4 Reasons Why Virtual War Rooms Are Essential To APM

Just over a year ago in our 4.0 or Fall ’14 release we announced ‘The AppDynamics Virtual War Room’ feature that enables business, IT development and operations teams to easily collaborate through the AppDynamics console. With applications increasing in complexity due to Microservices architecture techniques, container technologies and reliance on third party systems, the need to be able to see application information in context and collaborate seamlessly via an APM solution is critical for any digital business and this is the capability that our Virtual War Room’ provides. With our 4.2 release we are further refining the Virtual War Room with the following feature enhancements:

  • Save room as a template – This was one of the features that was requested by our customers over the last year. It means that you can save a Virtual War Room that you have created as a template and then open it up again with all the widgets that you created. This is incredibly useful for troubleshooting repeating application issues or collaborating during a major application change or release as the right data will already be in your Virtual War Room.
  • Create widgets using application analytics – In our 4.2 release, Application Analytics is embedded within the Application Intelligence platform (note: licensing is separate though) which means that from the virtual war room you can create analytics based searches and charts based on transaction, log file, browser request, mobile request and mobile crash reports (see below). This means that it is easier to tie technical metrics to business metrics, so for example, with an eCommerce application, how is a performance problem impacting the number of checkouts?  This enhances the virtual war room as participants can not only see the technical performance impact of a problem as it unfolds but also the business impact.

Adding Application Analytics widgets into your virtual war room

Through 2015, I spoke to a number of enterprise customers about their use of the virtual war room feature and here are four specific use cases that highlight the value of this feature:

1) Speed up Mean Time To Resolution (MTTR)  

During an emerging high priority application performance issue there are two goals: 1) Resolve the root cause before it impacts your customers and your business (MTTR), 2) Understand and learn why the issue happened to avoid it happening again. AppDynamics APM automatically baselines all important application performance metrics and creates alerts based on standard deviation which means that emerging application issues can be identified immediately by application support teams. Alerts are displayed in the AppDynamics console and from the alert a ‘virtual war room’ can be launched to troubleshoot this further:

Launching a Virtual War Room on an emerging issue

The Virtual War Room then provides one dashboard that various support (application, operations, database etc) and line of business teams can then use to understand the root cause, fix and then verify that the app is working again. Each participant, so long as they have the appropriate permissions, can create their own widgets (real time streaming data (including log files), charts and graphs) and can communicate with each other. With complex applications this means that all professionals working on resolution have access to the information and colleagues they need which helps to speed up MTTR:

Collaborate together on an emerging incident and understand the business impact

The ability to bring in Application Analytics widgets into the Virtual War Room in 4.2 means that it’s easy to bring in live business performance or outcome widgets (the screenshot above shows live checkout value $ data). This means that  participants can quickly understand how an emerging problem is beginning to impact the business.

2) Provide Application Performance Visibility To 3rd Parties

Last year I worked on The performance blame game report which highlights that the difficulties that an enterprise faces when managing the “software-defined supply chain”. In short, it’s not just technical complexity but increasing process and people complexity that needs to be managed, as many enterprise applications rely on third party systems to deliver an overall service to a customer or employee.

AppDynamics APM can monitor Business Transactions as they span third party systems as we are able to track and monitor asynchronous transactions. Additionally the Virtual War Room allows support teams to invite third parties, outside your organization, to view (third parties have view only rights) information and participate in troubleshooting or optimizing an app. This helps to make sure that everyone has the same facts and source of truth.


Invite third parties into your Virtual War Room so that everyone sees the facts 

3) Train New Support Staff On What Metrics Are Critical To An App’s Performance

During one DevOps conversation with a large retail bank last year we discussed the fact that a number of new people were being hired or moved to support the new ‘digital efforts’. We talked about how the AppDynamics console could be used to bring new support staff up to speed about how important applications are architected and what metrics are key to technical and business performance. While the AppDynamics flow maps show clearly how an application is architected, a Virtual War Room, in real-time, can show new support staff which metrics are important to track and why they are monitored. The fact that new charts can be added easily and the Virtual War Room shared with many people means that that this feature can be very useful during an interactive training session. With 4.2, the ability to save the Virtual War Room as a template means that these dashboards can be reused easily during new staff induction or orientation activities.   

4) Collaborate In Real Time During An Application Release Or Change

My colleague, Jonah Kowall, in a recent article highlighted how APM played an important role in continuous integration and release. Jonah mentions how one of our customers, The Container Store, uses AppDynamics in their development lifecycle (see a video here from AppSphere 15) by utilizing features such as ‘Compare Release’ to easily understand the performance of two different releases. Another use case for a ‘Virtual War Room’ is during a major application release as it can be used as a temporary dashboard to display key technical and business metrics prior, during and after release activity, to make sure that the release went as planned. The fact that participants can chat to each other using ‘War Room Notes’ function means that everyone involved in the release can be made aware of any abnormalities quickly. 

