Apartments.com uses AppDynamics to find issues New Relic couldn’t

This blog post is a summary of a case study that I conducted with Apartments.com. You can read the full case study HERE.

Every company is becoming a software company

In this post, I would like to discuss a common theme that is beginning to emerge as I speak to our diverse range of customers from so many different business verticals. No matter what your business, it is beginning to become increasingly clear that almost all companies are investing heavily in their software applications. Whether their software serves the needs of a public facing consumer product or automating internal processes, all companies today are becoming software companies in one way or another.

Apartments.com is a national online resource that delivers personalized apartment searches, walk-through video demonstrations and community reviews to potential renters. Their web-based application serves both desktop and mobile devices. On the server side, they are powered by a cluster of .NET applications responsible for serving requests, storing, and aggregating data.

Apartments.com Goals and Challenges

Like any other software company, Apartments.com faced similar challenges about both the development, deployment, and maintenance of their web application. In addition to redesigning their website from the ground up, they also were anticipating almost an 8x increase in traffic due to an aggressive marketing campaign planned around their new website launch. The challenges that Apartments.com outlined for me were:

  • Serving the increased visitor traffic with no compromise in performance
  • Code and performance insight into their new asynchronous programming methodologies
  • Correlating transactions between multiple tiers within their highly distributed application environment
  • Using an entry-level APM tool, New Relic, that could not provide the enterprise-level performance capabilities they were in need of

The Apartments.com Measurement of Success

I had a chance to sit down and speak with Jonathan Sieja, the Technical Operations Manager for Apartments.com. Jonathan heads the DevOps team responsible for the successful deployment of their .NET applications. When asked, Jonathan explained that Apartments.com measure application performance success by:

  • Website availability
  • Low error rates
  • Application performance
  • The overall end-user experience

Why Apartments.com Adopted AppDynamics

I loved listening to Jonathan explain how quickly they qualified AppDynamics as their APM platform of choice and the key decision criterias that we helped provide. The advantages of AppDynamics, as Jonathan explained, included:

  • An easy implementation and roll-out that even included a junior-level development writing a script within an hour to deploy AppDynamics across 60 servers in only one day.
  • Immediate auto-discovery of every transaction with automated baselining and key performance metrics necessary for the DevOps team
  • Features and capabilities that allowed Apartments.com to implement true enterprise-level monitoring
  • An account team that provided the flexibility of providing a custom quote to meet both their performance and budget needs

AppDynamics offers insight for the Enterprise DevOps performance needs

AppDynamics was swift to prove its value to Jonathan and his team. The more the team at Apartments.com use AppDynamics, the more they realize how much of an imperative part of their performance engineering process it is. From solving issues across multiple data center, to providing insight into their cache layers, to helping measure the performance impact of 3rd-party software, to exposing a flawed database plug-in that impacted their SQL calls, AppDynamics has proven its value to the Apartments.com team!

Glassdoor proves AppDynamics is a Great Place to Work!

AD TeamIt’s been almost two years since I joined AppDynamics and it’s been one of the best career moves I’ve ever made. I used to work at a competitor, and quickly realized I was working for the wrong company. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut feeling when it comes to technology–you’ve either got a product that’s special or you don’t, and I know what it’s like to experience both feelings.

At AppDynamics the technology is definitely special, but I also joined a group of like-minded people who shared the same passion as I did for application monitoring. The no-compromise approach to figuring out new ways of doing things that couldn’t be done previously, along with a laser-focus on solving real world problems for customers, is pretty inspiring. Things are never perfect at any company but the passion to make our customers successful, and the will to win business professionally, is unique at AppDynamics. We really believe that enterprise software doesn’t have to suck, it should never be shelfware, and it should be affordable by everyone–which is one of the reasons why we created a free product AppDynamics Lite that now has over 100,000 users and our commercial product AppDynamics Pro is reasonably priced.

In just two years we’ve disrupted an application monitoring market that was previously dominated by expensive complex solutions that quite frankly sucked. This disruption was one of the reasons why Gartner recognized AppDynamics as a Leader in their 2012 APM Magic Quadrant, and we’ve only been selling our product for two years! This speaks volumes for what we’ve achieved in such a short period of time. What’s also great is that our customers are very vocal about their success; our case study page is packed with customer success stories, with several customers willing to publish actual ROI results from their AppDynamics deployments. How many real customer ROI stories have you read recently from any vendor? My guess is not many.

