AppDynamics makes the grade at Jostens

Most people who have graduated high school or college in the past 75 years have likely done business with Jostens. This Minneapolis-based company provides yearbooks, graduation announcements, class rings, caps, gowns, diplomas, and more for K-12 and college students, as well as rings for the military and professional sports champions – including NFL Super Bowl rings and championship rings for the NHL, NBA and MLB.
Every customer order passes through Jostens’ data center, which depends on a variety of custom Java-based applications, e-commerce websites, production websites, and Oracle SQL-based databases to drive the company’s orders and manufacturing processes. One particular web application, Yearbook Avenue, helps students throughout the U.S. create yearbooks online. Jostens stores billions of photo files, uploaded by students using a .NET service, to support Yearbook Avenue, which must perform without a hitch to enable successful production of yearbooks for 20,000 schools each year.

Challenge: Could not swiftly pinpoint critical issues without digging through multiple tools

Jostens’ inability to quickly pinpoint application performance issues required multiple IT teams to perform redundant and timely troubleshooting in an effort to keep business-critical systems in production and projects on schedule. According to Theresa Chasar, Senior Director of IT Infrastructure, Operations, and Services, at Jostens, “The biggest challenge I wanted to overcome was being able to pinpoint an issue and put the right people on the problem without wasting everyone else’s time.”

Each time a performance issue occurred, every technology that touched the application had to be evaluated to determine if it was causing problems. Jostens’ IT teams were running the standard monitoring tools provided by each technology vendor: Oracle database monitoring, network storage monitoring, network traffic monitoring, enterprise security information and event monitoring (SIEM) tools. “These tools were giving us disparate pieces of the puzzle. We would typically have to go into each of those systems and try to piece together the historical data in an attempt to determine the root cause,” recalls Chasar.

Application performance is critical for Jostens, as the company must adhere to strict production schedules to deliver its full complement of products at the same time frame for millions of students. During the yearbook production phase, students have staggered deadlines to submit sections for their books, which are printed in signatures throughout the year. “Students work on their yearbooks during scheduled class periods. If the site goes down or is slow, students may have moved onto their next class before the issue is resolved,” explains Chasar. “The school would call its Jostens rep and say, hey, these students won’t be able to work on the yearbook for another week, we need to extend the deadlines.”

When I heard what AppDynamics could do, I said it was too good to be true. I didn’t believe there could be that kind of magic out there.

Staying on schedule is the only way the company can successfully deliver millions of yearbooks, diplomas, and graduation announcements that are due simultaneously. “As you can imagine, our plants are running at full capacity as graduation deadlines approach. If we suddenly start three shifts and run production on weekends, wages increase to time-and-a-half and double-time. The additional cost can total millions of dollars if we don’t keep the site available and performing at a high level,” informs Chasar.

Solution: Easy to use, fast MTTR, consolidated solution

AppDynamics technical support engineers initially became involved during the bake-off evaluation, and were up to speed when Jostens decided to place AppDynamics APM in its production environment. According to Chasar, “It only took two days for them to get us going. That included talking things through with our development and infrastructure teams, and working through alerts and process with our outage response teams. AppDynamics tech support engineers were able to address the concerns of each group from their perspective and then quickly get us going. It was really smooth.”

AppDynamics began proving its value right from the start, pinpointing performance issues that had plagued Jostens for years. “In the past, we’d spend weeks trying to resolve an issue and then give up before we could determine the root cause because a more-pressing issue would come up. With AppDynamics, we’re actually able to determine the root cause, put the right people on it and solve the problem right away,” states Chasar. “In the three years I’ve had this job, there are several issues we’ve never been able to resolve. With AppDynamics, we fixed them in two hours.”

When asked which type of companies she feels can benefit most from AppDynamics APM, Chasar smiles and says, “I wouldn’t recommend AppDynamics to our competitors. However, I’d have no problem recommending it to our sister companies.”

In addition to AppDynamics APM for Java, Jostens has also purchased AppDynamics solutions for PHP, .NET and databases, and looks forward to deploying these tools following this year’s production-schedule crunch.

In the three years I’ve had this job, there are several issues we’ve never been able to resolve. With AppDynamics, we fixed them in two hours.