Addressing Web Application Performance Issues

With the use of hybrid technologies and distributed components, the applications are becoming increasingly complex. Irrespective of the complexity, it is quite important to ensure the end-user gets an excellent experience in using the application. Hence, it is mandatory to monitor the performance of an application to provide greater satisfaction to the end-user.

External factors

When the web applications face performance issues, here are some questions you need to ask:

  • Does the application always face performance issues or just during a specific period?
  • Whether a particular user or group of users face the issue or is the problem omnipresent for all the users?
  • Are you treating your production environment as real production environment or have you loaded it with applications, services, and background processes running without any proper consideration?
  • Was there any recent release to any of the application stack like Web, Middle Tier, API, DB, etc., and how was the performance before this release?
  • Have there been any hardware or software upgrades recently?

Action items on the ground

Answering the above set of questions would have brought you closer to the root cause. If not, given below are some steps you can do to troubleshoot the performance issue:

  • Look at the number of incoming requests, is the application facing unusual load?
  • Identify how many requests are delaying more than a usual level, say more than 5000 milliseconds to serve a request, or a web page.
  • Is the load getting generated by a specific or group of users – is someone trying to create intentional load?
  • Look at the web pages/methods/functions in the source code which are taking more time. Check the logs of the web server, this can be identified provided the application does that level of custom logging.
  • Identify whether any 3rd party links or APIs which are being used in the application is causing slowness.
  • Check whether the database queries are taking more time.
  • Identify whether the problem is related to a certain browser.
  • Check if the server side or client side is facing any uncaught exceptions which are impacting the performance.
  • Check the performance of the CPU, Memory, and Disk of the server(s) in which the application is hosted.
  • Check the sibling processes which are consuming more Memory/CPU/Disk in all servers and take appropriate action depending on whether those background processes need to be in that server or can be moved somewhere or can be removed totally.
  • Look at the web server performance to fine tune the Cache, Session time out, Pool size, and Queue-length.
  • Check for deadlock, buffer hit ratio, IO Busy, etc. to fine tune the performance.

Challenges 

  • Doing all these steps exactly when there is a performance issue may not be practically all the time. By the time you collect some of these, you may lose important data for the rest of the items unless the history data is collected and stored for reference.
  • Even if the data is collected, correlating them to arrive at the exact root cause is not an easy task
  • You need to be tech savvy across all layers to know what parameters to collect and how to collect.

And the list of challenges goes on…

Think of an ideal situation where you have metrics of all these action items described above, right in front of you. Is there such magic bullet available? Yes, Zero Incident FrameworkTM Application Performance Monitoring (ZIF APM), it gives you the above details at your fingertips, thereby makes troubleshooting a simple task.

ZIF APM has more to offer than other regular APM. The APM Engine has built-in AI features. It monitors the application across all layers, starting from end-user, web application, web server, API layers, databases, underlying infrastructure that includes the OS and performance factors, irrespective of whether these layers are hosted on cloud or on-premise or both. It also applies the AI for monitoring, mapping, tracing and analyze the pattern to provide the Observability and Insights. Given below is a typical representation of distributed application and its components. And the rest of the section covers, how ZIF APM provides such deep level of insights.

ZIF APM

Once the APM Engine is installed/run on portfolio servers, the build-in AI engine does the following automatically: 

  1. Monitors the performance of the application (Web) layer, Service Layer, API, and Middle tier and Maps the insights from User <–> Web <–> API <–> Database for each and every applications – No need to manually link Application 1 in Web Server A with API1 in Middle Tier B and so on.
  2. Traces the end-to-end user transaction journey for all transactions with Unique ID.
  3. Monitors the performance of the 3rd party calls (e.g. web service, API calls, etc.), no need to map them.
  4. Monitors the End User Experience through RUM (Real User Monitoring) without any end-user agent.

<A reference screenshot of how APM maps the user transaction journey across different nodes. The screenshot also gives the Method level performance insights>

Why choose ZIF APM? Key Features and Benefits

  1. All-in-One – Provides the complete insight of the underlying Web Server, API server, DB server related infrastructure metrics like CPU, Memory, Disk, and others.
  2. End-user experience (RUM) – Captures performance issues and anomalies faced by end-user at the browser side.
  3. Anomalies detection – Offers deeper insights on the exceptions faced by the application including the line number in the source code where the issue has occurred.
  4. Code-level insights – Gives details about which method and function calls within the source code is taking more time or slowing down the application.
  5. 3rd Party and DB Layer visibility – Provides the details about 3rd party APIs or Database calls and Queries which are delaying the web application response.
  6. AHI – Application Health Index is a scorecard based on A) End User Experience, B) Application Anomalies, C) Server Performance and D) Database performance factors that are applicable in the given environment or application. Weightage and number of components A, B, C, D are variables. For instance, if ‘Web server performance’ or ‘Network Performance’ needs to be brought in as new variable ‘E’, then accordingly the weightage will be adjusted/calculated against 100%.
  7. Pattern Analysis – Analyzes unusual spikes through pattern matching and alerts are provided.
  8. GTrace – Provides the transaction journey of the user transaction and the layers it is passing through and where the transaction slows down, by capturing the performance of each transaction of all users.
  9. JVM and CLR – Provides the Performance of the underlying operating system, Web server, and run time (JVM, CLR).
  10. LOG Monitoring – Provides deeper insight on the application logs.
  11. Problem isolation– ZIF APM helps in problem isolation by comparing the performance with another user in the same location at the same time.

Visit www.zif.ai for more details.

About the Author –

Suresh Kumar Ramasamy

Suresh heads the Monitor component of ZIF at GAVS. He has 20 years of experience in Native Applications, Web, Cloud, and Hybrid platforms from Engineering to Product Management. He has designed & hosted the monitoring solutions. He has been instrumental in conglomerating components to structure the Environment Performance Management suite of ZIF Monitor. Suresh enjoys playing badminton with his children. He is passionate about gardening, especially medicinal plants.

Ensure Service Availability and Reliability with ZIF

To survive in the current climate, most enterprises have already embarked on their digital transformation journeys. This is leading to uncertainty in the way applications and services supporting the applications are being monitored and managed. Inadequate information is leading to downtime in service availability for end-users eventually resulting in unhappy users and revenue loss.

