C Spire pinpoints errors during agile application development

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This blog is based on the C Spire press release published on September 8. 

I recently caught up with Eric Jacobsen, Application Systems Architect at C Spire in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

C Spire is a diversified telecommunications and technology services company and operates the nation’s sixth largest wireless communications unit. The company offers a full suite of dedicated Internet, wireless, IP Voice, data, unified communications and cloud services for small, medium, large and enterprise businesses. As the company continues to grow and offer new types of services, application performance management is proving essential to maintain service levels and ensure customer satisfaction.

Hannah: What types of applications do you offer at C Spire?

Eric Jacobsen: We have a variety of business-critical applications used to deliver services to customers. We have an internally built CRM application and a customer-facing website where customers interact with their accounts and manage their services. These apps are Java based, as is the integration layer that interfaces with our back-end database and billing applications.  

We typically have large code releases about every month or two. If it’s a smaller change that’s critical to the business, we push it out more frequently.

HC: Why is performance of these applications important to the business?

EJ: As a company, we focus on being customer inspired—trying to satisfy customer needs and give customers a superior experience. Our customer-facing applications play a major role in that. Customers access our website to modify their plans, access billing information, and make payments. We want this access to be as seamless as possible, without errors popping up in their browsers. The same is true with our retail stores; If an application is running slowly, customers can be standing in line waiting too long. That’s why we strive to have our applications performing fast and why application uptime is critical.

HC: So what challenges was C Spire facing before moving to AppDynamics?  

EJ: Around 2006, we started working with another vendor’s APM tool. As the business grew, that tool’s performance started to lag behind, and our application development team couldn’t effectively troubleshoot issues. It was simply too slow and we sometimes required information that wasn’t there. To match our growth path, we needed a better, more modern APM tool to support our current applications and those we were adding.

HC: What kind of information were you missing?

EJ: Our legacy tool provided some very basic alerting but it didn’t help us quickly identify the root cause of problems. For example, was a certain database running slowly? Was the issue a slow application server? Maybe a network issue? We were only alerted to the fact that there was a problem. We often ended up spending excessive time digging through transaction logs to ascertain the root cause.

HC: Did you experience any other troubleshooting challenges?

EJ: Sometimes we would exhaust all of the available resources and still not be able to pinpoint the root cause. Either we didn’t have the right level of logging, or the logs had been deleted, or the issue occurred multiple times in a short time-frame, but we didn’t have sufficient detail. We basically had to anticipate the problem to catch it in progress.

HC: And today?

EJ: Today, AppDynamics APM takes a snapshot of business transactions to help us determine the root cause of the issues.

One of the benefits we see with AppDynamics, is that it always captures a lot of detail, so we’re able to look into those business transaction snapshots without having to manually tell the APM tool to start capturing data.

HC: I know you’re in the early stages of using AppDynamics in your pre-production environment. What kind of issues are you solving so far?

EJ: We’ve actually discovered some problems through AppDynamics’ error dashboards that nobody on my team was aware existed. That’s the kind of proactive troubleshooting we need to find issues before they impact customers.

HC: You mentioned you liked the Snapshot feature. What’s your favorite AppDynamics feature?

Eric: Probably the business transactions. It’s takes a little fine-tuning to determine the business transactions that are most important. As we dial that in, it’s a really nice feature that we’re going to enjoy using.

I also like the way the app server view presents things. However, the single feature I like best is the tool’s ease of use. It’s a really low barrier of entry. AppDynamics presents a very intuitive UI. With just minimal training, our teams have been able to go in and start using it effectively from day one.

Conversely, the legacy tool we’ve been using is very difficult to navigate and there’s really nothing on the screen that would indicate where to go next. With AppDynamics, it’s very intuitive. Our development teams already wear a lot of hats and I don’t want to burden them with a huge learning curve to be able to use the APM tool.

HC: That’s great. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

EJ: We’ve really enjoyed working with our AppDynamics Technical Account Manager. He responds extremely quickly when we open a support ticket. Some other vendors’ support has been lacking, so we’re pleased we don’t have that problem with AppDynamics. They’re very good to work with.

HC: And what was the process like to deploy AppDynamics?

EJ: As far as the architecture and deploying it out, that’s been very simple to figure out. There aren’t many components to deal with, and that’s helpful.  

HC: Are you planning to deploy any other AppDynamics solutions?

EJ: Absolutely. We’re looking at using AppDynamics Database Monitoring and Real User Monitoring.

Hannah Current

Hannah Current

Hannah Current is the Customer Marketing Manager at AppDynamics. After graduating from Santa Clara University, she joined AppDynamics in 2012. Her goal is to visit 50 countries before her 50th birthday (currently at 26 countries and counting). Reach out to her on Twitter at @HannahHaleyC