Wily Technology CTO Spotlights App Management Opportunity

Application management is becoming one of the hottest sectors in enterprise computing as IT organizations try to optimize their system and network resources. Wily Technology focuses exclusively on this space for Java-built applications. In an interview with Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Wily founder and CTO Lew Cirne explains why next-generation, component-based applications create a need for more sophisticated application management--in turn, opening up opportunities for solution providers.

CRN: Why does the industry need a company focused primarily on application management for Java environments?

CIRNE: We always believed that the challenges associated with keeping those types of systems up and running were going to be very significant and that they would require totally new products and methodologies because they are component-based. They introduce new levels of complexity and rates of change that demand a totally new systems management approach.

CRN: How does Wily's product work?

CIRNE: We have the ability to see inside a live Java application at a very high level of granularity and to see every transaction running through that application in realtime. That enables application support teams to detect and act on problems before they become outages, and that turns into substantial cost savings for our customers.

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It's all integrated at the class-loader level of the application. What that means is as the application starts up, you deploy our agent into that application server. The agent lets the application code then run in self-diagnostic mode. The tricky thing is being able to do that in a way that's totally nonintrusive. It's not trivial to get that visibility, but we do it with very low overhead so that they can run our agent within their production environment to see right down to the component level. In fact, many of our customers can't even tell the difference between a server running our agent and not running our agent.

CRN: In a world dominated by component-based application development models, why does this matter?

CIRNE: The benefit of J2EE is rapid application assembly. You really use components to build applications very rapidly. The downside of that is now you have component-based application assembly and, by definition, a lot of cooks in the kitchen. People build their own components that may be functionally correct and perform well in isolation. But when they interact with dozens of other components in a production environment, it's a totally different game. No matter how thorough your QA suite is, there will be problems that only show up in production. That's the side effect of this benefit of rapid, component-based application assembly.

CRN: How many applications can you look at?

CIRNE: We provide a collection server that is capable of looking at literally hundreds of Java Virtual Machines and hundreds of thousands of metrics. That server then presents that information via a set of customizable dashboards that allow our customers to look at the exact, right information they need to manage the application's performance and availability.

CRN: Beyond basic application management, where will you take Wily next?

CIRNE: First, we're going up the stack. Recently, we announced Wily Portal Manager. We see a lot of adoption of portal technology, which of course sits on top of J2EE. We introduced the first and only product specifically designed to manage your portal. It turns out that these systems are even more complex and require even more sophisticated management tools.

CRN: How will that information be applied to business performance management?

CIRNE: We actually are able to monitor the performance of Java components and present their performance in terms of the business functions they create. By using our software, our customers can look at the performance of their application in business terms based on the real transactions they are executing through the system. We help our IT application owners have a meaningful conversation with the line-of-business application owner about the service level of these business functions.

CRN: How does your approach to business process monitoring differ from other approaches?

CIRNE: Other approaches that monitor the availability and the application tend to be outside-in. For example, you could simulate a transaction from the outside that represents what a certain transaction looks like. But our customers find that's a rather risky way to rely on whether you have complete enough data to tell you if your application is healthy or in trouble. We start from the inside of the application and work outward--looking at average, real-user transactions on all the business functions of the application, not the ones that you decide to simulate. That way, we can detect potential problems anywhere in the application that could affect all the business functions that J2EE application might provide.

CRN: What impact will the emergence of composite applications that span multiple applications have on the application management space?

CIRNE: You're going to have finger-pointing not only across the room, but also across the globe. With technologies like Web services, an application may be interacting in realtime with third parties that are the cause of the problem. If I'm a large bank and have a realtime Web site that uses Web services to interact with a credit service, and if that credit service is slow, it impacts the bank's reputation with its customer. Having the ability to monitor that entire set of composite applications is going to be extremely important and valuable to our customers.

CRN: Why don't companies such as IBM and BEA Systems focus on that space?

CIRNE: If you look at it historically, you know that in the software industry there have been platform providers and there have been system management providers for those platforms. And, quite often, they've been different companies. The No. 1 reason for our success has been our focus. Other companies have tried to enter this space but find that they don't know how to adequately solve the problem. They come out with a product that either generates far too much overhead, doesn't provide the visibility the customer needs or doesn't present the information in a way the customer can act on. Companies that haven't grown up in this very space have a hard time morphing themselves into it.

CRN: Does Wily plan to add support for Microsoft .Net applications?

CIRNE: From what we can see, it has not reached a critical mass yet where it makes sense for us to invest in it. But our mission is to manage applications of that nature. If that includes Microsoft .Net, then we will play in that space.

CRN: How many solution provider partners does Wily have today?

CIRNE: We sell mostly direct. I think we have somewhere around 10 resellers, but it's growing. That will be something of significant focus for us in 2005, to help us rapidly attack markets in Europe and certain verticals throughout the United States.

CRN: So just how big of an opportunity is this space?

CIRNE: I recently spoke to a guy who reports to the CIO of a top-five global bank. He told me that every single enterprise application they have in the bank will be based on J2EE within the next five to 10 years--not only the stuff they're building today, but also the stuff they already have in place. And that scares the hell out of them because of the performance availability problems they've had with their early J2EE activity. So the market opportunity is massive, because this is not an isolated case. Enterprises around the world are moving to this totally new architecture, and there is going to be a need to manage those applications. Otherwise, they won't deliver the business value.