One online community that provides an accurate inside look at companies is Glassdoor.com. It basically lets employees rate different aspects of the company they work for, from compensation all the way through to culture and leadership. If you search for all the APM companies on Glassdoor.com that are currently recognized in the Gartner’s APM Magic Quadrant, here is what the top 10 looks like:

Glassdoor APM ratings

*Glassdoor ratings correct as of 1/10/2013

I’m pretty proud to work for a company where employees are very satisfied and give their CEO 100% approval. That says a lot about the success and leadership of the company–happy employees also means a happy place to work and trust me, this is pretty important when you spend most of your life at work!

One company that didn’t score well was Compuware. Only 38% of employees would recommend a friend and only 68% approve of their CEO. Not particularly encouraging when you need your employees to innovate, run through walls, and beat the competition. A hedge fund recently put an offer on the table to take Compuware private–let’s hope those guys can get the employees jazzed.

If you’re looking for the next challenge, cool technology and a great place to work, you should consider joining AppDynamics. We’ve got 21 positions currently open and we need great people to help scale the great company we’re building!

With customers like Netflix, Orbitz, Fox News, Vodafone and Yahoo you’ll experience the ins and outs of monitoring some of the largest applications in the world.

Oh, and you get to work with a superhero like me!

Appman.

The Top 5 Advantages of SaaS-based Application Performance Management

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has received a lot of success and adoption in the past five years, but not as much in the field of application performance management (APM) than it has in other markets. With Cloud computing gaining momentum, you’re likely to see SaaS APM adoption increase significantly as more applications are deployed to the Cloud. Gartner also recently made SaaS a mandatory requirement for APM vendors to be included in their 2012 APM Magic Quadrant, so SaaS-based APM is definitely becoming hot right now!

Here’s the top 5 advantages that SaaS-based APM can offer:

1. TIME-TO-VALUE

SaaS-based APM can be deployed within your organization in the time it takes you to read this article. Think about that for a second – you get to experience the full benefits of APM in just a few minutes with no interaction from sales people or technical consultants. All you need to do is sign up for an account, take a free trial, and evaluate whether APM can meet your needs or solve your problems.

Many cloud providers are now actively partnering with APM vendors to embed agents within the servers they provision for customer applications. I personally know of a company that solved a 6 month production issue within an hour of deploying SaaS-based APM. How about that for ROI and time to value!

2. COST – LICENSES, MAINTENANCE, ADMINISTRATION, HARDWARE

Simply put, subscription-based licenses are cheaper, more flexible and less risk than owning perpetual licenses. Annual maintenance is included in the subscription, as is the cost of managing and supporting the APM infrastructure required to monitor your applications. You don’t need to buy hardware to run your APM management server, and you also don’t need to pay someone to manage it either – you simply deploy your agents and you’re all done. There’s now no need to sign up to a multi-million dollar 3 year APM ELA agreement with a vendor; rather, you can pay as you go. If the APM software rocks, you renew your subscription. If the APM software sucks, you go elsewhere.

3. EASE OF USE

When a customer signs up for a SaaS account and evaluates APM for the first time, there is no pre-sales or technical consultant sitting next to them to configure or demo the solution. The experience from account registration to application monitoring is a journey taken alone by the customer.

First impressions are everything with SaaS. Therefore, the learning curve of APM in this context must be faster and easier, so the APM solution can sell itself to the customer.

SaaS-based APM solutions are also much younger than traditional on-premise software, meaning the technology, UI design principles, and concepts applied are more superior and interactive for the user. Try comparing the UI of an iPhone with a Nokia phone from 5 years ago and you’ll see my point.

First generation APM solutions were typically written for developers by developers. Today the value of APM touches many different user skill sets. It is therefore no surprise that SaaS-based APM can appeal to and be adopted by development, operations and business users.

