London School of Economics

LSE delivers world-class student services with Cisco AppDynamics

Key benefits

Eliminated 100s of undergraduate registration errors, relieving student stress

Cut load times for student-facing webpages from 15 seconds to milliseconds

Safeguarded data and improved governance with real-time security monitoring

London School of Economics (LSE) students and teachers need fast and reliable digital services, especially during high-stress periods like course enrollment. With observability from Cisco AppDynamics, LSE can pinpoint and resolve issues across its IT stack and eliminate delays impacting students.


“A needle in a haystack is easy to find if you have a metal detector. Cisco AppDynamics is that metal detector for our team."

Derek Alexander
Senior Software Developer,
London School of Economics


Existing systems struggled to deliver the speed, scale and reliability LSE’s 12,000 students expect from its on-campus and online services. Meanwhile, database bottlenecks brought enrollment processes to a halt, jeopardizing the student experience.  


Cisco AppDynamics provides LSE with visibility across its hybrid environment. Performance issues that once felt insurmountable are solved in seconds, improving student and staff experiences alike.  


With observability from its database to its end-user experiences, LSE cut webpage load times to milliseconds and eliminated 100% of database errors during undergraduate course enrollment to better support students throughout their academic careers.  

“We had thousands of students at the edge of their seats ready to register and managed to serve them with zero errors, which is a point of pride. We never would have been able to do that without Cisco AppDynamics.

Derek Alexander
Senior Software Developer, London School of Economics


A high standard for higher education

As the top ranked university in London and fifth ranked university globally, the London School of Economics (LSE) is a beacon among social sciences institutions. As if that wasn’t enough, it also counts 18 Nobel winners and 37 world leaders among its staff and former graduates. Put simply, LSE sets a high standard for higher education at the international level. 

That includes its digital services for students and staff. From custom applications that allow faculty to build their curriculums, to year-round student services like attendance records, to time-sensitive academic processes like course registration, LSE’s software developers are committed to making these experiences as seamless and user-friendly as possible.

“The standard of services for our end-users is set by the digital services they use elsewhere in their lives, be it their mobile banking app or Instagram,” explains Software Developer Derek Alexander. “Our goal is to deliver equally rich levels of service in the education sector.”

The challenge for LSE was that its legacy systems could not keep up with these evolving demands. For instance, database processes would grind to a halt during peak periods like course enrollment, creating stress among students desperate to get into the courses that inspire them.

In addition to managing a variety of IT systems from different eras, LSE developers previously used open-source software to monitor system performance. While universally accessible, these solutions provided neither the visibility nor the insight into key metrics that LSE needed to truly understand its operations and eliminate performance issues at their source.

As the driving force behind LSE digital services, its software developers are always under pressure to meet student and staff expectations. That pressure only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic when students began enrolling in online and hybrid courses. In parallel, the shift to online learning opened the door to more international enrollments, which meant that on top of delivering seamless experiences for 12,0000 students, Alexander and his team also needed to rebuild LSE applications to accommodate users in multiple time zones.

For example, timetables for students in China, Japan and Southeast Asia were coded to automatically propose more morning courses so students could attend UK lectures despite the time difference. Similarly, North American timetables include more afternoon classes.

“The shift to hybrid learning brought about the biggest change to timetabling since universities were first established, and we had to redevelop our systems to evolve,” says Alexander. “But to do that and reimagine LSE’s environment for a hybrid student body, we needed greater visibility across our IT operations,” says Alexander.

LSE still maintains its campus-first mentality, with a focus on delivering exceptional education and services to its students in-person. But the school also continues to strengthen its hybrid learning services in parallel, empowering students to access coursework and critical services wherever and whenever they need.


A metal detector for application performance

Since implementing Cisco AppDynamics, LSE gained observability across every piece of its IT environment, from its database through to its end-user experiences across channels and regions. Crucially for Alexander, his team can now pinpoint and address performance issues at their source.

For instance, with LSE’s data growing and changing, the university’s database software began to deteriorate and slow down crucial services for students and staff. Webpages that previously loaded instantly took up to 15 seconds to load, creating unacceptable delays. Cisco AppDynamics revealed the source of the bottleneck to be a database querying issue, allowing Alexander and his team to eliminate the delay with a simple tweak to their code.

Products used

Cisco AppDynamics 



“A needle in a haystack is easy to find if you have a metal detector. Cisco AppDynamics is that metal detector for our team,” says Alexander. “Intractable problems hidden deep down in our systems are now laid out clearly in the code.”

One of first intractable problems LSE solved with AppDynamics was the recurring issue of slow browser performance for international students, particularly those in Asia. End user monitoring of its online services and applications revealed the root cause of the delays as lagging data requests and content delivery to these remote regions. Guided by that insight, the team implemented a distributed content delivery network and relegated those delays to the past.

“Cisco AppDynamics gave us that observability so we can deliver exceptional experience to our students and secure their data without missing a step.”

Derek Alexander
Senior Software Developer,
London School of Economics


Lightning-fast services with zero errors

Course selection is a focal point for LSE students and faculty. Each year, thousands of students eagerly wait for registration to open so they can secure a spot in their preferred courses. But with LSE taking on more students, adding courses to its curriculum and straining its database with heavier workloads, registration also became a point of dissatisfaction when the university’s legacy systems could no longer cope with the yearly spike in demand.

To fix the issue, Alexander and his team began by simulating course registrations for a hundred students at a time. In parallel, they built custom dashboards in AppDynamics to understand why database performance was faltering. From CPU usage to data requests and errors per minutes, to database connection calls, the dashboards included key performance metrics from across the LSE IT environment.

The result? Whenever students tried to enroll for multiple courses, the LSE registration platform would try to complete all the necessary database calls at once, causing a bottleneck. Armed with this insight from AppDynamics APM, Alexander and his team rewrote the code so that enrollments were processed one course at a time. The enrollment process now runs at lightning speed. Just as importantly, students went from receiving hundreds of error messaging during the registration process to receiving none. 

“We had thousands of students at the edge of their seats ready to register and managed to serve them with zero errors, which is a point of pride,” says Alexander. “We never would have been able to do that without Cisco AppDynamics.”

Stronger security, stronger governance

As for security, Cisco Secure Application will help LSE enhance its data monitoring and governance. The university uses a number of open-source libraries to feed its business applications, some of which have become attractive targets for exploits. With Cisco Secure Application, which Alexander and his team plans to roll out, they will be able to see which processes are running on their servers and which are most vulnerable to external threats.

“Static analysis tools are useful when you’re building and deploying applications, but they can’t show you which processes are actually running on your servers day-to-day,” says Alexander. “That’s what sets Cisco Secure Application apart and we look forward to taking full advantage of the solution.”  

For years, LSE had to rely on intuition and guess work to optimize its IT systems and end user experiences. Despite building its own systems over decades, these remained a black box until Alexander and his team began monitoring IT processes at a granular level with AppDynamics APM.

“We needed to see inside the black box, pick apart each process, and address our performance issues at their root,” says Alexander. “Cisco AppDynamics gave us that observability so we can deliver exceptional experience to our students and secure their data without missing a step.”

About London School of Economics and Political Science

Founded in 1895, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is one of the world’s most reputable social sciences universities. Ranked the top school in London for 11 years running, LSE also counts 37 world leaders and 18 Nobel winners among its current staff and former graduates. More than 12,000 students are enrolled in the university, including full-time students at its London campus and remote students across every continent. 


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