Zero Incident Framework™ has been architected to address the IT Ops issues of today and tomorrow.

Leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence on telemetry data ingested in real-time, ZIF can provide insights and resolve forecasted issues – resulting in the availability of application service when end-user wants the service at the right time.

Business Value delivered to customers from ZIF

  • Minimum 40% reduction in capital expenses and a minimum 50% reduction in IT operational cost
  • Faster resolution by 60% (MTTR)
  • Service availability of 99.99%
  • ZIF bots to increase productivity by a minimum of 80%
  • Increased user experience measured by metrics (UEI) User Experience Index
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ICEBERG STATE IN ITOps

Many IT operations are in an ‘ICEBERG’ state even today. Do not be surprised if your organization is also one of them. Issues and incidents that surfaces to the top are the ones that are known to the team. But the unknown issues are not uncovered.

Therefore, enterprises have started to embark on artificial intelligence to help them identify and track the unknown issues within the complex IT landscape.

OBSERVABILITY USING ZIF

ZIF, architected and developed on the premise of observability, not only helps with visibility but also enables discovering deeper insights, thus freeing up more time for more strategic initiatives. This becomes critical to the overall success of Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) in enterprises.

Externalizing the internal state of systems, services, and application to the maximum, helps in complete observability.

Monitoring Vs. Observability?

automated discovery of networked services

Pillars of Observability – Events | Metrics | Traces

Ensure SERVICE RELIABILITY

“Reliability is defined as the probability that an application, system, or service will perform its intended function adequately for a specified period or will operate in a defined environment without failure.”

ZIF has mastered the art of predicting device, application & service failure, or performance degradation. This unique proposition from ZIF gives IT engineers the edge on service reliability of all applications, systems, or services that they are responsible for. ZIF’s auto-remediation bots can resolve predicted issues to make sure the intended function performs as and when expected by users.

SERVICE AVAILABILITY

Availability is measured as the percentage of time your service or system or application is available.

A small variation in availability percentage will have to be addressed on priority. A 99.999% availability allows only 5.26 minutes of downtime a year, whereas 99% availability allows downtime of 3.65 days a year.

ZIF helps IT engineers achieve the agreed-upon availability of application or system by learning the usage of the system and application from the metrics that are collected from the environment. Collecting the right metrics helps in getting the right availability. With the help of unsupervised algorithms, patterns are learned which helps in discovering when the application or system is required the most and then predicting any potential downtime. With above 95% accuracy in prediction, ZIF can achieve 99.99% availability for application and devices which allows 52.56 minutes downtime a year.

ZIF’s goal has always been to deliver the right business outcomes for the stakeholders. Users have the privilege to choose what business outcomes are expected from the platform and the respective features are deployed in the enterprise to deliver the chosen outcome.

About the Author

Anoop Aravindakshan

An evangelist of Zero Incident FrameworkTM, Anoop has been a part of the product engineering team for long and has recently forayed into product marketing. He has over 14 years of experience in Information Technology across various verticals, which include Banking, Healthcare, Aerospace, Manufacturing, CRM, Gaming, and Mobile.

Is AR the Future of our Increasingly Digital World?

Imagine a device which, when used to look at something, throws up information on whatever you’re pointing at. Menus for restaurants, dates of establishment for institutes, and so on. These are the sort of possibilities afforded by Augmented Reality (AR).

What is AR?

AR is a science fiction idea that successfully made the transition to reality. The fundamental idea behind augmented reality is to add something extra to your experience of reality. So, if you are watching a movie or playing a game, AR adds to that experience in some way or form to turn the experience immersive and interactive. AR basically superimposes computer-generated information (audio, visual, haptic, etc.) on the real-world objects.

AR can be defined as a system that fulfills three basic features: a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects.

How does AR work?

A camera-equipped device is essential for an AR experience. Upon pointing the device at an object, computer vision technology is used to recognize it. The device then downloads information about the object from the cloud, in much the same way that a web browser loads a page via a URL. In this case, the information is presented in a 3-D experience.

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AR can provide a view of the real-time data flowing from products and allow users to control them by touchscreen, voice, or gesture. An operator using an AR headset to interact with an industrial robot might see superimposed data about the robot’s performance and gain access to its controls.

The size and orientation of objects viewed through the AR display adjusts/changes in real-time. New graphical or text information comes into view while other information passes out of view as the user moves about. In industrial settings, users in different roles, such as a machine operator and a maintenance technician, can look at the same object but be presented with different AR experiences that are tailored to their needs.

AR – a novel way of shopping

A 2018 Gartner report stated, “By 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store.” The current global pandemic has put a damper on consumer sentiments worldwide and we may not see those numbers. But AR can help make the in-store shopping experience more secure by reducing the need to touch a lot of objects and surfaces.

Brands like American Apparel, Uniqlo, and Lacoste already have showrooms and fitting rooms that provide try-before-you-buy options in AR spaces. Smart mirror technologies that scan RFID tags also offer the ability to bring recommendations to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience.

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IKEA customers have access to an app that permits them to point their phones at spaces and see what different products would look like in their own homes.

In the current global climate, fashion and lifestyle brands stand to gain from technologies that handle facial recognition, adapt to local lighting conditions, and provide personalized recommendations.

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According to a BRP report, 48% consumers said they would be more inclined to buy from a retailer that provided AR experiences. Retailers may be able to attract more customers with an immersive and secure shopping experience in a post-Corona world.

35% of sales on Amazon are derived from its recommendation engine, which is powered by Machine Learning. Leveraging this in the real world also has immense commercial potential.

AR for Navigation Solutions

Map services from Google and Apple have already found mass acceptance, indoor navigation is next. Apps based on ARKit and ARCore can enable navigating inside spaces like airports, malls, hospitals, etc. Gatwick Airport has already deployed its own smartphone solution that provides routes to terminals and gates based on a user’s flight number.

In 2019, a beta version of AR walking directions feature was launched for Google Maps for all AR-compatible iOS and Android mobile devices. You could view information about your surroundings by pointing your phone’s camera towards it.

AR in Automotive Industry

AR can be used in a breadth of ways in the automotive industry. Starting with dashboard-mounted heads-up displays to interactive experiences in showrooms and more.

