Modern businesses require increasingly complicated tech stacks to keep their teams up and running. What’s more, as businesses try to stay on top of the latest advancements, they wind up with interconnected layers of apps, hardware, and systems that become more and more interdependent on one another. Often, mission-critical technology ends up dependent on various connections, services, and infrastructure components.
This interweaving is difficult to avoid, but what matters most is that businesses take strides to understand it. With application dependency mapping, businesses can recognize how a seemingly simple change in one area could potentially have a ripple effect on the rest of their tech stack, helping them avoid unwanted downtime and complications.
Of course, there’s more than one way to go about application dependency mapping. So, let’s take a closer look at what it is, how to approach it, and where businesses should be looking to go from there.
What Is Application Dependency Mapping?
The purpose of application dependency mapping is to help businesses understand the complex connections between their various hardware, software, and system components. With more businesses using a hybrid collection of local and cloud-based services, finding the right way to approach application dependency mapping is crucial to maintaining uptime, functionality, and ease of use for internal teams.
The benefits of application dependency mapping are far-reaching, but it starts with the improved visibility and observability that these maps create. As a result of the right approach, businesses can unlock real-time notifications when network changes and problems occur, helping them react quickly. They can also speed up problem-solving by easing root cause analysis and other diagnostic processes.
Overall, application dependency mapping helps IT teams save time and money while improving project planning and execution. As a result, entire businesses benefit from reduced downtime and fewer instances of apps and services not functioning as planned. To unlock all of these benefits, you just need to find the right method for your tech stack.
What Are the Four Methods of Application Dependency Mapping?
As with most modern business challenges, there is more than one way to go about application dependency mapping. These four methods are considered the most widely used for Application Discovery and Dependency Mapping (ADDM), so let’s dive into how each one works along with the pros and cons they hold.
1. Sweep and Poll
Sweep and poll is considered the oldest method of application dependency mapping, and it’s fairly lightweight, meaning it won’t put a lot of strain on your IT resources to complete. This method begins with a “sweep” of your company network in which all IP addresses will be pinged. The automated process will work to gather as much information as possible on all devices pinged on the network, helping you understand what server those devices are operating on, along with information about the applications connected to it.
As you can imagine, the sweep and ping method is one of the fastest ways to generate a blueprint of all the devices your company needs to map together. It can also help you start to identify the interdependencies and get the hierarchy and connections in place. The biggest advantage of this method is that it’s so simple, but that’s also its biggest downfall. While you can get a headstart by pinging IPs, you’ll find that this method becomes less and less reliable in more complex environments.
In almost all cases, businesses using the sweep and poll method will want to go back and manually validate the interdependencies (and expand upon them) to ensure that their application dependency map is truly accurate and reliable.
2. Network Monitoring
Another way to start the application dependency mapping process is to analyze the network traffic patterns at the flow level or by capturing packets. This method is ideal for beginning to understand an unexplored system since it does not take any sort of pre-defined blueprint. However, it can be difficult to scale up. You’ll also need to watch for duplicate records.
One of the primary advantages of this method is that the network is monitored in real-time. As a result, you can track changes to your network as they occur, which can help you begin to see how certain applications are dependent on other components of your tech stack. Of course, this requires your IT team to monitor the results or review reports later on, both of which take substantial time and resources for complex environments.
3. Agent on Server
If the idea of monitoring traffic for real-time analysis appeals to you, another method you may pursue involves placing agents at every relevant app, server, or other connected technology. The purpose of these agents is to monitor the inflow and outflow of traffic, helping them identify when changes occur and, therefore, map dependencies across your tech stack.
The primary benefit of this method is that you can easily identify when multiple apps are being used by the same IP address, helping to improve the accuracy of your mapping efforts. However, because you will need to place multiple agents, the cost can quickly increase for more complicated environments.
4. Automated ADDM
For a done-for-you solution that minimizes the burden on your IT team, you might consider relying on an automated ADDM platform. These managed solutions offer a suite of tools that can speed up the discovery of tech stack components and map them together quickly, giving you a full blueprint without straining your internal team.
For businesses big and small, the best feature of ADDM is its ability to save you time and resources. However, there is an added and ongoing cost that comes along with using one of these platforms. Still, with the ability to schedule additional scans periodically, an ADDM platform can put you on the fast track to mapping dependencies and making sure your map remains accurate and up-to-date as changes occur to your infrastructure.
