Application performance monitoring firm targets cloud computing

Nimsoft's new application performance monitoring software extends monitoring to the cloud and offers an alternative to the costly Big Four systems management tool providers.

With its new application performance monitoring software, Nimsoft has taken aim at the Big Four systems management technology providers. Nimsoft's offering lets users quickly close the monitoring divide between the internal data center and cloud computing environments.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Nimsoft Inc. says its new Unified Monitoring offering is designed for the growing number of IT organizations that want a streamlined and relatively low-cost way to extend basic monitoring and historical reporting capabilities from internal data center environments to hosted, cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS)-based applications.

The new feature set enables users to monitor the performance and availability of various cloud platforms, including Google Apps for Business, Rackspace Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Elastic Compute Cloud (or EC2),, and other services. By understanding status and response time, users can determine whether outsourced platforms and applications meet their service delivery commitments.

Monitoring a changing virtual environment 
Nimsoft -- which currently has about 900 customers running its flagship Nimsoft Monitoring Solution (NMS) -- offers customers a flexible and easier-to-deploy alternative without the "bells and whistles" of the Big Four systems management tools.

Nimsoft's approach to application performance monitoring resonated with Dave Potter, the director of IT infrastructure at clothing retailer Casual Male.

Potter explained that Casual Male boasts 500 retail stores and a significant Web presence. The firm's entire IT infrastructure is hosted internally in one building that also includes a clothing warehouse. The company's IT architecture consists of about 200 VMware-based virtual servers running on about 70 physical servers.

"The goal for the past two years has been to take anything physical we possible can and put it into a virtual environment for cost savings and disaster recovery," Potter said. "The challenge was monitoring the environment in real time and, especially during the holiday season, having the performance data from last month or last year for comparison. We're constantly changing the reporting metrics."

To achieve its virtualization goals, Casual Male knew it would have to invest in a new monitoring system and the company began evaluating prospects which included HP, with its Insight Manager, and SolarWinds, a smaller monitoring software vendor.

For quite some time, the company had used HP Insight Manager because the monitoring software shipped with the many HP servers that Casual Male owns. Potter said the software is very good at providing metrics on the server itself, which is what it's designed to do.

"But when you start to reduce physical servers, that is not the only thing you need to know about anymore," Potter said. "So HP Insight wasn't really an option going forward once we decided to virtualize."

Potter said SolarWinds just didn't live up to expectations.

"They couldn't do what they said they could do once we got into testing unless we built our own add-ons," he explained. "I can't take the time to go in and customize and start building my own application to go on top of [SolarWinds'] application."

Ultimately, Potter and his IT crew settled on NMS because it was "easy to deploy" and it provided complete support for Casual Male's virtualized VMware infrastructure. Potter said Casual Male is now considering all options as it evolves its IT infrastructure, and the company may well add Nimsoft's cloud monitoring capabilities to its IT management arsenal if it takes advantage of cloud or SaaS-based environments in the future.

Potter said he was also drawn to the fact that Nimsoft is much lower cost than similar systems from the Big Four.

"Monitoring software is very expensive not only in the cost of the product, but the cost of the time to research [and deploy] it," he said. "But with Nimsoft, pretty much everything I need is all in one package, [and] I'm not buying four different products to do four different tasks. I'm buying one product and expanding on it."

Potter said he particularly likes Nimsoft's customizable dashboards because they allow him to ensure that online customers do not suffer from service degradations, particularly during the holidays, when online traffic spikes substantially.

"I can monitor anything from network utilization to throughput for Web servers to throughput for application servers, and the engineers can put together the dashboards sometimes right in front of me," he said. "It's very flexible, and I can get any information I want. What you view on your dashboards is what you choose to view."

Different application performance monitoring approaches
Nimsoft hopes to strike a chord with IT professionals who are fed up with the time and expense related to implementing Big Four performance monitoring systems, according to Evelyn Hubbert, a senior IT infrastructure and operations analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

"The Big Four solutions are very heavy, and they include lots of agents and lots of instrumentation," Hubbert said. "Some [IT professionals] are really sick of these huge implementations, which they have to maintain and manage and integrate. I think this is where Nimsoft is going after the competition."

Hubbert said that Nimsoft doesn't provide all the luxuries of a Big Four-type system, and once Nimsoft is up and running, there's still monitoring work that administrators need to do behind the scenes.

"There is the need to deep-dive and troubleshoot and correlate and all that, but at the level of the data center – at the level of the virtualization -- I think [Nimsoft provides] plenty of an indicators as to how healthy the IT infrastructure is," Hubbert said. "I think a problem with IT today is that sometimes we think we need to have all of the bells and whistles."

Nimsoft's offering has encountered some hurdles, however, in cracking the inner workings of cloud providers.

"Some cloud providers [such as] Amazon and and make that quite easy," said Nimsoft CEO Gary Read. You can fire up an instance and ask for that instance to have Nimsoft running on it and collecting your own specific data. But the SaaS providers have not typically been quite as transparent with the performance of their applications, and in fact they get a little bit shy about it. So we believe that as the SaaS market continues to mature, transparency about the performance and about the service delivery will become a greater and greater requirement from customers."

Nimsoft differs from its competition -- SolarWinds, Quest Software Inc. and Phurnace Software Inc. -- because those vendors take different approaches to performance management. According to Hubbert, Phurnace and Quest focus on the performance of the application from the .NET and J2EE perspective, whereas Quest focuses on the technology "islands" underneath the application, such as the virtualization environment and operating system.

Compuware, another Nimsoft's competitor, takes a business service management-type approach to monitoring software. Hubbert said that its main focus is helping organizations identify, monitor and manage applications that support specific business services, as well as the infrastructure pieces -- app servers, Web servers and database servers, etc. -- which support those applications.

"[Compuware] is managing it from the top down," Hubbert said. "Nimsoft does a bottom-up approach. And there is a need for that, too."

Mark Brunelli is a Contributor to 

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