You know it, we know it, and the IT world feels it every day: today’s businesses are run by a complex interdependency of applications. Many business processes involve multiple applications, from on-premises to the cloud, that all depend on one another to make the process work. So when one application in the chain crashes or starts throwing errors, it can bring the business to a screeching halt. Do you know every piece of software and how it’s connected to the others in the workflow? All the apps, all the middleware, all the scripts? That’s why application dependency mapping is so critical to modern IT management and DevOps.

This article delves into the realm of application dependency mapping, exploring its definition, components, and how it can significantly reduce downtime.

What is application dependency mapping?

Application dependency mapping is a comprehensive process involving the identification, visualization, and documentation of relationships between different components within an IT ecosystem or business process. Doing so makes it easier to trace issues through a specific business process or workflow, decreasing mean time to detection (MTTD) and mean time to resolution (MTTR) for any issues. Of course, there can be a variety of components involved in any process: 

Key components and data points

  • Software: Identification of any applications involved in the process. This can include on-premises n-tier software, distributed cloud-based applications, web apps, middleware, and even serverless functions.
  • Servers: When that software is deployed on specific servers or containers, mapping the server/container locations and understanding how the machines depend on one another are critical.
  • Network equipment: In some cases, there may be specific equipment (whether physical or virtualized) that’s part of the business process flow and needs to be accounted for.
  • Databases: Many applications leverage public or private data connections. These must be included in the dependency map to ensure they can be monitored.
  • Interconnections: Visualizing relationships between various components.

By mapping the interconnections, application dependency mapping visualizes the relationships between individual components. You can then use these maps to monitor specific business processes across distributed infrastructure.

Benefits of application dependency mapping

There are several benefits to implementing application dependency mapping processes. Below are some of the top advantages.

Improved visibility into IT infrastructure

The application dependency mapping map that you can generate through New Relic offers a holistic view of your IT infrastructure and specific business processes. That means you can actually see how things connect and where issues or bottlenecks might occur.

Enhanced decision-making processes

The map helps you make better decisions faster. And who doesn’t want that? By understanding the connections between components in a workflow or across infrastructures, you can make decisions about resources and allocations, which can ultimately save time and money. Say you have a piece of middleware in a process that doesn’t need to be there. Maybe the function has been superseded by another app recently installed? That means the application dependency mapping shows you a piece of complexity you can remove. Whew, one less piece of software to manage.

Efficient resource allocation

Mapping allows you to strategically allocate resources where they're truly needed, potentially saving both time and money. Imagine discovering a middleware that's become redundant, maybe overshadowed by a newly integrated app. Application dependency mapping insights reveal these hidden redundancies, offering you a chance to streamline your process. Less complexity, fewer applications to juggle—that's the kind of efficiency every team strives for.

Enhanced security measures

Application dependency mapping can help improve and harden security. Once the map of interdependencies has been visualized, IT or DevOps engineers can audit the connections themselves. Are all API calls using the most up-to-date version of Transport Layer Security (TLS)? Are passwords sent in clear text? (Even if they are behind firewalls, you should be using keys rather than transmitting plain text.)

Application dependency mapping best practices

Sure, there are lots of ways you could carry out application dependency mapping. You could do it manually with Google Sheets (okay, we don’t recommend that, as that would be super time-consuming and easy to botch). But however you do it, keeping in mind some basic principles will help ensure the application dependency mappings you create will be meaningful and impactful. To ensure effective application dependency mapping, follow these four recommended practices:

1. Identify critical applications and dependencies

Application dependency mapping provides a map for IT teams to see the relationships between applications and systems across the infrastructure. This can help determine capacity needs and resource requirements for each application in the network. Network engineers and DevOps can use application dependency mapping to identify points of critical interdependence. For example, let’s say that there are 18 software and hardware elements in a specific business process workflow. Thirteen of those elements all connect to one specific database server. So if that server has a problem, it takes out a significant percentage of the process. A best practice for application dependency mapping creation, then, is to pinpoint these critical components and ensure that they have the resources they need (and are properly redundant) to ensure maximum uptime and availability. You should also test these application dependencies regularly to confirm they’re working on your application map and troubleshoot as necessary.

2. Conduct real-time monitoring and data accuracy

Even though you’ll want to segment your application dependency mappings into specific application and business process flows, you’ll also want an application dependency mapping across the entire infrastructure. That’s where real-time monitoring comes into play. By capturing data in real-time and employing specific tools like distributed tracing, you can ensure that issues are identified before they cause unnecessary downtime. Also, real-time monitoring, when paired with artificial intelligence (AI)- or machine learning (ML)-driven business rules, can even potentially predict when issues might occur with specific components or relationships. Just imagine implementing specific data thresholds for each component and then visualizing against that. For example, when a certain router’s capacity dips below a specific throughput value, the connection between it and a database server becomes yellow, visually identifying to network engineers that there might be a problem soon to happen.