Application Mapping vs. Application Dependency Mapping
While most businesses recognize the need for application dependency mapping, many consider it one and the same as application mapping. However, these processes ultimately have different goals.
Application mapping is often the first step in application dependency mapping as it requires you to discover all applications on your network and the underlying infrastructure. The resulting application map helps you visualize your network along with a simple hierarchy (e.g., this app runs on this server, etc.).
Application dependency mapping takes the process even further. Once you have discovered all components of your tech stack, an application dependency map tasks your business with showing how they all connect. This means discovering the interdependencies that will demonstrate why changing the available resources in this database could negatively impact the functionality of a specific system.
Overall, if you’re looking to better understand your tech stack, reduce downtime, improve functionality, and prepare your team to effectively plan out successful projects without causing unexpected issues on your network, you are looking for an application dependency mapping solution.
Best Practices for ADDM
No matter which of the four methods you choose to utilize to complete your Application Discovery and Dependency Mapping (ADDM) project, it’s critical that you keep these best practices in mind to ensure the accuracy, efficiency, and reliability of your efforts.
Recognize All Types of Dependencies
Before diving into an ADDM project, your team must recognize that you won’t be able to discover all dependencies within the systems themselves, even if you devote endless time and energy trying to do so. This is because there are many types of dependencies that exist in business, including those relating to business cost and culture.
If you fail to recognize these “unseen” dependencies, your application dependency map (no matter how complete it is otherwise) will lead you astray the next time you go to plan a project or make a major change to business infrastructure. For that reason, all tech and non-tech dependencies need to be understood and considered going forward.
Actively Avoid Dependencies When Possible
By far, one of the easiest ways to simplify the application dependency mapping process is to actively work to avoid dependencies. While you will never be able to create an environment that’s void of dependencies, getting in the habit of thinking twice before creating additional dependencies is a smart practice.
As you go about this, remember that you should also choose the lesser of two evils. In other words, when dependency cannot be avoided, take strides to avoid a proprietary dependency that might lock you in with a specific vendor. Additionally, try to write agnostic, durable code when possible to avoid getting tied to a specific operating system or having to rework everything a few versions from now.
While all of this is certainly easier said than done, these are the habits you should begin to get your IT and development teams to follow as you move forward with application dependency mapping (and management).
Strive To Test Everything
Testing all dependencies and the underlying infrastructure is a necessary step to fully understanding how dependencies work and how you might alleviate some of them. Testing is also crucial to gaining insight into the performance of your environment, which can help you simplify, improve, and troubleshoot down the road.
The biggest challenge with testing everything is that third-party applications, such as cloud-based SaaS solutions, often limit what you can see and do when it comes to the underlying infrastructure. Identifying these limitations is yet another important step to help you decide where things should be changed or improved in the future.
Periodically Update Your Map
The single biggest mistake any business can make with application dependency mapping is treating it as an event instead of an ongoing activity. Things change fast in modern business environments. Failing to set up monitoring tools and schedule re-checks will mean that an application dependency map that took so long to create and perfect will rapidly deteriorate.
In general, the more complex your environment is, the more often you should plan to re-check your application dependency map and look for new components and dependencies on your network. You should also make an effort to do so after each new addition, such as when you implement a new application.
While it will take time and resources to maintain your application dependency map, doing so will allow you to unlock and uphold all of the key benefits of this process, like better observability, performance improvements, smoother IT project planning, and reduced downtime across the board.
Application dependency mapping is an ongoing investment of time and resources, but your business has some flexibility when it comes to choosing the path forward. With four methods to pick from, including the option to invest in an automated platform that can do most of the legwork for you, your company can easily get on the path to observability and reap all of the rewards that come along with it.
What matters most as you pursue an application dependency map is that you follow some established best practices. Namely, that means understanding the many technical and non-technical dependencies that will impact your map and how you use it. Additionally, you should seek to improve your processes going forward to help minimize new dependencies and phase out those that currently exist.
All in all, pursuing an application dependency map is practically a must-do for modern businesses to understand their increasingly complex environments. Now, it’s just a matter of deciding where to start.