AR is also employed by some carmakers to help aid in car maintenance (Volkswagen’s Marta app) and car manufacturing and selling processes (Volvo’s project with Microsoft HoloLens).

The heads-up display is one of the most popular uses of AR in this industry. Not only can drivers get directions and alerts on hazards, but also information on landmarks and nearby locations.

Hyundai has been a leader in AR research that goes beyond the cockpit-style view of the motorist’s experience. They have reimagined maintenance manuals with AR and has apps to point their phones at their cars to get information. Mercedes has a similar app, but its version adds a chatbot to provide virtual assistance.

AR in Healthcare

Applications of AR is opening up new opportunities in the healthcare industry. It’s expected that the global market will reach a value of $1.5B. By enabling healthcare workers with real-time data and patient information, AR can aid in more accurate diagnoses and more precise surgeries.

application performance management solutions

AR can also bring huge value to practicing medicine and education by allowing students and trainee physicians to better visualize health issues and scenarios that they one day will be treating. The benefit that AR can bring to the healthcare industry can be ground-breaking and we are just witnessing the beginning of what is to come from AR in the field of medicine.

AR-powered Solutions for Enterprises

Smart glasses are quickly gaining popularity. Military, medical and enterprise solutions, however, are beginning to prove the value of combining AR with headsets and smart glasses.

Microsoft HoloLens 2 was likely the most anticipated product in this space in 2019. The company hopes to roll out its technology to great fanfare by demonstrating improvements in raw processing power, battery life, and wear ability. The U.S. Army has awarded a $480 contract to Microsoft, and they are also working with the industrial IoT firm PTC to streamline the development of both augmented and mixed reality products.

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Walmart and Tyson are testing programs that will transition traditional training methods into mixed reality (MR) settings. This will bring about new ways to learn about compliance and safety issues by looking around mixed-reality environments and identifying problems in a way that’s practical and engaging. Integration with other recent workplace training trends, especially gamification, may compound the returns that AR and MR solutions generate. Per ABI Research, AR-based training in enterprise will be a $6 billion industry by 2022.

Improvements in prototyping, testing, troubleshooting, and quality control are expected to emerge from this trend, too, as workers will be able to make on-the-fly comparisons of real-world items against available documentation and specifications. Jobs that call for workers’ hands to be free will also benefit significantly from AR headsets and glasses.

Augmented reality is the next ‘BIG THING’, it will absolutely revolutionize almost every aspect of life. Everything from medicine to education to construction to entertainment. AR application has already started to appear on the world’s laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

References

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/augmented-reality

https://www.mantralabsglobal.com/blog/disruptive-augmented-reality-use-cases/

https://www.vxchnge.com/blog/augmented-reality-statistics

About the Author

Kalpana Vijayakumar

Kalpana is a database developer. She strongly believes that “It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.”
Outside of her professional role, Kalpana is passionate about travelling and watching movies.

Algorithmic Alert Correlation

Today’s always-on businesses and 24×7 uptime demands have necessitated IT monitoring to go into overdrive. While constant monitoring is a good thing, the downside is that the flood of alerts generated can quickly get overwhelming. Constantly having to deal with thousands of alerts each day causes alert fatigue, and impacts the overall efficiency of the monitoring process.

Hence, chalking out an optimal strategy for alert generation & management becomes critical. Pattern-based thresholding is an important first step, since it tunes thresholds continuously, to adapt to what ‘normal’ is, for the real-time environment. Threshold accuracy eliminates false positives and prevents alerts from getting fired incorrectly. Selective alert suppression during routine IT Ops maintenance activities like backups, patches, or upgrades, is another. While there are many other strategies to keep alert numbers under control, a key process in alert management is the grouping of alerts, known as alert correlation. It groups similar alerts under one actionable incident, thereby reducing the number of alerts to be handled individually.

But, how is alert ‘similarity’ determined? One way to do this is through similarity definitions, in the context of that IT landscape. A definition, for instance, would group together alerts generated from applications on the same host, or connectivity issues from the same data center. This implies that similarity definitions depend on the physical and logical relationships in the environment – in other words – the topology map. Topology mappers detect dependencies between applications, processes, networks, infrastructure, etc., and construct an enterprise blueprint that is used for alert correlation.

But what about related alerts generated by entities that are neither physically nor logically linked? To give a hypothetical example, let’s say application A accesses a server S which is responding slowly, and so A triggers alert A1. This slow communication of A with S eats up host bandwidth, and hence affects another application B in the same host. Due to this, if a third application C from another host calls B, alert A2 is fired by C due to the delayed response from B.  Now, although we see the link between alerts A1 & A2, they are neither physically nor logically related, so how can they be correlated? In reality, such situations could imply thousands of individual alerts that cannot be combined.

Algorithmic Alert Correlation

This is one of the many challenges in IT operations that we have been trying to solve at GAVS. The correlation engine of our AIOps Platform ZIF uses algorithmic alert correlation to find a solution for this problem. We are working on two unsupervised machine learning algorithms that are fundamentally different in their approach – one based on pattern recognition and the other based on spatial clustering. Both algorithms can function with or without a topology map, and work around what is supplied and available. The pattern learning algorithm derives associations based on learnings from historic patterns of alert relationships. The spatial clustering algorithm works on the principle of similarity based on multiple features of alerts, including problem similarity derived by applying Natural Language Processing (NLP), and relationships, among several others. Tuning parameters enable customization of algorithmic behavior to meet specific demands, without requiring modifications to the core algorithms. Time is also another important dimension factored into these algorithms, since the clustering of alerts generated over an extended period of time will not give meaningful results.

Traditional alert correlation has not been able to scale up to handle the volume and complexity of alerts generated by the modern-day hybrid and dynamic IT infrastructure. We have reached a point where our ITOps needs have surpassed the limits of human capabilities, and so, supplementing our intelligence with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning has now become indispensable.

About the Authors –

Padmapriya Sridhar

Priya is part of the Marketing team at GAVS. She is passionate about Technology, Indian Classical Arts, Travel, and Yoga. She aspires to become a Yoga Instructor someday!

