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Article

How Good APM and Capacity Planning Can Help Global Carriers

Ensure a good user experience today and into the future

Consumers are a funny bunch. We want to be first with the latest hot smartphone. We want flawless experiences when we deal with online services and don't deal with slow responsiveness well. While our want for new devices is good for the device manufacturers, our lack of patience can be a thorn in the side of carriers as the try to deal with the influx of people buying new devices when they're released.

When it was just the Apple iPhone and a limited number of outlets, the carriers only had to plan a new release about once a year and didn't have much competition; if the user experience wasn't the best, customers couldn't flee to an alternative carrier. Now, carriers have multiple popular smartphone platforms (the Samsung Galaxy 4 sold 10 million phones in its first month), more competition (almost all carriers have the iPhone now), and a need to deliver a great experience. Brand reputation and revenue are at stake.

With a two new Apple iPhones slated for availability on September 20, 2013, carriers will again have to be on top of their games to handle the influx of sales and activations at both their online and physical stores. Having a robust application performance management system in place can pay big dividends by helping mitigate performance problems and ensuring that customers are getting the end-user experience they expect.

In the case of the iPhone, activations not only hit the carrier systems, there's also integration to Apple's network. System operators at the individual carriers need to have visibility into the entire transaction to be able to determine if a) a problem exists in their network and fix it quickly, and b) if the problem is somewhere in Apple's network. While they may not have visibility into the Apple half of the equation, they'll at least know whether or not their own systems are causing a problem.

They also have to ensure that point of sale systems, both online and in-store, can handle the rush of people looking to be one of the first with the new devices. Hopefully problems don't exist in any pieces of the puzzle, but it's always good to have deep understanding of performance at all tiers.

When the iPhone 5 was released a year ago, one major carrier used CA Application Performance Management to ensure its systems were able to handle the surge in orders at its stores and online. CA APM's ability to provide visibility into both the application and network layers allowed the operator to quickly pinpoint performance degradations in the order chain and get them fixed quickly. A view into the application stack alone would not have cut it, as a few of the performance issues that did arise were in the WAN.

Good capacity planning can also help prepare companies for anticipated spikes in traffic, while potentially saving money. Another major carrier, in preparation for a different iPhone launch a couple years ago, used CA Capacity Management to reduce overlap in its data center, which had some 2,000 virtual machines and seemingly countless applications. While the carrier anticipated a big spike in activations when the iPhone went on sale, the capacity planning exercise didn't result in throwing more hardware at the problem. The company realized that its overlap left its virtual servers only 30% utilized, so it reduced and combined some of its existing applications and upped utilization to 60% levels, saving some $20 million in costs while still delivering a great experience to its customers.

The above might be telecom examples, but good application performance management and capacity planning can be put to use in just about any organization in any industry to deal with spikes. For example:

  • Retailers are eagerly preparing for the holiday shopping season (just over three months to go) that'll see a ramp in sales, especially on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  • Financial services organizations that see peaks in application usage on paydays, end of month, or end of year. If customers are cranky when they can't get the newest iPhone activated, they'll be even more so if they can't access their online bank to pay bills or check balances.
  • Healthcare organizations moving to Electronic Medical Records have to deliver great uptime and user experience. It literally could be life or death. A doctor trying to get CT scan images or allergy information for a critical patient can't wait for a system slowdown.

While cloud instances can help IT organizations spin up more capacity in peak times, it does not lessen the need for APM or capacity planning. Just because the application delivery network is running efficiently doesn't mean the end user is getting a satisfactory experience. Good APM solutions can help see performance from the cloud to physical systems to ensure a positive end user experience. With cloud, IT doesn't "own" the infrastructure, but they're still responsible for the end user experience.

Also, not all cloud vendors are created equal and costs can vary depending on what tasks are running in the cloud. Capacity planning tools can help with workload and cost scenarios to help IT get the biggest bang for their buck - always a plus when budgets are tight.

If your business relies on applications to deliver revenue and productivity (isn't that just about everyone?), then APM and capacity management are a must to ensure a good user experience today and into the future.

More Stories By Jason Meserve

Jason Meserve is a Principal Product Marketing Manager at CA Technologies where he focuses on Application Performance Management.

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