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How TV Viewership Is Like Application Monitoring

Level 11

Have you ever read about TV ratings? Almost every person that watches TV has heard of the ratings produced by the Nielsen Media Research group. These statistics shape how we watch TV and decide whether or not shows are renewed for more episodes in the future.

But, how does Nielsen handle longer programs? How do they track the Super Bowl? Can they really tell how many people were tuned in for the entire event? Or who stopped watching at halftime after the commercials were finished? This particular type of tracking could let advertisers know when they want their commercials to air. And for the network broadcasting the event, it could help them figure out how much to charge during the busiest viewing times.

You might be interested to know that Nielsen tracks their programs in 15-minute increments. They can tell who was tuned in for a particular quarter-hour segment over the course of multiple hours. Nielsen has learned that monitoring the components of a TV show helps them understand the analytics behind the entire program. Understanding microtrends helps them give their customers the most complete picture possible.

Now, let's extend this type of analysis to the applications that we use. In the old days, it was easy to figure out what we needed to monitor. There were one or two servers that ran each application. If we kept an eye on those devices, we could reliably predict the performance of the software and the happiness of the users. Life was simple.

Enter virtualization. Once we started virtualizing the servers that we used to rely on for applications, we gained the ability to move those applications around. Instead of an inoperable server causing our application to be offline, we could move that application to a different system and keep it running. As virtual machines matured, we could increase performance and reliability. We could also make applications run across data centers to provide increased capabilities across geographic locations.

This all leads to the cloud. Now, virtual machines could be moved hither and yon and didn't need to be located on-prem. Instead, we just needed to create new virtual machines to stand up an application. But, even if the hardware was no longer located in our data center, we still needed to monitor what we were doing. If we couldn't monitor the hardware components, we still needed to monitor the virtual machines.

This is where our Nielsen example comes back into play. Nielsen knows how important it is to monitor the components of our infrastructure. So too must we keep an eye on the underlying components of our infrastructure. With virtual machines becoming the key components of our applications today, we must have an idea of how they are being maintained to understand how our applications are performing.

What if the component virtual machines are sitting on opposite sides of a relatively slow link? What if the database tier is in Oregon while the front-end for the application is in Virginia? Would it cause an issue if the replication between virtual machines on the back-end failed for some reason due to misconfiguration and we didn't catch it until they got out of sync? There are a multitude of things we can think about that might keep us up at night figuring out how to monitor virtual machines.

Now, amplify that mess even further with containers. The new vogue is to spin up Docker or Kubernetes containers to provide short-lived services. If you think monitoring component virtual machines is hard today, just wait until those constructs have a short life and are destroyed as fast as they are created. Now, problems can disappear before they're even found. And then they get repeated over and over again.

The key is to monitor both the application and the infrastructure constructs. But it also requires a shift in thinking. You can't just rely on SNMP to save the day yet again. You have to do the research to figure out how best to monitor not only the application software but the way it is contained in your cloud provider or data center. If you don't know what to look for, you might miss the pieces that could be critical to figuring out what's broken or, worse yet, what's causing performance issues without actually causing things to break.

Level 15

Good points and I really like the analogy.  IT is continually to change and our monitoring methods need some dynamics as well.  Thanks!

Level 13

Good article. The complexity usually goes up at the point that the number of staff to support it goes down.

Level 13

Great write up.  Thanks.
Level 16

Good article

Level 14

this is our pain point right now.

As more and more of our environment is virtualized we are beginning to lose the kind of visibility we have been used to in the physical world.

VMWare NSX is uncorking virtual networking at a staggering rate. We now have virtual switching, routing, firewalls, load balancers all with flow and enabled with policies.

The new world is here and now

Level 21

Nielsen contacted me to participate in their polling/monitoring solution back in the 1980's.  It required me to manually report (Pre-Internet!) my viewing habits in 15-minute intervals.  For the information, they send me ONE DOLLASR in the mail, in advance, as "thanks for sharing information with us that will allow advertisers to better target you for time-wasting advertisements you don't want."

I tracked TV use for a day or two and then tossed it in the garbage as a ridiculous waste of my time and invasion of my privacy.  And took the dollar and probably bought three Hershey bars, or a gallon of gasoline, or five postage stamps, or two loaves of bread, or a dozen eggs and a candy bar . . .