Gireesh Sreedhar KP

Gireesh is a part of the projects run in collaboration with IIT Madras for developing AI solutions and algorithms. His interest includes Data Science, Machine Learning, Financial markets, and Geo-politics. He believes that he is competing against himself to become better than who he was yesterday. He aspires to become a well-recognized subject matter expert in the field of Artificial Intelligence.

Cloud Adoption, Challenges, and Solution Through Monitoring, AI & Automation

Cloud Adoption

Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services including Servers, Database, Storage, Networking & others over the internet. Public, Private & Hybrid clouds are different ways of deploying cloud computing.  

  • In public cloud, the cloud resources are owned by 3rd party cloud service provider
  • A private cloud consists of computing resources exclusively by one business or organization
  • Hybrid provides the best of both worlds, combines on-premises infrastructure, private cloud with public cloud

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Oracle, IBM, and others are providing cloud platform to users to host and experience practical business solution. The worldwide public cloud services market is forecast to grow 17% in 2020 to total $266.4 billion and $354.6 billion in 2022, up from $227.8 billion in 2019, per Gartner, Inc.

There are various types of Instances, workloads & options available as part of cloud ecosystem, i.e. IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, Multi-cloud, Serverless.

Challenges

When very large, large and medium enterprise decides to move their IT environment from on-premise to cloud, they try to move some/most of their on-premises into cloud and keep the rest under their control on-premise. There are various factors that impact the decision, to name a few,

  1. ROI vs Cost of Cloud Instance, Operation cost
  2. Architecture dependency of the application, i.e. whether it is monolithic or multi-tier or polyglot or hybrid cloud
  3. Requirement and need for elasticity and scalability
  4. Availability of right solution from the cloud provider
  5. Security of some key data

After crossing all, once the IT environment is cloud-enabled, the challenge comes in ensuring the monitoring of the Cloud-enabled IT environment. Here are some of the business and IT challenges

1. How to ensure the various workloads & Instances are working as expected?

While the cloud provider may give high availability & up time depending on the tier we choose, it is important that our IT team monitors the environment, as in the case of IaaS and to some extent in PaaS as well.

2. How to ensure the Instances are optimally used in terms of compute and storage?

Cloud providers give most of the metrics around the Instances, though it may not provide all metrics that we may need to make decision in all scenarios.

The disadvantage with this model is, cost, latency & not straight forward, e.g. the LOG analytics which comes in Azure involves cost for every MB/GB of data that is stored and the latency in getting the right metrics at right time, if there is latency/delay, you may not get a right result

3. How to ensure the Application or the components of a single solution that are spread across on-premise and Cloud environment is working as expected?

Some cloud providers give tools for integrating the metrics from on-premise to cloud environment to have a shared view.

The disadvantage with this model is, it is not possible to bring in all sorts of data together to get the insights straight. That is, observability is always a question. The ownership of getting the observability lies with the IT team who handles the data.

4. How to ensure the Multi-Cloud + On-Premise environment is effectively monitored & utilized to ensure the best End-user experience?

Multi-Cloud environment – With rapid growing Microservices Architecture & Container based cloud enabled model, it is quite natural that the Enterprise may choose the best from different cloud providers like Azure, AWS, Google & others.

There is little support from cloud provider on this space. In fact, some cloud providers do not even support this scenario.

5. How to get a single panel of view for troubleshooting & root cause analysis?

Especially when problem occurs in Application, Database, Middle Tier, Network & 3rd party layers that are spread across multi-cluster, multi-cloud, elastic environment, it is very important to get a Unified view of entire environment.

ZIF (Zero Incident FrameworkTM), provides a single platform for Cloud Monitoring.

ZIF has Discovery, Monitoring, Prediction & Remediate that seamlessly fits for a cloud enabled solution. ZIF provides the unified dashboard with insights across all layers of IT infrastructure that is distributed across On-premise host, Cloud Instance & Containers.

Core features & benefits of ZIF for Cloud Monitoring are,

1. Discovery & Topology

  • Discovers and provides dynamic mapping of resources across all layers.
  • Provides real-time mapping of applications and its dependent layers irrespective of whether the components live on-premise, or on cloud or containerized in cloud.
  • Dynamically built topology of all layers which helps in taking effective decisions.

2. Observability across Multi-Cloud, Hybrid-Cloud & On-Premise tiers

  • It is not just about collecting metrics; it is very important to analyze the monitored data and provide meaningful insights.
  • When the IT infrastructure is spread across multiple cloud platform like Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, and others, it is important to get a unified view of your entire environment along with the on-premise servers.
  • Health of each layers are represented in topology format, this helps to understand the impact and take necessary actions.

3. Prediction driven decision for resource optimization

  • Prediction engine analyses the metrics of cloud resources and predicts the resource usage. This helps the resource owner to make proactive action rather than being reactive.
  • Provides meaningful insights and alerts in terms of the surge in the load, the growth in number of VMs, containers, and the usage of resource across other workloads.
  • Authorize the Elasticity & Scalability through real-time metrics.

4. Container & Microservice support

  • Understand the resource utilization of your containers that are hosted in Cloud & On-Premise.
  • Know the bottlenecks around the Microservices and tune your environment for the spikes in load.
  • Provides full support for monitoring applications distributed across your local host & containers in cloud in a multi-cluster setup.

5. Root cause analysis made simple

  • Quick root cause analysis by analysing various causes captured by ZIF Monitor instead of going through layer by layer. This saves time to focus on problem-solving and arresting instead of spending effort on identifying the root cause.
  • Provides insights across your workload including the impact due to 3rd party layers as well.

6. Automation

  • Irrespective of whether the workload and instance is on-premise or on Azure or AWS or other provider, the ZIF automation module can automate the basics to complex activities

7. Ensure End User Experience

  • Helps to improve the end-user experience who gets served by the workload from cloud.
  • The ZIF tracing helps to trace each & every request of each & every user, thereby it is quite natural for ZIF to unearth the performance bottleneck across all layers, which in turn helps to address the problem and thereby improve the User Experience

Cloud and Container Platform Support

ZIF Seamlessly integrates with following Cloud & Container environments,

  • Microsoft Azure
  • AWS
  • Google Cloud
  • Grafana Cloud
  • Docker
  • Kubernetes

About the Author

Suresh Kumar Ramasamy-Picture

Suresh Kumar Ramasamy


Suresh heads the Monitor component of ZIF at GAVS. He has 20 years of experience in Native Applications, Web, Cloud, and Hybrid platforms from Engineering to Product Management. He has designed & hosted the monitoring solutions. He has been instrumental in conglomerating components to structure the Environment Performance Management suite of ZIF Monitor.