4. MIGRATING TO THE LATEST RELEASE

When an APM vendor announces a new release of its software with lots of cool features, it’s normally down to the customers themselves to migrate to the new release. If things go well, they might spend several days or perhaps a few weeks performing the migration. If things go badly, they might end up spending several weeks working hand in hand with the vendor to complete the migration.

With SaaS-based APM, the vendors themselves are responsible for the migration. Customers simply login and they get the latest version and features automatically. They get to harness APM innovation as soon as it’s ready, rather than having to wait weeks or months to find the time to migrate by themselves. If anything goes wrong, then it’s the vendor who spends the time and money to fix it, rather than the customer.

Customers today will typically upgrade their APM software once a year because of the time and effort. With SaaS-based APM, they can receive multiple upgrades and always be on the latest version.

5. SCALABILITY

Enterprises and Cloud providers can manage lots of applications, which can span several thousand servers. It is one thing for a customer to deploy APM across two applications and a hundred servers in their organization. It is another thing to deploy it across fifty applications and a thousand servers.

Scaling APM has never been easy. The more agents you deploy, the more management servers you need to collect, process, and manage the data. How quickly can you purchase, provision, and maintain the APM management infrastructure when you’ve got hundreds of applications you want to monitor?

With SaaS-based APM, you let the vendor take care of that for you. I know of a SaaS-based APM user that monitors over 6,000 servers in their organization. Compare that with the largest APM on-premise deployment you know of and you can see why SaaS-based APM is a better scalability option.

So there you have it–five compelling reasons why you should consider SaaS-based APM in your organization. SaaS-based APM isn’t for everyone, though. I typically see less adoption in financial services customers where data privacy and security controls are much tighter.

Appman.

Finding the Root Cause of Application Performance Issues in Production

The most enjoyable part of my job at AppDynamics is to witness and evangelize customer success. What’s slightly strange is that for this to happen, an application has to slow down or crash.

It’s a bittersweet feeling when End Users, Operations, Developers and many Businesses suffer application performance pain. Outages cost the business money, but sometimes they cost people their jobs–which is truly unfortunate. However, when people solve performance issues, they become overnight heroes with a great sense of achievement, pride, and obviously relief.

To explain the complexity of managing application performance, imagine your application is 100 haystacks that represent tiers, and somewhere a needle is hurting your end user experience. It’s your job to find the needle as quickly as possible! The problem is, each haystack has over half a million pieces of hay, and they each represent lines of code in your application. It’s therefore no surprise that organizations can take days or weeks to find the root cause of performance issues in large, complex, distributed production environments.

End User Experience Monitoring, Application Mapping and Transaction profiling will help you identify unhappy users, slow business transactions, and problematic haystacks (tiers) in your application, but they won’t find needles. To do this, you’ll need x-ray visibility inside haystacks to see which pieces of hay (lines of code) are holding the needle (root cause) that is hurting your end users. This X-Ray visibility is known as “Deep Diagnostics” in application monitoring terms, and it represents the difference between isolating performance issues and resolving them.

For example, AppDynamics has great End User Monitoring, Business Transaction Monitoring, Application Flow Maps and very cool analytics all integrated into a single product. They all look and sound great (honestly they do), but they only identify and isolate performance issues to an application tier. This is largely what Business Transaction Management (BTM) and Network Performance Management (NPM) solutions do today. They’ll tell you what and where a business transaction slows down, but they won’t tell you the root cause so you can resolve the issues.

Why Deep Diagnostics for Production Monitoring Matters

A key reason why AppDynamics has become very successful in just a few years is because our Deep Diagnostics, behavioral learning, and analytics technology is 18 months ahead of the nearest vendor. A bold claim? Perhaps, but it’s backed up by bold customer case studies such as Edmunds.com and Karavel, who compared us against some of the top vendors in the application performance management (APM) market in 2011. Yes, End User Monitoring, Application Mapping and Transaction Profiling are important–but these capabilities will only help you isolate performance pain, not resolve it.

AppDynamics has the ability to instantly show the complete code execution and timing of slow user requests or business transactions for any Java or .NET application, in production, with incredibly small overhead and no configuration. We basically give customers a metal detector and X-Ray vision to help them find needles in haystacks. Locating the exact line of code responsible for a performance issue means Operations and Developers solve business pain faster, and this is a key reason why AppDynamics technology is disrupting the market.

