Rollout: MValent Integrity

Integrity helps prevent application failure by creating standards for automating the configuration of an entire app infrastructure. But watch out for its complexity.

May 24, 2007

6 Min Read
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As applications get more complicated, they require the same kind of coordinated management as used with network, server and OS infrastructures. Otherwise, apps may fail due to misconfiguration, unplanned changes or miscommunication among the constituencies that touch apps: developers, the quality assurance group and production teams.

Conventional configuration-management vendors, such as Alterpoint, BladeLogic, Opsware and Voyence, focus on servers and/or network environments. They provide limited information about apps and don't track app-configuration changes. Products such as such as EMC's nLayers, Symantec's Relicore and Tideway Systems' Foundation map application dependencies and can track application configuration changes, but don't enable provisioning or the ability to roll back changes.

comprehensive application change, release and configuration management, as well as automated audit reporting, in one package.

This has led to software configuration management (SCM), brought to you by IBM, mValent, Perforce Software and the open-source tool CVS. MValent's Integrity stands apart from its competitors because it combines multiple functions, includingMValent lets organizations create standards for automating the configuration of an entire app infrastructure, including app servers, Web servers, databases and middleware. Integrity also aims to provide a common management framework for all the application silos in an enterprise. This ensures that configuration settings are tracked across development, QA, production and failover to help prevent outages due to unplanned changes or misconfigurations.

However, mValent's software is costly and complex to install and requires that users have a deep understanding of the applications being managed. Only enterprises that are drowning in application-configuration problems will find real value here.

Maintaining Your Integrity

MValent Integrity focuses on several key application infrastructure areas: configuration management, change management and release management. Integrity's configuration-management capabilities focus on the discovery and inventory of existing settings, which can number in the thousands in a large application infrastructure. Change-management features include version control for configuration settings, such as the ability to roll back to a previous setting. Release management lets you deploy new applications or make changes to existing apps. It also provides audit reporting on changes.

Application Performance Optimization Immersion Center


New to this release is an Infrastructure Change Dashboard that helps ensure changes are in line with business policies and compliance requirements for security, financial and accounting regulations. This view helps organizations monitor how changes to the application infrastructure affect critical business apps. Using the dashboard, users can expose applications and underlying assets that produce abnormally high change volumes. Integration with service-management systems, such as BMC Remedy and CA Service Desk, is solid. Integrity can automatically connect the workflow for incident reports with the actual change and resolution.

The product doesn't require an agent on each server that runs applications to be managed. Instead, Integrity remotely collects its information. To that end, the product includes Authentication Packs that integrate with Active Directory or LDAP-based directory stores to acquire the credentials needed to access application data.

Don't Go It Alone

To simulate a true customer experience, mValent suggested we use one of its SEs to install and configure the application. We stubbornly decided to tackle it ourselves. Don't do it! Despite repeated attempts, we couldn't stand up the software in our lab--mValent ended up sending a fresh server. We then had several more adventures installing the embedded Oracle database and adjusting memory configuration files before we could use the product.

Once Integrity was up and running, we loaded all the configuration items from our test app--an intranet portal running WebSphere--up to the Integrity server. Integrity collectively labeled these configuration items as an asset. From here we could perform a number of operations on that asset, including controlling the configuration of the entire application or discrete components, and tracking every aspect of the change and release process.

SCM ComparisonClick to enlarge in another window

Integrity successfully performed its key functions. It let us view and compare a baseline set of app files with a separate test system. We also used it to provision app changes and to roll back changes that caused problems. However, we did spend a great deal of time in the training material to understand how all of this works.

We then wanted to see how well mValent tracked and alerted us to changes. We initially turned on notification for all changes, but found ourselves flooded with too much data. We then limited alerts to changes that would hurt performance. Monitoring changes to WebSphere's serverindex.xml, for instance, was more meaningful.

MValent includes out-of-the box automation that lets you script routine activities, such as deploying a new application server. You also can automate other tasks specific to business, security policies or other standard deployment components.

From an audit and operational troubleshooting perspective, mValent stores the current state of the asset as well as every version of the configuration of the asset over a period of time. If mValent initiates a change or detects a change in the asset, it captures that change in a version. MValent also can act as a front-end engine that creates app master images that can be pushed into provisioning systems. This is useful for those with many provisioning updates that must be monitored and tracked.Integrity can serve as another data source for incident-management systems to query and use to determine if a configuration change to an application was the cause of an outage.

Final Call

IT application infrastructure environments are extremely complicated, and mValent doesn't mask that complexity. Although mValent positions Integrity as being able to span various IT silos, Integrity would be most beneficial to an app-engineering team--the level of knowledge required may be too much for a typical IT operations group. We also would recommend substantial staff training to make Integrity a success. Given these requirements, organizations would need to manage several dozen application environments for the product to make sense.

As configured for our tests, Integrity has a base list price of $75,000 for the server and $23,500 for 50 managed CPUs. With additional services, we'd estimate a typical customer spending around $175,000 to get started.

Michael Biddick is a contributing editor for Network Computing and Executive Vice President of Solutions for Windward Consulting Group, a firm that helps organizations improve it operational efficiency. Write to him at [email protected].0

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