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