Below is a small collection of needles that customers found using AppDynamics in production. The simple fact is that complete code visibility allows customers to troubleshoot in minutes as opposed to days and weeks. Monitoring with blind spots and configuring instrumentation are a thing of the past with AppDynamics.

Needle #1 – Slow SQL Statement

Industry: Education
Pain: Key Business Transaction with 5 sec response times
Root Cause: Slow JDBC query with full-table scan

Needle #2 – Slice of Death in Cassandra

Industry: SaaS Provider
Pain: Key Business Transaction with 2.5 sec response times
Root Cause: Slow Thrift query in Cassandra

Needle #3 – Slow & Chatty Web Service Calls

Industry: Media
Pain: Several Business Transactions with 2.5 min response times
Root Cause: Excessive Web Service Invocation (5+ per trx)

Needle #4 -Extreme XML processing

Industry: Retail/E-Commerce
Pain: Key Business Transaction with 17 sec response times
Root Cause: XML serialization over the wire.

Needle #5 – Mail Server Connectivity

Industry: Retail/E-Commerce
Pain: Key Business Transaction with 20 sec response times
Root Cause: Slow Mail Server Connectivity

 Needle #6 – Slow ResultSet Iteration

Industry: Retail/E-Commerce
Pain: Several Business Transactions with 30+ sec response times
Root Cause: Querying too much data

Needle #7 – Slow Security 3rd Party Framework

Industry: Education
Pain: All Business Transactions with > 3 sec response times
Root Cause: Slow 3rd party code

Needle #8 – Excessive SQL Queries

Industry: Education
Pain: Key Business Transactions with 2 min response times
Root Cause: Thousands of SQL queries per transaction

Needle #9 – Commit Happy

Industry: Retail/E-Commerce
Pain: Several Business Transactions with 25+ sec response times
Root Cause: Unnecessary use of commits and transaction management.

Needle #10 – Locking under Concurrency

Industry: Retail/E-Commerce
Pain: Several Business Transactions with 5+ sec response times
Root Cause: Non-Thread safe cache forces locking for read/write consistency

 Needle #11 – Slow 3rd Party Search Service

Industry: SaaS Provider
Pain: Key Business Transaction with 2+ min response times
Root Cause: Slow 3rd Party code

 Needle #12 – Connection Pool Exhaustion

Industry: Financial Services
Pain: Several Business Transactions with 7+ sec response times
Root Cause: DB Connection Pool Exhaustion caused by excessive connection pool invocation & queries

Needle #13 – Excessive Cache Usage

Industry: Retail/E-Commerce
Pain: Several Business Transactions with 50+ sec response times
Root Cause: Cache Sizing & Configuration

If you want to manage and troubleshoot application performance in production, you should seriously consider AppDynamics. We’re the fastest growing on-premise and SaaS based APM vendor in the market right now. You can download our free product AppDynamics Lite or take a free 30-day trial of AppDynamics Pro – our commercial product.

Now go find those needles that are hurting your end users!

App Man.

Why I Joined The Leading APM Provider AppDynamics

A new year, a new iPhone and a new quarter. What else is new? How about a new company?

Last month I was fortunate enough to join a stellar marketing team at one of the fastest growing enterprise software startups in the bay area. The company you ask? AppDynamics, and did I mention we’re also the leading next generation Application Performance Management (APM) provider for modern architectures in distributed, cloud, virtualized and on-premise environments? We exceeded our targets for 2011 achieving an astonishing 400% growth in bookings. Not too shabby for being the new kid on the block in a competitive market already inundated with vendors. You have old school APM tools from megavendors like CA, HP and Compuware (was dynaTrace). Then you have the new school breed such as New Relic and AppDynamics. In fact, Gartner’s MQ lists over twenty vendors. So with such a crowded market why did I even consider such a move?

Well there’s a laundry list of reasons, but here are the top ones that come to mind.