Check in real time application performance during a major release and collaborate with the release and support professionals

So as you can see there are a number of use cases for our Virtual War Room and our 4.2 release brings a number of enhancements. I would love to hear about any more use cases for this feature if I missed any.

Franken-Monitor Visits a War Room [COMIC]

Having silo’d monitoring toolsets will often provide more trouble than they’re worth. All too often, monitoring tools don’t work well together, provide conflicting data, or just simply can’t diagnose the problem. In a War Room scenario — where people from the database team, servers, developers, IT operations, and anyone else involved — need to huddle together to identify and resolve any performance issue, a Franken-Monitor won’t suffice. Teams will hide behind the tool that makes themselves look the best and point fingers and blame elsewhere.

In the latest in our comic series, Frank is called into a War Room situation where they can’t figure out if it’s a JVM or SQL issue. When asked to help, Frank fumbles like he typically does. 

Interested in our previous comics?

APM & DevOps: How To Collaborate Effectively with the Virtual War Room

We’ve all been there: the dreaded War Room.

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When a critical application starts behaving badly, everyone and their uncle is on high alert, on conference bridges, chat sessions, and often physically in the same room trying to get to the bottom of the problem. And here’s how the conversation usually goes:

    Non-Technical Lead: “Okay, what do we know?”
    IT Ops Lead: “The system is slow and crashing intermittently.”
    Non-Technical Lead: “And?”
    IT Ops Lead: “And we don’t know why. Server team, what can you tell us?”
    Server Lead: “Servers are fine. Maybe there’s a problem with the network?”
    Network Lead: “Network looks fine. Maybe it’s the database?”
    Database Lead: “Databases look fine. The application might be doing something it shouldn’t though.”
    Non-Technical Lead: “$#?@! Customers can’t check out and we’re losing revenue by the minute — how can you say each of your systems is fine?!?!”

At this point, everyone looks to their individual tools with their system-specific metrics. Server team talks CPU, memory, and disk I/O; network team talks throughput, packet loss, and latency; database team talk top queries, cache-hit ratios, and connection counts.

And round-and-round they go. Eventually, the dev team is called in. Then it just gets worse.

But there’s a better way.

Over the past 10 years, performance monitoring has revolutionized IT, specifically because measuring application behavior in terms of Business Transactions is something *everyone* can agree on, because everyone understands what it means when “Checkout” is slow, stalled, or errored, even the Non-Technical Lead.

And the best part is, Dev and Ops can agree on it too.

That said, until now there’s still been a significant limitation when it comes to accessing this data, as there hasn’t been a simple way for everyone to get on the same page, looking at the same data, on the same screen, in a purpose-built collaboration solution designed around application performance monitoring.

Which is why AppDynamics new Virtual War Room is so groundbreaking.

Starting a session is easy as can be — one click and you’re up and running. From there, invitations can be sent to anyone to join.

Once in the Virtual War Room, everyone’s immediately on the same page, with dashboards and widgets providing business context with application transaction data. For instance, the example below depicts an e-commerce scenario in which an order processing issue is preventing orders from being fulfilled. The Business Transaction view of Orders Processed is something everyone can understand, and therefore everyone can see there’s an issue:

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 11.16.03 AM

As demonstrated in this example, chat functionality allows team members to collaborate in real-time, with annotations added to the graphs when War Room Notes are entered. The conversation begins with a team member inquiring if any diagnostics have been performed (looking at Snapshots), and when it’s discovered there have been timeout exceptions, a second graph is added displaying blocked threads. Seeing the inverse relationship between Blocked Threads and Orders Processed, thread capacity is increased to resolve the issue.

It might seem simple – and for demonstration purposes the scenario definitely is – but the reality of coming to these conclusions in today’s enterprises is far from straight forward. In day-to-day practice, it’s just too easy to be consumed by a tunnel-vision worldview based on silos of responsibility. Without unbiased data, presented in clear business context, the blame game is the outcome to be expected. Thankfully, with AppDynamics Virtual War Room that doesn’t have to be the case.

In a nutshell, this is how AppDynamics enables true DevOps collaboration with our new Virtual War Room:

  1. Get everyone on the same page by looking at the same Business Transaction data
  2. Keep the focus on metrics that translate to the business value the application delivers; dive in deeper when appropriate
  3. Include as broad an audience as possible and foster communication, with chat and annotation capability
  4. Identify resolution criteria, assign ownership
  5. Take lessons learned to improve development, test, deployment, and production processes.

Now imagine doing this not just during a hair-on-fire production issue, but during a load test, deployment or pilot scenario. Powerful stuff. Only from AppDynamics.