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For RWE Supply, fast app performance fixes call for wide-angle view

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Rapid changes in the energy industry — such as increased regulation, political pressures and emergence of alternative energy markets — have made stellar application performance a must-have for RWE Supply and Trading, a division of a leading European integrated energy company, RWE Group. Unfortunately, the business’s custom-built performance management software couldn’t deliver the wide-angle view needed to identify and fix performance imperfections.

“The consequences of these problems [could be] lost opportunities in the energy trading market or even fines for not being able to confirm positions quickly enough,” said Marcel Lichter in our recent interview about his team’s application performance management modernization project.

As Team Lead of Data Centre Management, Lichter is in charge of infrastructure capacity management and operations monitoring. RWE S&T’s data center contains 1,300 servers — 80% running on Windows, 20% on Linux and Solaris — and about 150-server-based apps. There are six internal managers, but most DevOps personnel are outsourced.

RWE Supply’s legacy performance management tools covered infrastructure monitoring mostly. “This only gave limited visibility within our application stack,” he said. The result was that during incidents, it was hard to identify, isolate and remediate root causes. So, fixes of performance losses or slowdowns didn’t happen quickly.

Lichter’s team evaluated current and near-future app performance requirements and identified the need for run-time application modeling and display, user-defined transaction profiling, deep application monitoring, cross-platform functionality and, most importantly, a shared view of all application activities.

“Being able to have a one-window overview [would] allow the different support teams to work together,” Lichter said. A new solution also had to support Java and .Net, including Oracle and SQL databases.”

Lichter found all of those features in the AppDynamics APM software suite, which needed little customization to fit RWE’s needs. “Eight out of 10 times it worked straight out of the box,” he said.

The project team identified staff members who historically were early adopters and positioned them as champions for the application teams. These leaders helped the project team implement the AppDynamics platform and acted as ambassadors during training and onboarding users.

After the implementation, “the largest measurable result we’ve seen is faster identification of problem sources,” said Lichter. “The intangible benefits include better collaboration between the different teams.”

Lichter’s next step for using AppDynamics’ APM suite is monitoring and comparing baseline performance whilst transitioning some RWE Supply and Trading applications to the cloud.