Suresh enjoys playing badminton with his children. He is passionate about gardening, especially medicinal plants.

Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN)

In my previous article (zif.ai/inverse-reinforcement-learning/), I had introduced Inverse Reinforcement Learning and explained how it differs from Reinforcement Learning. In this article, let’s explore Generative Adversarial Networks or GAN; both GAN and reinforcement learning help us understand how deep learning is trying to imitate human thinking.

With access to greater hardware power, Neural Networks have made great progress. We use them to recognize images and voice at levels comparable to humans sometimes with even better accuracy. Even with all of that we are very far from automating human tasks with machines because a tremendous amount of information is out there and to a large extent easily accessible in the digital world of bits. The tricky part is to develop models and algorithms that can analyze and understand this humongous amount of data.

GAN in a way comes close to achieving the above goal with what we call automation, we will see the use cases of GAN later in this article.

This technique is very new to the Machine Learning (ML) world. GAN is a deep learning, unsupervised machine learning technique proposed by Ian Goodfellow and few other researchers including Yoshua Bengio in 2014. One of the most prominent researcher in the deep learning area, Yann LeCun described it as “the most interesting idea in the last 10 years in Machine Learning”.

What is Generative Adversarial Network (GAN)?

A GAN is a machine learning model in which two neural networks compete to become more accurate in their predictions. GANs typically run unsupervised and use a cooperative zero-sum game framework to learn.

The logic of GANs lie in the rivalry between the two Neural Nets. It mimics the idea of rivalry between a picture forger and an art detective who repeatedly try to outwit one another. Both networks are trained on the same data set.

A generative adversarial network (GAN) has two parts:

  • The generator (the artist) learns to generate plausible data. The generated instances become negative training examples for the discriminator.
  • The discriminator (the critic) learns to distinguish the generator’s fake data from real data. The discriminator penalizes the generator for producing implausible results.

GAN can be compared with Reinforcement Learning, where the generator is receiving a reward signal from the discriminator letting it know whether the generated data is accurate or not.

Generative Adversarial Networks

During training, the generator tries to become better at generating real looking images, while the discriminator trains to be better classify those images as fake. The process reaches equilibrium at a point when the discriminator can no longer distinguish real images from fakes.

Generative Adversarial Networks

Here are the steps a GAN takes:

  • The input to the generator is random numbers which returns an image.
  • The output image of the generator is fed as input to the discriminator along with a stream of images taken from the actual dataset.
  • Both real and fake images are given to the discriminator which returns probabilities, a number between 0 and 1, 1 meaning a prediction of authenticity and 0 meaning fake.

So, you have a double feedback loop in the architecture of GAN:

  • We have a feedback loop with the discriminator having ground truth of the images from actual training dataset
  • The generator is, in turn, in a feedback loop along with the discriminator.

Most GANs today are at least loosely based on the DCGAN architecture (Radford et al., 2015). DCGAN stands for “deep, convolution GAN.” Though GANs were both deep and convolutional prior to DCGANs, the name DCGAN is useful to refer to this specific style of architecture.

Applications of GAN

Now that we know what GAN is and how it works, it is time to dive into the interesting applications of GANs that are commonly used in the industry right now.

Generative Adversarial Networks

Can you guess what’s common among all the faces in this image?

None of these people are real! These faces were generated by GANs, exciting and at the same time scary, right? We will focus about the ethical application of the GAN in the article.

GANs for Image Editing

Using GANs, appearances can be drastically changed by reconstructing the images.

GANs for Security

GANs has been able to address the concern of ‘adversarial attacks’.

These adversarial attacks use a variety of techniques to fool deep learning architectures. Existing deep learning models are made more robust to these techniques by GANs by creating more such fake examples and training the model to identify them.

Generating Data with GANs

The availability of data in certain domains is a necessity, especially in domains where training data is needed to model learning algorithms. The healthcare industry comes to mind here. GANs shine again as they can be used to generate synthetic data for supervision.

GANs for 3D Object Generation

GANs are quite popular in the gaming industry. Game designers work countless hours recreating 3D avatars and backgrounds to give them a realistic feel. And, it certainly takes a lot of effort to create 3D models by imagination. With the incredible power of GANs, wherein they can be used to automate the entire process!

GANs are one of the few successful techniques in unsupervised machine learning and it is evolving quickly and improving our ability to perform generative tasks. Since most of the successful applications of GANs have been in the domain of computer vision, generative model sure has a lot of potential, but is not without some drawbacks.

About the Author –

Naresh B

Naresh is a part of Location Zero at GAVS as an AI/ML solutions developer. His focus is on solving problems leveraging AI/ML.
He strongly believes in making success as a habit rather than considering it as a destination.
In his free time, he likes to spend time with his pet dogs and likes sketching and gardening.

Lambda (λ), Kappa (κ) and Zeta (ζ) – The Tale of 3 AIOps Musketeers (PART-3)

“Data that sit unused are no different from data that were never collected in the first place.” – Doug Fisher

In the part 1 (https://bit.ly/3hDChCH), we delved into Lambda Architecture and in part 2 (https://bit.ly/3hDCg1B) about Generic Lambda. Given the limitations of the Generic lambda architecture and its inherent complexity, the data is replicated in two layers and keeping them in-sync is quite challenging in an already complex distributed system.There is a growing interest to find the simpler alternative to the Generic Lambda, that would bring just about the same benefits and handle the full problem set. The solution is Unified Lambda (λ) Architecture.

Unified Lambda (λ) Architecture

The unified approach addresses the velocity and volume problems of Big Data as it uses a hybrid computation model. This model combines both batch data and instantaneous data transparently.

There are basically three approaches:

  1. Pure Streaming Framework
  2. Pure Batch Framework
  3. Lambdoop Framework

1. Pure streaming framework

In this approach, a pure streaming model is adopted and a flexible framework like Apache Samza can be employed to provide unified data processing model for both stream and batch processing using the same data flow structure.

