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Surescripts dives deep into application monitoring with AppDynamics APM

Surescripts selects AppDynamics for application monitoring and to establish performance baselines for successful health data processing.

Health information network provider Surescripts uses AppDynamics to manage application performance on a system that processes electronic prescriptions, medication histories, immunization notifications and clinical messages for 70% of the country's doctors and 95% of its pharmacies.

Surescripts wanted an application performance management (APM) tool that could provide deep, real-time feedback on application experience, said Tom Wills, senior systems engineer for information management and system performance at Surescripts. The provider also wanted a dynamic application monitoring tool that could track baseline performance and detect spikes in traffic, as well as any normal or abnormal changes in application response times.

AppDynamics APM: Monitoring the health of applications in real-time

Surescripts processed more than 6 billion health information transactions last year, and the provider's network is still growing rapidly. The IT team wanted more insight into system performance and applications from end to end across its combined .NET and Java application environment, as well as historical data on performance and the ability to monitor it better in real-time as new code is put into production.

"We had several monitoring tools, none of which really dove deep into the application -- we could only look at some performance and system data, or transaction flows," Wills said. "But we couldn't look at apps at a [granular] level. We wanted to be able to monitor a request from the time it hits us, to the time we respond or acknowledge [the request]."

Wills and his team evaluated other vendors, but AppDynamics APM set itself apart with its performance baseline feature, he said.

As the volume of transaction requests increases throughout the day, response times from the Surescripts network slow down. Willis wanted a tool that would recognize this as a normal situation and not send unnecessary alerts to his team. The AppDymamics APM tool can pick up on those changes by continuously monitoring site response times and automatically adjusting performance thresholds. For example, the APM tool can determine that the normal afternoon response time might increase slightly, Wills said. "The dynamic capability to know what is normal and what is not was a really attractive feature," he said.

Today, Surescripts has instrumented its load-test environment with AppDynamics APM, including its Java and .NET applications. Wills and his team will start implementing APM into the development and production environment by the end of the summer. Once fully deployed into the production environment, APM will be monitored by the company's security operations team from a single point of view, Wills said. The alerting feature in the AppDynamics APM tool can integrate with Surescripts' IT service management software platform from ServiceNow and automatically generate tickets for any performance issues. "We also envision our engineering and system administrators pros will have visibility into this tool so they can deep dive into problems to bring those to resolution," he said.

Once AppDynamics is fully deployed, the baseline feature will help Wills and his team better anticipate how a software release or patch will affect application performance.

"We'll be able to run a release through our load testing environment and see how the app performs through our system and how fast it processed," he said. "When we have to put a major release or patch out, we can use that same load test benchmark to compare to see if things improved, got worse, or changed."

Application monitoring yields measurable results

Although AppDynamics has not yet been deployed within the production environment, Surescripts has already been able to uncover code inefficiencies within its systems and implement enhancements.

"We are already using AppDynamics to figure out why we are seeing something we perhaps shouldn't be," Wills said. "We've had a couple instances where we've used it to get to the root of an issue that would have been difficult to find."

For example, Surescripts was having an issue responding to a client's file request. With AppDynamics, the IT team easily saw why it was taking so long to process and corrected the problem, he said.

AppDynamics APM has also been able to help Surescripts fine-tune application performance within their load testing environment. "We used to be able to see general response times for a specific transactions, but we couldn't see where [an application] was being held up and where improvement could be made," Wills said. "Now, we can send IT links of errors we are getting, and it will send them right into AppDynamics to see for themselves -- we can get them right to where we are seeing that something isn’t quite right very easily."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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