1. Business Innovation. This is another kind of BI not just Business Intelligence. It’s really a breath of fresh air to be working with an organization that is not only obsessed with pumping out insanely great technology every few quarters or so, but also open to embracing innovative approaches to every discipline of the business including creative marketing and sales strategies. Often times enterprise software companies unabashedly attempt to cloak themselves in slideware selling a “vision” or an enterprise solution poles apart from reality. Unfortunately when it comes down to an actual evaluation, you end up having to attend a dozen meetings just to see an applicable demo, a one week to two month proof-of-concept followed by throwing millions of dollars at consulting and implementation services, which segues to my next point.

2. Ease-of-Use. This simple yet powerful concept has been repeatedly neglected or intentionally ignored by many enterprise software companies. Luckily, the Leaders of the New School such as Apple, Salesforce, Box, etc. (not Busta Rhymes group) have changed the way end users value an intuitive user interface and design. At AppDynamics, we’ve adopted a similar mindshare. “Easy” is the new world order in this industry because the managers, engineers and folks in IT operations are encountering enough complexity as it is with these modern architectures. I doubt the last thing that they want is another tool to further complicate their lives causing more frustration on the job. At the end of the day everyone is a consumer – the least common denominator – who wants to use software that helps us demystify our lives and makes us successful at our jobs (unless you’re a sadist).

Software that is easy to install, implement and use can have a tremendous impact on the bottom-line of a business. Suppose you end up rolling out a new system but end up having to spend a chunk of company change on implementation and training costs. What impact does that have on your productivity and ultimately your company’s bottom-line? Here’s an example from Avon’s Q3, 2011 earnings transcript,

“Despite extensive pre-implementation testing, we had greater than anticipated implementation challenges in the go-live. Significantly higher business complexity in this market contributed to a greater than expected level of disruption, as I said, when we went to the go-live environment.”

Many vendors make enterprise deployments akin to embarking on an IT version of manifest destiny. I’m sure you can think of a few applications in your own IT toolbox that fit the bill where at some point you ended up asking yourself, “Why can’t this be as easy as [fill in the blank with some consumer app]?”  Fig. 2. See empathetic frustrated user to your left.

That was compelling enough for me to join AppDynamics. We truly understand the business significance as to why software ought to be easy 360 degrees around especially in production. I’m not saying that the work designers and developers have to do to achieve this “Easy” goal is easy in itself. I have an unrequited love for the folks in engineering who possess the talent and perseverance in coding applications, but that doesn’t excuse a vendor from selling you a dream and then leaving you stranded to implement a nightmare all because there wasn’t enough emphasis on ease-of-use.

3. Application Performance. This one is near and dear to my heart and arguably the main reason for me to join AppDynamics. It takes me back to the challenging days and sleepless nights I endured while working on a massive global PDM implementation at LG Electronics jointly with Dassault Systemes. The year was 2008. Skynet hadn’t become self-aware yet. App Man was just A Man in the throes and woes of IT operations, and half way around the world over in Seoul, Korea I was managing juggling recurring performance issues on a weekly basis with our PMO having to answer to the beck and call of the LGE CIO. The project’s launch date had been delayed due to various complications with the implementation (that’s a whole other story). Any ideas what one of those might have entailed? If you guessed “performance”, congratulations! You’ve won! Download your free copy AppDynamics Lite.

Every week new customizations were being released from R&D back in the states, PS in Korea and SI’s sitting on the other side of the room. You could call it Agile development’s nemesis, frAgile development. The dynamic nature of our java-based environment only introduced more challenges to the performance team who were heads-down trying to reverse engineer someone else’s code and refactor it using APM tools that just didn’t provide us with the full visibility we needed to comprehensively profile and diagnose application performance issues (using JenniferSoft). In fact, one of the consultants on our team ended up creating his own profiler to expose these blind spots, but what we really needed was a next-generation APM tool that would visually map and connect the dots for us like the one below.

Then we ran into another stumbling block after we completed migrating legacy data to a new “production” environment. When the time came to retest the entire set of performance use cases in this new environment we experienced all kinds of performance regressions. Since everyone was collaborating so well with each other for over the past two years, we all cheerfully marched forward without any finger pointing as to what the root cause was. Ok, so it wasn’t that utopian. Fortunately, because of everyone’s undying commitment and personal sacrifices, the project went live successfully in mid 2010 with over 2,000 users visiting the system per day. In hindsight, we could have easily saved a month’s worth had we used a better tool thereby eliminating the usual suspects.