Pure streaming framework

To avoid the large turn-around times involved in Hadoop’s batch processing, LinkedIn came up with a distributed stream processing framework Apache Samza. It is built on top of distributed messaging bus; Apache Kafka, so that it can be a lightweight framework for streaming platform. i.e. for continuous data processing. Samza has built-in integration with Apache Kafka, which is comparable to HDFS and MapReduce. In the Hadoop world, HDFS is the storage layer and MapReduce, the processing layer. In the similar way, Apache Kafka ingests and stores the data in topics, which is then streamed and processed by Samza. Samza normally computes results continuously as and when the data arrives, thus delivering sub-second response times.

Albeit it’s a distributed stream processing framework, its architecture is pluggable i.e. can be integrated with umpteen sources like HDFS, Azure EventHubs, Kinensis etc. apart from Kafka. It follows the principle of WRITE ONCE, RUN ANYWHERE; meaning, the same code can run in both stream and batch mode. Apache Samza’s streams are re-playable, ordered partitions.

Unified API for Batch & Streaming in pure Streaming

Apache Samza offers a unified data processing model for both real-time as well as batch processing.  Based on the input data size, bounded or unbounded the data processing model can be identified, whether batch or stream.Typically bounded (e.g. static files on HDFS) are Batch data sources and streams are unbounded (e.g. a topic in Kafka). Under the bonnet, Apache Samza’s stream-processing engine handles both types with high efficiency.

Unified API for Batch & Streaming in pure Streaming

Another advantage of this unified API for Batch and Streaming in Apache Samza, is that makes it convenient for the developers to focus on the processing logic, without treating bounded and unbounded sources differently. Samza differentiates the bounded and unboundeddata by a special token end-of-stream. Also, only config change is needed, and no code changes are required, in case of switching gears between batch and streaming, e.g. Kafka to HDFS.Let us take an example of Count PageViewEvent for each mobile Device OS in a 5-minute window and send the counts to PageViewEventPerDeviceOS

Pure Batch framework

This is the reverse approach of pure streaming where a flexible Batch framework is employed, which would offer both the batch processing and real-time data processing ability. The streaming is achieved by using mini batches which is small enough to be close to real-time, with Apache Spark/Spark Streaming or Storm’s Trident. Under the hood, Spark streaming is a sequence of micro-batch processes with the sub-second latency. Trident is a high-level abstraction for doing streaming computation on top of Storm. The core data model of Trident is the “Stream”, processed as a series of batches.

Apache Spark achieves the dual goal of Batch as well as real-time processing by the following modes.

  • Micro-batch processing model
  • Continuous Processing model

Micro-batch processing model

Micro-batch processing is analogous to the traditional batch processing in that data are usually processed as a group. The primary difference is that the batches are smaller and processed more often. In spark streaming, the micro-batches are created based on the time rather than on the accumulated data size. The smaller the time to trigger a micro-batch to process, lesser the latency.

Continuous Processing model

Apache Spark 2.3, introduced Low-latency Continuous Processing Mode in Structured Streaming whichenables low (~1 ms) end-to-end latency with at-least-once fault-tolerance guarantees. Comparing this with the default micro-batch processing engine which can achieve exactly-once guarantees but achieve latencies of ~100 ms at best. Without modifying the application logic i.e. DataFrame/Dataset operations mini-batching or continuous streaming can be chosen at runtime. Spark Streaming also has the abilityto work well with several data sources like HDFS, Flume or Kafka.

Example of Micro-batching and Continuous Batching

3. Lambdoop Approach

In many places, capability of both batch and real time processing is needed.It is cumbersome to develop a software architecture of such capabilities by tailoring suitable technologies, software layers, data sources, data storage solutions, smart algorithms and so on to achieve the good scalable solution. This is where the frameworks like Spring “XD”, Summingbird or Lambdoop comes in, since they already have a combined API for batch and real-time processing.

Lambdoop

Lambdoop is a software framework based on the Lambda architecture which provides an abstraction layer to the developers. This feature makes the developers life easy to develop any Big Data applications by combining real time and batch processing approaches. Developers don’t have to deal with different technologies, configurations, data formats etc. They can use the Lambdoop framework as the only needed API. Also, Lambdoop includes other interesting tools such as input/output drivers, visualization tools, cluster management tools and widely accepted AI algorithms.

The Speed layer in Lambdoop runs on Storm and the Batch layer on Hadoop, Lambdoop (Lambda-Hadoop, with HBase, Storm and Redis) also combines batch/real-time by offering a single API for both processing models.

Summingbird

Summingbird aka‘Streaming MapReduce’ is a hybrid computational system where both the batch/streaming computations can be run at the same time and the results can be merged automatically. In Summingbird, the developer can write the code/job logic once and change the backend as and when needed. Following are the modes in which Summingbird Job/code can be executed.

  • batch mode (using Scalding on Hadoop)
  • real-time mode (using Storm)
  • hybrid batch/real-time mode (offers attractive fault-tolerance properties)

If the model assumes streaming, one-at-a-time semantics, then the code can be run in real-time e.g. Strom or in offline/batch mode e.g. Hadoop, spark etc. It can operate in a hybrid processing mode, when there is a need to transparently integrate batch and online results to efficiently generate up-to-date views over long time spans.

Conclusion

The volume of any Big Data platform is handled by building a batch processing application which requires, MapReduce, spark development, Use of other Hadoop related tools like Sqoop, Zookeeper, HCatalog etc. and storage systems like HBase, MongoDB, HDFS, Cassandra. At the same time the velocity of any Big Data platform is handled by building a real-time streaming application which requires, stream computing development using Storm, Samza, Kafka-connect, Apache Flink andS4, and use of temporal datastores like in-memory data stores, Apache Kafka messaging system etc.

The Unified Lambda handles the both Volume and Velocity if any Big Data platform by the intermixed approach of featuring a hybrid computation model, where both batch and real-time data processing are combined transparently. Also, the limitations of Generic Lambda like Dual execution mode, Replicating and maintaining the data sync between different layers are avoided and in the Unified Lambda, there would be only one system to learn and maintain.

