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The Future of Automated Cloud Performance Monitoring for Microsoft Office 365

We talked to JF Piot, Vice President Product Management, GSX Solutions, about how GSX provides solutions to enterprises for monitoring their Microsoft Office 365 implementations.

Cloud performance monitoring has been a black box to date. What are you guys doing to change this?
GSX Solutions provides expert monitoring and reporting solutions for Microsoft Office 365 cloud and hybrid deployments. For the past 20 years, GSX Solutions has worked with some of the largest enterprises in the world, specialising in troubleshooting end-user performance for large cloud deployments.
We have in-depth experience in monitoring and reporting large, on-premises deployments of SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, Blackberry, IBM applications, as well as email security appliances (Iron Port), Load Balancers (Kemp, F5) and SQL environments. This expertise enables us to better understand the concerns and requirements of large companies migrating to Office 365.
GSX Monitor & Analyzer is an agentless application that acts as a Robot User, which continuously tests the actual service quality delivered to the end user and troubleshoots the root cause of potential latencies.
In a nutshell, our tools help IT administrators identify the true cause of latencies experienced by the end user.

Why is performance monitoring a big deal?
For the end user, performance and availability are two notions that, most of the time, seem one and the same. If it takes a minute each time you want to access to your mailbox, you would likely consider it unavailable.
From an administration perspective, performance is rooted in statistics; these are the facts you can work with. Measuring performance allows you to understand end-user satisfaction, anticipate future issues, and troubleshoot the root cause of problems.
End-to-end performance monitoring is even more important for cloud applications because it provides the only statistics that are independent of the “SLA-out-of-datacenter” metrics sold by the cloud provider.
It is easy to measure the performance of a cloud application when you have the right tool that will simulate and measure real user experience. The troubleshooting process for cloud applications involves checking all of the components that participate in the delivery of service, including those that aren’t the responsibility of the administrator.

If you want to measure, improve, and troubleshoot Exchange Online performance, for example, you need to take into account:
- The performance of the processes inside the data centre – which you do not control
- The performance of your internet connection – which you rarely control
- The performance of your internal network and all its components (switch, routers, etc)
- The performance of your security applications – appliances like IronPort – or pure software
- The performance of your management device solutions tools that impact directly on the end-user experience on Active Sync devices
- The performance of your DNS resolution, which is often a root cause of major incidents
- The performance of your Active Directory (AD), AD replication to the cloud, Azure AD Connect, Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS)
So to measure and troubleshoot application performance, you need a comprehensive view of the environment and impacting elements. GSX Monitor & Analyzer provides this end-to-end solution to its clients.

The admin landscape moved to a DevOps scenario. How does this change your solutions?
DevOps was born from the necessary convergence between the teams that create web applications and the teams that manage them. As the build process is continuous and follows Agile methodologies, the administration of these applications had to follow a new, shorter cycle of production. This is why tools have been developed to enable these teams to collaborate more seamlessly.
If you consider the Unified Communication and Management device environment, you can see that the services are exclusively provided by large editors without any internal custom developments. So the DevOps approach applied to the Cloud providers themselves, but not to their customers — or at least, not in the Unified Collaboration market.
Nevertheless, the transition to DevOps has impacted us greatly. Now that Unified Collaboration applications are provided through the cloud, updates and new releases occur more rapidly. At GSX, we strive to remain a step ahead of the new capabilities of the services we monitor, in order to propose the best value-added monitoring software. So we must necessarily adapt our development to have faster reaction times, and be more proactive about keeping pace with faster cycles of innovation.

You have the capabilities to run unified communications in an “AdminOps” world, as well as the capabilities to deploy all of the underlying technologies around agentless monitoring. Are you doing all this on-premises and in the cloud?
GSX Monitor is, first and foremost, a Robot User. This means it tests all of your applications from wherever you choose to place it. Generally, you want to position the Robot User where your users are, in order to capture as much as critical information to measure, improve, and troubleshoot performance issues.
This is why our agentless Robot User has to be deployed on-premises. If you want a true picture of end user experience, you need to measure and monitor critical processes at the precise location. Hopefully, your users aren’t located in the cloud.
The beauty of this Robot User is that it can measure the performance of all cloud applications, as well as any on-premises software and appliances that impact the service delivered.