From that experience I’ve come to appreciate and understand how business-critical managing application performance is for any company. Now I am on a mission to spread the word of AppDynamics to help companies manage rapidly evolving, distributed environments.

Buckle up 2012, we’re just getting started.

APM Market Disruptors – AppDynamics vs New Relic

Last week a performance engineer called Ben Bramley published a blog entitled “APM Market Disruptors – AppDynamics and New Relic“. The purpose of his article was to provide an overview of AppDynamics and New Relic, whilst also summarizing the key approaches each vendor/solution has taken to simplify and disrupt the APM marketplace.

Firstly, we’re thrilled to be recognized by a blogger, who in this case, had previous hands on experience with Application Performance Management (APM) products like OpTier, CA Wily, HP and dynaTrace. Secondly, whilst it was obviously good (and slightly nerving at times) to read our features and capabilities compared with another vendor (and the APM market in general), it was actually nice to see our freemium and SaaS based go-to-market strategy being recognized as well. I guess these things were actually the main reason why a blogger could access, compare and contrast two next generation APM solutions in the first place. It’s not like IBM, CA or Compuware would make their APM solution available to the masses for evaluation, let alone welcome an independent opinion.

You can read Ben’s blog article in full here.

App Man.

Update: HP does in fact offer their solution (HP Diagnostics v9) via trial, but you’ve got to download and install 4GB of their software.  In the time it takes to do this you could already be up and running with AppDynamics Lite.

AppDynamics Secures $20 Million in Series C Funding Led by Kleiner Perkins

When I joined AppDynamics less than a year ago, we were situated in a 6,000 sq ft “cozy” office on 2nd and Brannan. On my first day I was greeted with a MacBook Pro and was asked to find a spare desk amongst the boxes and carnage of a typical startup environment. To my left was a relentless engineering and UI team, and to my right was a fired up sales and marketing team, and a quietly confident Founder and CEO, Jyoti Bansal who made all of this happen. Across the office was a shiny gold bell mounted on the wall, which rang every time AppDynamics closed a new customer. In the last year I can honestly say that shiny bell hasn’t stopped ringing, and is the biggest adrenaline boost one can get while working.

Gartner recognizes AppDynamics as APM Innovator

It’s been a great start to 2012 for us at AppDynamics. Last week, we were recognized by Forrester Research in their APM market overview, and at the end of 2011, Gartner included us in their report “APM Innovators: Driving APM Technology and Delivery Evolution” which was co-written by Will Capelli and Jonah Kowall.

According to Gartner’s report, APM is evolving into four key market requirements:

1. Complex and varied End Points

2. Cloud Services

3. Packaged Applications

4. Big Data

AppDynamics recognized by Forrester in APM market overview

Interest in the Application Performance Management (APM) category is very high right now.   To stay one step ahead of their clients, the Industry Analysts who cover the category and write research to advise their clients have been very busy.  In December alone, there were six different analyst reports being researched by the major analyst firms.

Forrester published the results of their research in the 2nd week of December with the report: Market Overview: Application Performance Management, Q4 2011.  Forrester clients can access the report at www.forrester.com. In this report, Forrester provides very sound advice on why APM exists and what it should do for clients. Forrester has created their own “Reference Model” for APM and evaluated the vendor landscape against those criteria.

Raison d’etre for APM

Forrester VP and Principal Analyst, JP Garbani, gives readers very pragmatic advice on the raison d’etre for APM.  Simply put, APM’s job is to:

1) Alert IT to application performance and availability issues before a full-scale outage occurs

2) Isolate or pinpoint the problem source

3) Provide deep-diagnostics to enable IT to determine the root cause

For several years now, JP Garbani has been on the forefront of proclaiming that modern APM solutions should enable IT organizations to manage apps not by gauging the heath of their servers or servlets, but instead by assessing what the customer or end-user cares about most – whether their Business Transaction completes quickly and doesn’t make them wait.  He states that this has become even more critical as applications have gotten more distributed and complex.