About the Author:

Bargunan Somasundaram

Bargunan Somasundaram

Bargunan is a Big Data Engineer and a programming enthusiast. His passion is to share his knowledge by writing his experiences about them. He believes “Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom and sharing it is the first step to humanity.”

Inverse Reinforcement Learning

Naresh B

What is Inverse Reinforcement Learning(IRL)?

Inverse reinforcement learning is a recently developed Machine Learning framework that can solve the inverse problem of Reinforcement Learning (RL). Basically, IRL is about learning from humans. Inverse reinforcement learning is the field of learning an agent’s objectives, values, or rewards by observing its behavior.

Before getting into further details of IRL, let us recap RL.
Reinforcement learning is an area of Machine Learning (ML) that takes suitable actions to maximize rewards. The goal of reinforcement learning algorithms is to find the best possible action to take in a specific situation.

Challenges in RL

One of the hardest challenges in many reinforcement learning tasks is that it is often difficult to find a good reward function which is both learnable (i.e. rewards happen early and often enough) and correct (i.e. leads to the desired outcomes). Inverse reinforcement learning aims to deal with this problem by learning a reward function based on observations of expert behavior.

What distinguishes Inverse Reinforcement Learning from Reinforcement Learning?

In RL, our agent is provided with a reward function which, whenever it executes an action in some state, provides feedback about the agent’s performance. This reward function is used to obtain an optimal policy, one where the expected future reward (discounted by how far away it will occur) is maximal.

In IRL, the setting is (as the name suggests) inverse. We are now given some agent’s policy or a history of behavior and we try to find a reward function that explains the given behavior. Under the assumption that our agent acted optimally, i.e. always picks the best possible action for its reward function, we try to estimate a reward function that could have led to this behavior.

The biggest motivation for IRL

Maybe the biggest motivation for IRL is that it is often immensely difficult to manually specify a reward function for a task. So far, RL has been successfully applied in domains where the reward function is very clear. But in the real world, it is often not clear at all what the reward should be and there are rarely intrinsic reward signals such as a game score.

For example, consider we want to design an artificial intelligence for a self-driving car. A simple approach would be to create a reward function that captures the desired behavior of a driver, like stopping at red lights, staying off the sidewalk, avoiding pedestrians, and so on. In real life, this would require an exhaustive list of every behavior we’d want to consider, as well as a list of weights describing how important each behavior is.

Instead, in the IRL framework, the task is to take a set of human-generated driving data and extract an approximation of that human’s reward function for the task. Of course, this approximation necessarily deals with a simplified model of driving. Still, much of the information necessary for solving a problem is captured within the approximation of the true reward function. Since it quantifies how good or bad certain actions are. Once we have the right reward function, the problem is reduced to finding the right policy and can be solved with standard reinforcement learning methods.

For our self-driving car example, we’d be using human driving data to automatically learn the right feature weights for the reward. Since the task is described completely by the reward function, we do not even need to know the specifics of the human policy, so long as we have the right reward function to optimize. In the general case, algorithms that solve the IRL problem can be seen as a method for leveraging expert knowledge to convert a task description into a compact reward function.

Conclusion

The foundational methods of inverse reinforcement learning can achieve their results by leveraging information obtained from a policy executed by a human expert. However, in the long run, the goal is for machine learning systems to learn from a wide range of human data and perform tasks that are beyond the abilities of human experts.

References

About the Author

Naresh is a part of Location Zero at GAVS as an AI/ML solutions developer. His focus is on solving problems leveraging AI/ML. He strongly believes in making success as an habit rather than considering it a destination. In his free time, he likes to spend time with his pet dogs and likes sketching and gardening.

Is Your Investment in TRUE AI?

Yes, AIOps the messiah of ITOps is here to stay! The Executive decision now is on the who and how, rather than when. With a plethora of products in the market offering varying shades of AIOps capabilities, choosing the right vendor is critical, to say the least.

Exclusively AI-based Ops?

Simply put, AIOps platforms leverage Big Data & AI technologies to enhance IT operations. Gartner defines Acquire, Aggregate, Analyze & Act as the four stages of AIOps. These four fall under the purview of Monitoring tools, AIOps Platforms & Action Platforms. However, there is no Industry-recognized mandatory feature list to be supported, for a Platform to be classified as AIOps. Due to this ambiguity in what an AIOps Platform needs to Deliver, huge investments made in rosy AIOps promises can lead to sub-optimal ROI, disillusionment or even derailed projects. Some Points to Ponder…

  • Quality in, Quality out. The value delivered from an AIOps investment is heavily dependent on what data goes into the system. How sure can we be that IT Asset or Device monitoring data provided by the Customer is not outdated, inaccurate or patchy? How sure can we be that we have full visibility of the entire IT landscape? With Shadow IT becoming a tacitly approved aspect of modern Enterprises, are we seeing all devices, applications and users? Doesn’t this imply that only an AIOps Platform providing Application Discovery & Topology Mapping, Monitoring features would be able to deliver accurate insights?
  • There is a very thin line between Also AI and Purely AI. Behind the scenes, most AIOps Platforms are reliant on CMDB or similar tools, which makes Insights like Event Correlation, Noise Reduction etc., rule-based. Where is the AI here?
  • In Gartner’s Market Guide, apart from support features for the different data types, Automated Pattern Discovery is the only other Capability taken into account for the Capabilities of AIOps Vendors matrix. With Gartner being one of the most trusted Technology Research and Advisory companies, it is natural for decision makers to zero-in on one of these listed vendors. What is not immediately evident is that there is so much more to AIOps than just this, and with so much at stake, companies need to do their homework and take informed decisions before finalizing their vendor.
  • Most AIOps vendors ingest, provide access to & store heterogenous data for analysis, and provide actionable Insights and RCA; at which point the IT team takes over. This is a huge leap forward, since it helps IT work through the data clutter and significantly reduces MTTR. But, due to the absence of comprehensive Predictive, Prescriptive & Remediation features, these are not end-to-end AIOps Platforms.
  • At the bleeding edge of the Capability Spectrum is Auto-Remediation based on Predictive & Prescriptive insights. A Comprehensive end-to-end AIOps Platform would need to provide a Virtual Engineer for Auto-Remediation. But, this is a grey area not fully catered to by AIOps vendors.  