Nowadays, I wouldn't connect my TV to the Internet for love or money, despite that meaning I don't watch Internet-based streaming things from Netflix or Amazon Prime.  And life is SO much simpler and easier and stress-free!

I watched the evening news last Saturday for the first time in a year and was stunned at how depressing it was, and how sensationally the anchors and reporters spoke about every article.  A recent comic noted that  the news should be renamed to "The worst things that have happened near you today."

Ain't nobody got time fo dat.

Life is actually MUCH better than the news casters would have you believe.  Because good news doesn't sell advertisements.

Level 21

Nielsen would have enjoyed my surfing yesterday (Sunday) as I tuned into an NFL football game.  There were three-to-six replays of virtually every play, and seemingly three to six commercials between every down or on every penalty or score.  I ended up surfing to anything BUT FOX for my brief attempt at entertainment via the tube.

Eventually I found myself enjoying PBS MUCH more than I was able to enjoy the football game, due to the game's time-wasting advertisements and instant replays. 

And I realized it was sunny and mild outside.  So I shut off the tube and went outside and enjoyed the great outdoors, walked, worked on some fun projects in the woods, and had a much better day than the NFL and the TV advertisers wanted.

Level 14

Oddly enough I (and a colleague) spent yesterday fixing our AD after a domain controller went nuts.  Fortunately the remaining 5 weren't too badly affected and there were no FSMO roles on it.  As I was at home nursing a hangover after Saturday's visit to watch Wasps rugby and watching British Superbikes from Silverstone and getting 4 hours overtime at x2 I wasn't too worried.  Still not sure if I was multi-tasking or multi-plexing.  When I got in to work this morning I found all the exchange servers had restarted at midnight, one of the ADFS servers had stopped the service and Mobile Iron was having a nightmare (AD, Exchange and ADFS issues). 

I monitor my systems every 5 minutes but only alert if two polls in a row fail.  That takes care of any slow responses and I still have the trend analysis on CPU, Disk and memory usage.  Everything above alerted and, as I was on-call last week I knew what to look at.  Turned out no one noticed any issues except one HR bloke who complained that ADFS errors were stopping him accessing the HR system.  It DOESN'T use ADFS or LDAP authentication so he was just being a plank.

Level 14

I've just setup Plex with PlexPass and DVR connected to an antenna.

Over the air TV in HD - even nicer is the the Plex DVR has commercial skip where it completely removes the commercials from the recording.

Goodbye CableTV, I'm officially a cordcutter.

Level 19

This works and I do the same thing with DirecTV... I just record everything to the GENI2 and then start streaming it off the Genie after about an hour or so... I skip commercials all the time BUT... get this... there are some shows that don't allow fast forwarding now... not pay channels but some free ones are now doing this.  They gotta find a way to get that advertising to you!

Level 15

People still watch network TV?

Level 21

Yes, broadcast television is pretty cool.  It's free, it provides two or three flavors of all the major networks, a couple of versions of Fox, and best of all:  four flavors of PBS!

No monthly service cost, no more advertisements than broadband, no additional charge from ISP's . . .

It's amazing what comes across for nothing.  Well, for nothing more than seeing the same advertisements that come with Dish or Spectrum or their competitors.

Not to mention the content isn't as objectionable (except for the national news--that's nearly as bad as anything a person might see on broadband).

Level 13

Back in the day I worked for a large cable network.  I was always amazed how much business was driven by the ratings.  The amazing thing is there aren't that many Nielsen households. 

Level 15

The only thing I watch on network TV is the Detroit Red Wings and sometimes Netflix. Not much time for TV except in the middle of winter.

Level 14

Nice article.... Your analogy is spot on!

Thanks for posting this.

Level 15

Interesting analogy, but very apropos for monitoring professionals.

Level 12

If you used to enjoy gridiron football, and are stuck inside due to weather, I recommend rugby. There are far fewer pauses, much more action, and funny words to learn. (One statistic I read stated the average American football game contains less than 10 minutes of actual ball-moving action.)

If you're tired of sports find a good hobby that uses your hands. I enjoy creating minatures and working with wood. The latter is becoming more appealing as my eyes grow older.

About the Author
A nerd that happens to live and breathe networking of all kinds. Also known to dip into voice, security, wireless, and servers from time to time. Warning - snark abounds.