Last week I was able to catch up with Chris Tranter, Technical Lead at Hallmark UK.
Hallmark’s engineering team runs on tight deadlines, and like all popular websites, places a huge importance on customer experience. As you can imagine, their site has abnormal and inconsistent load times, especially through the holiday season. Ensuring a smooth, seamless experience without stalls, outages, or crashes is extremely important.
It was great to see how AppDynamics APM can become a necessary solution on a developer’s toolkit.
Hannah Current: What challenges did you suffer before using APM? And how did you troubleshoot before using an APM tool?
Chris Tranter: Hallmark UK undertook a business transformation project under very tight timescales, specifically in the area of technical planning and design. We had to move fast to deliver an enterprise solution and while confident we could deliver, I was nervous about hitting stalling points as you do with any development. I knew from experience that troubleshooting issues could take time, sometimes days. I needed something to help in this area, so I started to search for system monitoring tools on the internet.
HC: What was your APM selection process/criteria?
CT: I needed something that could oversee a .net/sql based development environment. Previously I’d used smaller scale tools for memory analysis, resource usage etc. They didn’t appear to fit the scale of the requirement here as we have many components working together under a service based architecture. I wasn’t sure if it was possible to monitor everything working together with one solution, so it was purely a research exercise to see what I could find; I’d expected to find a collection of different tools which we could use to help us through the process, In our case this needed to cover .net web services, web sites, windows services, MSMQ queues and server performance. Utopia was having everything captured in one central location.
HC: Why AppDynamics over the other solutions out there?
CT: After reading the promotional info and investigating AppDynamics, I was happy to see I’d found a solution which answered all my requirements. I looked around for similar products but nothing seemed to fit as well as AppDynamics. As mentioned earlier, it’s possible to put a toolkit together from various vendors, but the plus points of AppDynamics were that it was constantly monitoring and alerting and we didn’t have to do much to capture that information once it was up and running. I was also very interested in being able to move back in time and see what was happening on the system when something had occurred as debugging user test systems on the fly was out of the question, we’d have to replicate issues manually which given the nature of the testing and the required positioning of staged data, was often difficult and time consuming. Using the cloud Saas controller, it’s possible to access this data while out of the office, something which has proved invaluable with having contract resource working off site.
HC: How has AppDynamics helped to solve some critical problems?
CT: It’s difficult to quantify this answer. All I know is that there have been significant issues which on reflection would have caused long stalls in the project had we not have had this solution in place. As we have very tight timelines, the impact of these stalls could have severely affected the project plan. The issues came and went with minimal delay as we were able to easily pinpoint the cause of problems in a matter of minutes. It really is that good! … for example.. Our service based solution comprises of a number of WCF services all receiving calls from desktop applications and web applications. Under load, we noticed that we would encounter stalls which would freeze up all clients for minutes at a time. With so many different incoming calls from the estate coming through a central point, debugging was a difficult task. Only it isn’t with AppDynamics, as it’s capturing the data all the time. I staged a few tests and forced the stalls, all the time data was being captured by the AppDynamics agents. I was then able to review the snapshots and immediately see the cause of the problem and where it had occurred. Finding this information is not always easy, sifting through event logs, IIS logs etc… no need anymore, it’s all there for you.
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