Enterprise applications and the data they produce are the foundation of the modern enterprise, second only in value to the human workforce across every sector. Applications help businesses to handle the growing challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow by leveraging everything from the cloud, containers, microservices, Kubernetes, and APIs, to AI/ML, IoT analytics, 5G, and automation.
Their importance continues to grow in the highly digitized post-pandemic era, since they fuel the engine of digital transformation that drives business competitiveness and innovation. Statista predicts that the market value of the global enterprise application sector will grow from $237 billion in 2022 to $347 billion in 2027.
Without application discovery and mapping, enterprises may miss out on their share of that market value. Application discovery is the knowledge of which applications are being used in a given environment. Without this knowledge, organizations will not be positioned to use or change applications in ways that deliver any of these benefits.
Often, applications are spread across hybrid multicloud environments stretching from the data center to multiple clouds and edge, creating a complex web of dependencies wherein visibility and transparency are paramount but challenging. The MuleSoft/Deloitte Report states that today’s average enterprise uses over 900 applications. These growing application numbers, their varied states and dependencies, and the security risks introduced from lack of visibility and the growing prevalence of shadow IT, make application discovery critical for SMEs and global enterprises alike.
The bigger challenge, though, is that some organizations lack a deep understanding of the nature of application discovery. They also are not always familiar with the tools that make discovery possible beyond the limits of CMDB (configuration management database) and the wealth of benefits that application discovery offers.
This article will start by defining application discovery, explain its benefits, explore challenges presented by hybrid multicloud environments, discuss different approaches to application discovery, and suggest key functions to look out for in an application discovery tool.
What Is Application Discovery?
Today, IT organizations are coming to realize that reliance on the CMDB for visibility into an enterprise’s applications is not sufficient, both because of the time investment required, and due to the lack of updates and transparency offered. Sprawling hybrid multicloud landscapes amplify these limitations. Application discovery fills this gap by identifying all applications installed across the entire IT architecture landscape. While that sounds simple enough, gaining a complete inventory of applications is no small feat for the reasons described above.
Application Dependency Mapping
However, discovery alone does not provide all the information that the business and IT team need in order to maximize application benefits and minimize application risks and liabilities (we’ll get into that later.) This is where application dependency mapping (ADM) comes into play, which is the process used to identify all applications, their connections to and dependencies upon other applications, and their respective workloads.
Evidently, application discovery and dependency mapping have different roles and offer different benefits. To understand why both are necessary and their relationship to one another, a simple metaphor comparing applications to children can help: You may know how many children you have (discovery,) but the way to make this information valuable is by knowing what they are doing and how they are interacting both with each other and with the environment around them (dependency mapping.)
To put it more directly, discovery and ADM work together by providing a process of identification of all applications, their connected elements, and location. This includes all servers within the data center, across the network, in the cloud and beyond the edge. A deep dive into defining ADM shows its critical nature for every organization, and the many ways that it affects business risks, outcomes, and innovation. Understanding how discovery and ADM drive visibility gives organizations a way to see how all visibility can deliver benefits.
Benefits of Application Discovery
The benefits of discovery and ADM are so extensive that a complete overview is beyond the scope of this blog post! The benefits increase in scope as IT infrastructure and technology become more complex. Some of the most critical benefits include:
Facilitates Business Impact Analysis
Business impact analysis enables an organization to determine the impact of IT system and application downtime. According to Veeam, for the average business that translates to an hour or less of downtime tolerance for 56% of their high-priority applications and 49% of their normal applications. Application discovery is the foundation of this analysis, and the subsequent business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) strategy that ensures business operations can continue during and after a disaster.
Without first performing application discovery and ADM, organizations cannot accurately determine which applications are truly high priority (mission critical.) Discovery and ADM are also essential for determining which applications are “normal applications” versus “high priority applications.” So-called “normal applications” are less than critical, but important to ongoing business operations; this is likely measured in an acceptable downtime loss of several hours, rather than an hour or less for “high priority applications.”
Supports Change Management
From digital transformation to individual process/system changes, M&A to business restructuring, new services and products require change management to align people, processes, and technology. Application discovery and ADM work together to provide a blueprint for understanding current state processes and supporting the development of future state processes.
Enables Risk and Impact Assessment
Changes in operations, the business market, and the broader socio-economic landscape can all introduce organizational risks. The COVID-19 pandemic is one recent example of an unanticipated risk that profoundly changed many business norms, including the predominance of remote workforce collaboration, including remote application access as normative use.
Cloud migration brings with it known risks, but is nevertheless today an essential aspect of business evolution and digital transformation. Application discovery is the first step to determining the feasibility, benefits, and risks of application migration to the cloud. ADM provides the deeper details on what that migration will entail on a code level where cloud native applications and its benefits are the ideal state.
Reduces Cloud Costs by Facilitating Cost Analysis
Cloud costs are always challenging for organizations, since applications in the cloud have various locations (via hybrid or multicloud) based on factors including security, regulatory compliance, elasticity, and connected services and products. Because these applications require multiple resources for different use cases, costs can fluctuate over time.
CSPs—like Azure and AWS—provide ways to support both cost analysis and application discovery. AWS Discovery Services is one way to perform application discovery and mapping across on-premises data centers and AWS cloud environments.
There are many ways that application discovery and ADM can provide benefits, such as improved application performance, maintenance, and management (operations, help desk, usage, and decommissioning.) Failure to choose the right tools for discovery can also create some challenges in a hybrid multicloud environment.
