Lori MacVittie, Principal Technical Evangelist, Office of the CTO at F5
One of the first things people see when they look in my reef tank is an amazing example of a Zoanthid. In other words, a coral carefully curated through years of dedicated attention. They’d see the beauty of a different kind of life in this world, and the wonder of things that live in our oceans. What they don’t see is what lies beneath it. Hidden in the sand and the rocks upon which these creatures live is an incredible ecosystem of micro-organisms, without which the Zoanthids cannot survive let alone thrive.
They also don’t see the vigilance with which I monitor the conditions of their environment. They don’t see the numbers charted on a minute-to-minute and day by day basis that inform me when something goes wrong. They don’t hear the alarm sound when just one parameter falls below or rises above safe levels. This is also true in the technology world.
When We (that’s the corporate We) talk about adaptive applications, we’re talking about what people see. When users engage with you today to purchase a product, pay a bill, or procure support, they see one thing: a user experience. They don’t see the myriad applications, infrastructure, environments, and services that secure and deliver that experience. But they are there, and they are critical to ensuring the user experience is healthy.
The importance of data
There is a significant difference between knowing something is wrong and knowing what to do about it. Something as simple as understanding the relationship between pH and temperature can mean the difference between addressing a problem and making it worse. The same is true for the user experience. A foundational step forward is making sure we’re collecting the right data. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of organisations aren’t doing that.
A survey from Turbonomic exposes this phenomenon: “When we asked respondents how their organisation is measuring application performance, it was promising to see that over 60% measure it in some form. But the most common approach was measuring availability, as opposed to managing to Service Level Objectives (SLOs), which typically take the form of response time or transaction throughput. 13% do not measure application performance at all.”
The failure to do the same for a user experience has a very real impact on business. For example, eighty-nine percent of customers begin doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. The cost to acquire a new customer to replace them is high, ranging from an average of $77 per customer in the retail industry to over $250 per customer in the financial world. The potential lost revenue is higher: loyal customers are, on average, worth ten times the value of their first purchase.
So, maintaining an extraordinary user experience is not only good for business, it’s imperative for its survival. With alternatives literally a fingertip away, maintaining loyal customers requires the same zealous attention to the health of the user experience as I give to my reef tank. Key to obtaining the measurements, as well as the points of control for automating responses, is the infrastructure and services that deliver and secure applications.
Adaptive Applications are Data-Driven
In Warsaw, Poland, eight clams have proven better at measuring water quality than any technology. When the “mussels, which are very sensitive to pollution, detect polluted water they clam up, an action that triggers alarms owing to special sensors attached to their shells.” Until recently, no one was aware of their existence. Residents were only aware they had access to safe drinking water.
Living organisms like this clam instinctively measure everything and are particularly astute at recognising danger based on data. But no single internal system is responsible for that super-power. It takes the collaboration of hundreds of internal systems generating measurements and the ability to analyse the resulting data to make the split-second decision that the water is dangerous.
It is measurements—data—that make an application adaptive. Without clear triggers for action, there is no need to adapt. An understanding of capacity and demand drives scale. Identification of malicious activity triggers security actions. Recognition of a performance degradation spurs optimisation.
This data is broad and necessarily includes measurements from every layer of the technology stack. Taken together and mapped to business processes—to digital workflows—this data can be analysed and turned into the information applications need to automatically adapt.
Analysed further, relationships and patterns and trends can be surfaced to business leaders that enable the ability to align architectures, infrastructure, and applications with real business outcomes. These insights can provide automated action in the form of AI-based security and AIOps, as well as enabling businesses and IT stakeholders to make informed decisions.
Action requires systems capable of receiving instructions and acting on them. It is not our interface to the world that reacts to dangerous conditions within us. It is our immune and other internal systems that act on our behalf. In a digital world, those internal systems are application services and infrastructure. The technologies behind the interface that generate data and act to protect, scale, and optimise the user experience.
Adaptive applications are data-driven, enabled by telemetry generated from the application services, infrastructure, and systems that deliver, secure, and scale them. Along with a platform capable of analysing that data and producing actionable and automatable insights, business will be able to confidently move forward, faster, toward realising adaptive applications.