A couple of years ago at Cisco Live, I was chatting with another admin about the future of monitoring. It was relatively quiet in the expo hall and we’d shooed away a couple of Cisco PMs to play with the UCS configurator demo. Mike (not his real name) was primarily a network administrator, but was increasingly involved with very non-network engineering, like compute (in the guise of UCS), and storage performance, at least in the context of connective to VM clusters. He kept saying “App.. Stack,” with pejorative emphasis on “App.”  I thought at the time, and have only become more convinced since, that perhaps his discomfort with the term actually stems from its historical incompleteness.


Stack (of Application Components, Related Technologies, Infrastructure, and Services) SACRTIS?


You might be thinking, “AppStack. Great, yet another thing I have to wrap my head around. All it needs is a trademark.”  In past posts of this series, joeld Joel Dolisy's A Lap around AppStack described related SolarWinds product evolution, LGarvin 's A Look at Systems’ Role in the AppStack discussed systems considerations, and, most recently, kong.yang 's AppStack Addresses the Dynamic Changes in the Virtualization and Storage Layers both broke out the role of virtualization and storage and set the record for longest article title. I expect that Leon Adato and Thomas LaRock will have more to say in upcoming posts as well, especially on the subject of databases. So, SolarWinds has been on a bit of a tear about AppStack recently, and you might think they have a new product, perhaps with AppStack in the title.


Nope. You’d be wrong. You and Mike already know what it is and it’s not necessary to reinvent anything. I think it’s simply an effort to draw attention to the inescapable and perhaps even unpleasant truth that we can’t think of just “our part” of IT, “our part” of the network, or even “our part” of the help desk. To win at IT, or maybe even just to win back our weekends, we have to keep the extensive tendrils of all elements of applications in the front of our minds AT ALL TIMES.


Way back in history, between the discovery of fire and invention of the wheel, applications were simple affairs. They sat on a mainframe, micro, or PC, with local storage. Yes, remote access was developed from green screen, to fat client, and ultimately to Web. But in most cases, the app below a minimal veneer of presentation infrastructure was unchanged. It’s that App-at-the-top context that, even with shared storage and server virtualization, belies a modern restatement of the meaning of AppStack. It’s A to Z, user to spindle (or EFD flash controller), and everything in between. And, with the complexity of today’s applications, “everything” includes quite a pile of… let’s just say bits.


VPN, in My AppStack? More Likely Than You Think


With a broader definition of AppStack, I thought back to Mike’s solution for operating a hybrid-cloud hosted virtual classroom system. I white-boarded out the components we discussed, and then projected all the components we didn’t discuss. HTTP services for presentation and data tier- check. Storage and virtualization- check. Core, distribution, WAN, and firewall also check. But what about the VPN and firewall to the AWS VPC? Traditionally, that’s infrastructure, but from the context of AppStack, that’s a required component of his service.


What about security certificate expiration for the Web portal? Or, the integration of durable subscription endpoint services? Or, Exchange servers, which transmitted student notification emails and relayed student questions? None of those components seem like part of a traditional application, but are critical to Mike’s uptime. He should not only be monitoring all of these elements, but ideally connecting them via context(s) so that specialist admins across his teams may troubleshoot quickly. And therein lies the greater initiative we should lead as trusted administrators—education.


Don’t be afraid to open up the definition of AppStack in your environment, human, and silicon. Encourage your team, from desktop support to the LUN master, to sit in the user’s chair. List out every element of the connectivity chain you can think of. Go to the white board and discover or imply some more. Lastly, identify linking context. I think you’ll find with the inclusion of previously unmonitored services, the proactive AppStack approach can keep users happy and the help desk quiet. OK, quieter.