How does the cloud change the “monitoring game”?
Firstly, the cloud forces us to innovate at a very different pace. If you look at an on-premises application like Exchange, there used to be a new version every three years. Now additional features can be added every month! Thus, our flexible capabilities and ability to adapt quickly to our clients' needs have defined our success.
The second large change is that admins now rely heavily on the information relayed by their cloud service provider, in terms of quality of service. This is largely represented by a black hole, as no cloud provider can guarantee acceptable service from end to end. It simply involves too many factors for which the cloud provider is not responsible.
Cloud has also transformed the role of the IT administrator, particularly because of the hybrid model. Dealing with hybrid identities management, for example, can be really complex. And without the proper tools, troubleshooting can take days.
Finally, cloud applications impact the network team, who need to be able to check both the internal network as well as everything in between the users to the cloud service data centre.

You launched a series of new tools for Office 365. Is this still one solution for Office 365?
GSX has launched three different tools for Office 365 that are designed to address the needs of specific teams. Each tool has been built using 20 years of experience in the monitoring and management of large messaging and collaboration deployments.
The monitoring tool needs the on-premises component – the Robot User – to measure end-user experience and troubleshoot every potential root cause of latency, whether it’s internal or external.
The usage reporting tool is designed to provide read-only access and reporting capabilities to the people in the company that need them. So the service is provided through the SaaS platform, with an easy-to-use and powerful profile management system (so you can decide who has access to what type of information).
Finally, the license administration tool is designed for the help desk, in order to drastically lower the cost of administration for large enterprises.
To conclude, GSX provides three tools specifically designed to serve three different purposes, but all are part of our comprehensive solution for Office 365 management.

How does monitoring help prevent issues before they reach the end-user?
Usually, a latency or availability issue at the end-user level is the result of a complex chain of dependencies between multiple applications, networks, and appliances that all need to be up and running.
The GSX Robot User constantly checks all the applications and appliances that could impact the service delivered to the end user. Because of this, GSX has way more information than the user about potential issues that may arise. For example, if your IronPort is starting to become overwhelmed by spam or a cache problem, email delivery will be impacted. The user won’t be able to predict this happening, but GSX Robot User can!
At the same time, GSX Solutions is developing new machine learning capabilities that can detect any change in the performance of any component of the service in real-time, so that the administrator will know immediately when issues are beginning to arise.
In any case, GSX Robot User will always be the first to detect problems in service delivery, long before they impact your real users.

What are some ways successful monitoring and reporting tools help organisations increase their margins?
I can speak about Managed Service Providers or Microsoft Partners that resell Office 365 seats. Our tools are designed for large enterprises but are also used by Microsoft Partners looking to improve service delivery to their own customers.
These three services can easily be delivered by MSPs or Microsoft Partners using our tools:
- Office 365 usage reporting as a service: The Office 365 Usage tool can be used to connect to the tenant of their customers, and provide on-demand scheduled reports to the finance department, sales, or anybody else in the organisation that needs information on the usage of Office 365 services.
- Exchange online remote administration: This tool allows them to efficiently manage multiple customers at the same time while slashing costs, as the tool enables low-level administrators to perform 80 per cent of administrative tasks that would ordinarily require PowerShell experts at the customer site. It is an easy way to provide better service for a fraction of the cost.
- Office 365 end-to-end performance monitoring: Our Robot User can be installed at customer locations to provide complete monitoring of the availability and performance delivered to all the locations.
All these services allow resellers to be part of the Microsoft CSP Program, which offers better margins while reselling Office 365 (up to 28 per cent!).

Where do you see the industry go. How is machine learning influencing the monitoring landscape?
We believe machine learning is the future of monitoring. It was first developed for large infrastructure monitoring tools, in order to analyse large quantities of data to solve complex issues.
These capabilities do not exist for application monitoring solutions to date, and GSX is dedicated to developing them for Office 365 and Mobile Device Management services. We are also working on predictive and ‘root cause analysis modules’.
People tend to think that you need large amounts of data for a machine to adapt to a situation, but that is not necessarily true. Everything is dependent upon the algorithm created for the machine to understand new patterns and situations. Meet us at the next Microsoft Ignite to learn more about this exciting topic!