3. Collaborate and document

One of the side benefits of application dependency mappings is that everyone can see them. These maps aren’t just for those folks in the trenches. How many times have you had to explain to management the complexity of the infrastructure of a specific software-defined business process? Well, you don’t have to explain it anymore. Just give them the application dependency mapping.

4. Update regularly and perform routine maintenance

Like any architecture, your application dependency mapping needs constant attention. This isn’t just a set-it-and-forget-it approach. While application dependency mapping does an excellent job of visualizing the relationships between components within flows and within the network, it also serves as a reminder: that your network is a living, evolving thing. As such, you should build processes to keep it updated regularly. The last thing you want to do when there’s an issue is go back to the application dependency mapping to find the problem, only to realize that it’s 12 months out of date.

How application dependency mapping reduces downtime

Okay, so you’ve made a pretty picture of related components. IT has been doing this for decades. What’s different here is all of the information contained in those relationships. Your application dependency mapping isn’t just a Visio diagram showing which system is connected to which. Rather, it documents how those systems work together, how they are connected, and, when matched to real-time data, the health of the connection.

Application dependency mapping, then, can provide a number of valuable benefits.

Early detection of issues

Network engineers and DevOps live by MTTD and MTTR. With a real-time overview of connected components within the infrastructure, issues can be diagnosed and resolved quickly. 

Let’s face it: downtime costs money. So when using application dependency mappings to reduce downtime, you save the company money. How often are network engineers called heroes? Well, generate your application dependency mapping and use it to resolve an issue in minutes that might have otherwise kept a business process offline for hours and they will be building statues of you in the lobby.

But there’s more, too. As many businesses migrate on-premises business software into the cloud, application dependency mappings can help stave off potential problems during migrations. Take a look at the New Relic APM and New Relic infrastructure agents to see just how you can extend an application dependency mapping into actionable insight.

Predictive analysis for potential failures

Let’s face it: you don’t know what you don’t know. Within the complexity of modern IT and software-defined business processes, there may be dozens or even hundreds of interconnections. Watching them all would take a lot of pairs of eyes. But your application dependency mapping, when built with the right platform, can leverage historical data to predict and prevent potential failures before they impact your end users. 

Rapid incident response

With a clear understanding of dependencies, IT teams can respond swiftly to incidents, minimizing MTTR and, ultimately, downtime. Application dependency mapping streamlines troubleshooting efforts, leading to quicker identification of root causes and addressing dependency-related issues that might impact end users

Disaster recovery and business continuity

Another side benefit of an application dependency mapping is clear identification of all involved systems. Notice that there’s only one SDN router managing the flow of traffic between dozens of other components? Now might be the time to implement a redundant router to ensure business continuity in the event of a failure. The application dependency mapping can lead not only to improved business continuity but better informed disaster recovery plans. When you can see how components are connected, you know the critical pieces that need regular backups or mirroring to ensure that processes and software can be returned to a ready state as quickly as possible.

Implementing application dependency mapping in your organization

Thankfully, it’s not going to crush your staff or break the bank. But you should follow a few steps to ensure that the process to build and maintain your application dependency mapping becomes part of your IT or DevOps DNA:

  1. Assess your current IT infrastructure: How complicated will your application dependency mapping be to generate and maintain? The answer to this lies in how well your internal IT or DevOps resources understand the current IT infrastructure. If not everyone knows about all the components, the application dependency mapping may be incomplete right out of the gate. 
  2. Choose the right mapping tools and technologies: Select suitable tools and technologies, considering factors such as compatibility, scalability, and ease of use.
  3. Overcome challenges: Address challenges like resistance to change and complexities in hybrid IT environments proactively.
  4. Deal with complex and hybrid IT environments: Many orgs, maybe even yours, have complicated IT infrastructure. Your own gear, in your own or managed data centers, cloud providers, third-party vendors, and more. If you’re going to build an effective application dependency mapping, you’ll need to make sure your internal resources understand the unique complexities of your environment.
  5. Training and skill development: Implementing application dependency mapping isn’t like drawing a network diagram in Visio. It’s a bit more involved because it’s a real-time representation of data flows through software-defined business processes and your IT infrastructure. So, you’ll need to beef up internal skill sets to ensure that your internal resources can effectively implement and manage application dependency mapping.
  6. Continuous learning and skill enhancement: Encourage continuous learning and application dependency mapping skill enhancement to keep pace with evolving technologies and mapping methodologies.

Are you ready to start mapping?

If you’ve gotten to the end of this post, you should be ready to start mapping— because you understand how much your org relies on its software-defined business process. And you know how tough work would become if specific hardware or software components went down. And for every minute of downtime, your business is losing money. 

By following application dependency mapping best practices and leveraging comprehensive application dependency mapping solutions from New Relic, you can ensure that the key IT components that power your business remain up and working as efficiently as possible.