API Journal Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, William Schmarzo, Pat Romanski

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.

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
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
If you had a chance to enter on the ground level of the largest e-commerce market in the world – would you? China is the world’s most populated country with the second largest economy and the world’s fastest growing market. It is estimated that by 2018 the Chinese market will be reaching over $30 billion in gaming revenue alone. Admittedly for a foreign company, doing business in China can be challenging. Often changing laws, administrative regulations and the often inscrutable Chinese Interne...
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
SYS-CON Events announced today that Streamlyzer 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. Streamlyzer is a powerful analytics for video streaming service that enables video streaming providers to monitor and analyze QoE (Quality-of-Experience) from end-user devices in real time.
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems 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. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.
One of biggest questions about Big Data is “How do we harness all that information for business use quickly and effectively?” Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or spatial technology is about more than making maps, but adding critical context and meaning to data of all types, coming from all different channels – even sensors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, William (Bill) Meehan, director of utility solutions for Esri, will take a closer look at the current state of spatial technology and ar...
Cloud based infrastructure deployment is becoming more and more appealing to customers, from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs due to its pay-as-you-go model. Enterprise storage vendors are able to reach out to these customers by integrating in cloud based deployments; this needs adaptability and interoperability of the products confirming to cloud standards such as OpenStack, CloudStack, or Azure. As compared to off the shelf commodity storage, enterprise storages by its reliability, high-availabil...
The IoT industry is now at a crossroads, between the fast-paced innovation of technologies and the pending mass adoption by global enterprises. The complexity of combining rapidly evolving technologies and the need to establish practices for market acceleration pose a strong challenge to global enterprises as well as IoT vendors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Clark Smith, senior product manager for Numerex, will discuss how Numerex, as an experienced, established IoT provider, has embraced a ...
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
In the next forty months – just over three years – businesses will undergo extraordinary changes. The exponential growth of digitization and machine learning will see a step function change in how businesses create value, satisfy customers, and outperform their competition. In the next forty months companies will take the actions that will see them get to the next level of the game called Capitalism. Or they won’t – game over. The winners of today and tomorrow think differently, follow different...
“Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CloudBerry Backup is a leading cross-platform cloud backup and disaster recovery solution integrated with major public cloud services, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
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 ...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions 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. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, will demonstrate how to move beyond today's coding paradigm ...
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walk you through how Oct...
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue an...
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.