The big question now is, if an AIOps Platform requires human intervention or multiple external tools to take care of different missing aspects, can it rightfully claim to be true end-to-end AIOps?

So, what do we do?

Time for you to sit back and relax! Introducing ZIF- One Solution for all your ITOps ills!

We have you completely covered with the full suite of tools that an IT infrastructure team would need. We deliver the entire AIOps Capability spectrum and beyond.

ZIF (Zero Incident Framework™) is an AIOps based TechOps platform that enables proactive Detection and Remediation of incidents helping organizations drive towards a Zero Incident Enterprise™.

The Key Differentiator is that ZIF is a Pure-play AI Platform powered by Unsupervised Pattern-based Machine Learning Algorithms. This is what sets us a Class Apart.

  • Rightly aligns with the Gartner AIOps strategy. ZIF is based on and goes beyond the AIOps framework
  • Huge Investments in developing various patented AI Machine Learning algorithms, Auto-Discovery modules, Agent & Agentless Application Monitoring tools, Network sniffers, Process Automation, Remediation & Orchestration capabilities to form Zero Incident Framework™
  • Powered entirely by Unsupervised Pattern-based Machine Learning Algorithms, ZIF needs no further human intervention and is completely Self-Reliant
  • Unsupervised ML empowers ZIF to learn autonomously, glean Predictive & Prescriptive Intelligence and even uncover Latent Insights
  • The 5 Modules can work together cohesively or as independent stand-alone components
  • Can be Integrated with existing Monitoring and ITSM tools, as required
  • Applies LEAN IT Principle and is on an ambitious journey towards FRICTIONLESS IT.

Realizing a Zero Incident EnterpriseTM

Optimizing ITOps for Digital Transformation

The key focus of Digital Transformation is removing procedural bottlenecks and bending the curve on productivity. As Chief Insights Officer, Forbes Media says, Digital Transformation is now “essential for corporate survival”.

Emerging technologies are enabling dramatic innovations in IT infrastructure and operations. It is no longer just about hardware, software, data centers, the cloud or the service desk; it is about backing business strategies. So, here are some reasons why companies should think about redesigning their IT services to embrace digital disruption.

DevOps for Agility

As companies move away from the traditional Waterfall model of software development and adopt Agile methodologies, IT infrastructure and operations also need to become agile and malleable. Agility has become indispensible to stay competitive in this era of dynamism and constant change. What started off as a set of software development methodologies has now permeated all aspects of an organization, ITOps being one of them. Development, QA and IT teams need to come out of their silos and work in tandem for constant productive collaboration, in what is termed DevOps.

Shorter development & deployment cycles have necessitated overall ITOps efficiency and among other things, IT enviroment provisioning to be on-demand and self-service. Provisioning needs to be automated and built into the CI/CD pipeline.  

Downtime Mitigation

With agility being the org-wide mantra, predictable IT uptime becomes a mandate. Outages incur a very high cost and adversely affect the pace of innovation. The average cost of unplanned application downtime for Fortune 1000 companies is anywhere between $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion, says a report by DevOps.com. It further goes on to say that, infrastructure failure can cost the bottom line $100,000/hr and the cost of critical application failure is $500,000 to $1 million/hr.

ITOps must stay ahead of the game by eliminating outdated legacy systems, tools, technologies and workflows. End-to-end automation is key. IT needs to modernize its stack by zeroing-in on tools for Discovery of the complete IT landscape, Monitoring of devices, Analytics for noise reduction and event correlation, AI-based tools for RCA, incident Prediction and Auto-Remediation. All of this intelligent automation will help proactive response rather than a reactive response after the fact, when the damage has already been done.

Moving away from the shadows

Shadow IT, the use of technology outside the IT purview, is becoming a tacitly approved aspect of most modern enterprises. It is a result of proliferation of technology and the cloud offering easy access to applications and storage. Users of Shadow IT systems bypass the IT approval and provisioning process to use unauthorized technology, without the consent of the IT department. There are huge security and compliance risks waiting to happen if this sprawling syndrome is not reined in. To bring Shadow IT under control, the IT dept must first know about it. This is where automated Discovery tools bring in a lot of value by automating the process of application discovery and topology mapping.

Moving towards Hybrid IT

Hybrid IT means the use of an optimal, cost-effective mix of public & private clouds and on-premise systems that enable an infrastructure that is dynamic, on-demand, scalable, and composable. IT spend on datacenters is seeing a downward trend. Most organizations are thinking beyond traditional datacentres to options in the cloud. Colocation is an important consideration since it delivers better availability, energy and time savings, scalability and reduces the impact of network latency. Organizations are only keeping mission-critical processes that require close monitoring & control, on-premise.

Edge computing

Gartner defines edge computing as solutions that facilitate data processing at or near the source of data generation. With huge volumes of data being churned out at rapid rates, for instance by monitoring or IoT devices, it is highly inefficient to stream all this data to a centralized datacenter or cloud for processing. Organizations now understand the value in a decentralized approach to address modern digital infrastructure needs. Edge computing serves as the decentralized extension of the datacenter/cloud and addresses the need for localized computing power.

CyberSecurity

Cyber attacks are on the rise and securing networks and protecting data is posing big challenges. With Hybrid IT, IoT, Edge computing etc, extension of the IT footprint beyond secure enterprise boundaries has increased the number of attack target points manifold. IT teams need to be well versed with the nuances of security set-up in different cloud vendor environments. There is a lot of ambiguity in ownership of data integrity, in the wake of data being spread across on-premise, cloud environments, shared workstations and virtual machines. With Hybrid IT deployments, a comprehensive security plan regardless of the data’s location has gained paramount importance.

Upskilling IT Teams

With blurring lines between Dev and IT, there is increasing demand for IT professionals equipped with a broad range of cross-functional skills in addition to core IT competencies. With constant emergence of new technologies, there is usually not much clarity on the exact skillsets required by the IT team in an organization. More than expertise in one specific area, IT teams need to be open to continuous learning to adapt to changing IT environments, to close the skills gap and support their organization’s Digital Transformation goals.

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