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App performance monitoring a good match for EasyRoommate.com

Finding the right roommate or rental situation is often a matter of luck and timing. But performance issues with the applications powering the site were causing DM Services, owner of EasyRoommate.com, to lose revenue.

Finding the right roommate or rental situation is often a matter of luck and timing. For EasyRoommate.com, "timing" is the site's bread-and-butter—pushing out an email to a user as soon as a room becomes available that meets the specified criteria. But performance issues with the applications powering the site were causing DM Services, owner of EasyRoommate.com, to lose revenue.

"A key revenue driver is what we call 'room push,'" explained Ben Block, CTO at DM Services. "An email goes out to a user when a room meets their criteria; people see [the email] and get a feeling of urgency. It's a huge revenue driver for us, but that process was never completing. There were massive performance issues. We saw revenues falling as a result of it."

DM Services was founded nine years ago with the launch of EasyRoommate, which today has its largest user base in Western Europe and Latin America. A second site, Vivastreet.com, opened in 2004 and targets online classified advertising. The company, which has offices in New York and London, has about 60 employees, including three full-time application developers.

When Block came on-board, an offshore group had just rewritten the EasyStreet applications in .NET from ColdFusion. To help DM Services enhance and maintain its applications, provide additional expertise as well as help address the performance problems, the company engaged with global IT services company The Digital Group, which is headquartered in Princeton, N.J., and has offices in India, Fiji and Australia.

According to Block, EasyRoommate has three primary applications competing for the SQL Server database resources: the front-end Web site, the administrative back-office application the team uses to moderate the site, and the automation processes notifying users when matches occur. Block said the first thing they asked The Digital Group to address was the room push application, which Digital Group rewrote to fix the completion issue.

"One of the major things The Digital Group ID'd across the board was that the database connections were remaining opened indefinitely. Things would be working well, then they'd slow down until they eventually fell over," Block explained.

According to Clyde Seigle, vice president of strategic development for The Digital Group, his team initially identified the gross performance issues that were easy to find using the SQL profiler and database statistics reports. "You can find the [top] queries that take the most time and are called most often without knowing much about the application," he said.

Determining what to focus on next drove the need for an application performance monitoring and management solution, Seigle said.

According to Seigle, another part of the business doing offshore development had started researching the use of Intercept Studio, a .NET application performance monitoring product from Baltimore-based Avicode Inc., to help improve efficiency of their processes. "It's a compelling way to look at .NET, Seigle said. "It was serendipitous that we were doing research in another area of the business."

The Digital Group, a partner of Avicode, sold Intercept Studio to DM Services to drill deeper into the performance problems. "When I came on board on the DM project, we were trying to figure out how to prioritize the problems," Seigle said. "The tool let me get much greater insight into the application and dig in."

The "eureka" moment, Seigle said, came when Intercept Studio helped the team identify that file I/O, not database access, was the crux of a lot of the problems. "We had spent a lot of energy before assuming that all the performance issues were related to database activity," he said. "After installing Intercept Studio, we found file access to the online image store was a significant contributor to performance problems. It was an area nobody was looking at—no one suspected file I/O."

Today, DM Services and The Digital Group use Intercept Studio in development, QA and production.

Block said Intercept Studio gets the heaviest use in the production environment, where issues can be identified in real time and addressed quickly. "We're a very agile group; we do release changes frequently," he said. With all the countries and languages the application has to cover, "you can't catch every issue before release. Intercept Studio gives us the ability to identify problems instantaneously and address them before they have a significant effect."

Intercept Studio also makes it easier to track down the cause of a problem, Seigle said. "It records all the parameters of a call and the whole call stack, and in real time captures all the data that drove to that exception. It's a huge time saver."

DM Services' Block said the use of Intercept Studio made the difference in his company's ability to tune performance. Before using the tool, he said, "it never felt like we were getting over the hump with performance problems. [Intercept Studio] gave us transparency to the application at a granular level."

He added that there is no question that "from a performance and stability standpoint, the site is a vast improvement from what was." Having to deal with a situation in which the site would go down "was unacceptable; it wasn't a viable business. Clyde really helped us identify a product that put us in a position to avoid those situations."

Block concluded, "In the end, it really helped us stay above the curve."

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