Application Discovery Challenges in a Hybrid Multicloud World
Choosing the right tools for discovery is essential in a complex, hybrid multicloud environment. Cloud strategies can deliver many benefits, but can also create various challenges for application discovery. A cloud application discovery service like AWS Discovery Services or Microsoft Cloud Discovery can perform detailed discoveries across hybrid environments, but is only useful across that specific CSP environment. Organizations need a streamlined method for discovery and mapping across all CSP environments. Using multiple CSP-specific solutions and dashboards is anathema to those goals.
Organizations are constantly evaluating applications to determine how to gain the maximum benefit offered by cloud native approaches. They will usually have a mix of applications born in the cloud along with legacy monolithic on-premises applications that can benefit from a cloud-native structure. This introduces opportunities like containerization, microservices, Kubernetes, and APIs that all work to maximize application uses. The challenge is that it introduces constant changes to the application and its dependencies.
Complete SaaS and Shadow IT Discovery
SaaS applications are a rapidly growing, permanent, but changing fixture in every organization. SaaS makes up just a portion of the application portfolio, but the average enterprise has 254 SaaS apps with only 45% regularly used, according to a Productiv report. More disturbing is that IT doesn’t manage 56% of total SaaS apps. This shows the challenge of shadow IT risks and SaaS application discovery.
Approaches to Application Discovery
There are many ways to perform application discovery and mapping, with various tools available for the process. But as an organization’s environments, application portfolio, dependencies and data reach a certain point, most deliver only limited results. Organizations need to discover every application and its dependencies everywhere they exist, and must do so quickly and repeatedly.
The primary current methods and tools include the following:
- Agent and agentless for point-in-time discovery, with agentless being the preferred approach since it does not require cumbersome agent downloads to track across specific environments. Having a clear understanding of agent and agentless scanning reveals the benefits of one and the limitations of the other.
- Traffic Analysis of data between switches and routers can provide some level of discovery on physical servers. It has serious challenges because it is time consuming, offers no visibility into physical virtual cloud server application interactions, and requires setup for each segment of the network.
- The configuration management database (CMDB) has long been a source used for general application discovery among its other primary uses. IT has limitations in terms of dependency visibility and no insight into ideal versus current state, so it is impossible to be sure what is right and what is wrong about an application and its dependencies. CMDBs are also notoriously out of date in most organizations, as it takes a significant amount of time to keep it updated via its manual processes.
- Application discovery services like those of AWS and Microsoft Azure are very comprehensive, but as stated earlier, organizations can only use them across on-premises data centers and within that specific CSP environment.
To summarize, there are many applications discovery and ADM tools in the market, but few of them provide everything that organizations need in the age of hybrid multicloud. The best approach to vetting the right solution is to start with the structural benefits of the ideal application discovery solution. (Not that we are biased, but we recommend reading Why IT Mapping Needs an Application Dependency Mapping Tool for more.)
Structural Benefits of an Ideal Application Discovery Solution
The choice of freemium, native, and subscription/paid application discovery tools is huge. It is often easier to start by identifying what an organization wants and needs, versus looking at what many of these solutions offer. Some of the most common “must have” qualities include real-time discovery, data protection, results reporting, scalability, and value for money.
First and foremost is protection of an organization’s data; no data should ever leave its host environment. Ease of access and delivery to the environment is paramount, which should not require opening firewalls, presenting server credentials, or connecting to the internet. The ideal discovery solution should not access the organization’s servers or affect an on-premises or cloud environment in any way.
Deployment and configuration to the organization’s environment must be automated and fast to enable updates to the discovery process at any time. Large organizations will require agent installation for every OS instance, which is time consuming. Agentless solutions often require firewall access, server credentials, and internet connections.
Results reporting should be clear and detailed, providing insights for specific actions such as cloud migrations, security, BCDR, and M&A. Without detailed analysis of discovery and dependencies, vital projects and actions are at risk.
Cost is a factor in every aspect of IT decision making, and application discovery is no different. The choice should never be between a free/freemium solution that results in vendor lock-in, or a paid solution with limits on features or ability to meet any needs—including future needs. Licensing costs can quickly become unsustainable for a process of discovery and mapping that is needed perpetually.
Scalability is vital as organizations and their application landscape environments grow in sometimes-unpredictable ways. The ideal is to find a provider that offers everything the organization needs both now and in the future, with a single license that minimizes costs and TCO. Some agent and agentless-based tools can cost more than $100,000 per year, and force the organization either to limit discovery to only part of the environment to contain costs, or to buy multiple licenses.
Real-time application discovery and dependency mapping is a key goal—perhaps the key goal—of this whole process, entailing discovery and mapping that are continually updated and completely comprehensive.
Faddom: A Single Solution for Application Discovery and Dependency Mapping
While AWS Application Discovery Service and Microsoft Cloud Application Discovery can deliver all these benefits, their exclusivity to their respective CSP means that organizations need multiple CSP solutions to map multicloud environments. A single solution that performs complete organizational discovery and dependency mapping—like Faddom——is a better solution in every way.
Every organization should adhere to the best practices for IT asset management to ensure that risks to the business are minimized, while opportunities and innovation can be maximized. It may be rare in the world of IT solutions, but it is possible to find an application discovery solution that delivers all these benefits with none of the downsides. Anything less will limit an organization’s resilience, growth, and bottom line. Faddom can deliver the benefits of comprehensive discovery and mapping of your hybrid and multicloud infrastructure quickly, cost effectively, and securely.
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