Application Mapping: Turn-by-Turn for Your Data Center

August 24, 2018

Application Mapping: Turn-by-Turn for Your Data Center

When you go on a trip somewhere, you always take a map. When I was growing up, that map came in the form of a road atlas that was bigger than I was. I remember spending hours in the car with my parents tracing out all the different ways that we could get from where we were to where we wanted to be.

Today, my kids are entertained by GPS and navigation systems that have automated the process. Instead of spending time drawing out the lines between cities and wondering how to get around, they can simply put a destination into the application and get a turn-by-turn route to where they want to go. Automation has made a formerly difficult process very simple.

In much the same way, many systems professionals find themselves mapping out applications the “old fashioned” way. They work backwards to figure out how applications behave and what resources they need to operate effectively. While it’s not hard to find dependencies for major things, like database access and user interfaces, sometimes things slip through the cracks. One of my favorite stories is about a big Amazon Web Services outage in 2017 that saw the AWS status lights continually lit green because they were hosted on AWS and were inaccessible during the outage. Status lights aren’t a critical function of AWS, but it is a great example of how manual application dependency mapping can cause unforeseen problems.

Thankfully, the amount of data generated by applications today allows for solutions that can automatically detect and map applications and infrastructure. Much like the change from road atlases to GPS, the amount of good data at the disposal of application developers allows them to build better maps of the environment. This application mapping helps professionals figure out where things are and how best to identify problems with applications on a global scale. This could mean dependencies located in one availability zone are affecting application performance on the other side of the country, or even on the other side of the world.

How can we take full advantage of these application maps? For that, we really need context. Think back to our GPS example. GPS in and of itself doesn’t do much more than pinpoint you on a map. The value in GPS is that the data feeds applications that provide turn-by-turn navigation. These navigation systems are the context on top of the location data. Rather than simply printing out directions from a website, the app can take us right to the front door of our location.

So too can contextual application mapping help us when we need to troubleshoot bigger issues. By offering additional data about applications above and beyond simple port mapping or server locations, we can provide even more rich data to help figure out problems. Think about a map that shows all the availability zones on a map that then overlays things like severe weather alerts or winter weather advisories. The additional context can help understand how mesoscale issues can affect service and application availability.


Tom Hollingsworth, CCIE #29213, is a 15-year veteran of the networking industry. He spent over a decade as a senior network engineer for an education-focused reseller, specializing in the implementation and operation of advanced technologies. Tom is well versed in the mechanics of campus and data center networks, voice and collaboration systems, and data center virtualization. Tom has also been a vocal member of the networking community. He is active on Twitter as @NetworkingNerd, and writes on his blog at, as well as being a columnist for Network Computing. He has been a speaker and panel moderator for TechUnplugged and Interop, in addition to serving as the Interop Networking Track Chair and Infrastructure Advisory Board member. Tom has been a regular guest on industry podcasts, including Packet Pushers and Current Status. Tom is currently serving as an organizer on the Tech Field Day event series, specializing in networking and mobility technologies. He speaks daily with companies on the forefront of exciting new ideas and incredible new solutions, and works with industry influencers to help the greater networking community understand how they work and how networking professionals can take advantage of them in everyday practice.