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Auto insurer uses APM to improve testing, optimize online processing

SafeAuto Insurance used application performance managment tools to help catch bugs, but needed a cultural change to get the most out of their testing efforts.

When SafeAuto Insurance recently implemented an application performance management (APM) system to catch bugs help speed its SOA-based insurance quoting application. The company chose the Gomez adVantage APM toolset from Compuware. The Gomez component analyzes performance metrics from outside the company's application infrastructure and triggers alerts. The Vantage component of the toolset looks at the company's internal systems from inside the datacenter.

Jeff Fields, CIO of SafeAuto, said that Vantage helped SafeAuto get a broad look at the company's application infrastructure. "Vantage gave us the opportunity to look across everything from .NET, to DB2 to SQL – a lot of the different environments that we use across our internal applications," said Fields. "Earlier we were testing with Gomez and now we have the experience all the way from e-commerce to the call center."

At SafeAuto, all of this application health data lives in a monitoring room. Fields said there are five or six dashboard screens in a dedicated room with someone keeping an eye on the metrics nearly around the clock. These dashboards monitor server performance, memory allocation, applications, phone switches, transaction timing, database traffic and other areas.

If an alert flashes up on a dashboard, the observer can drill down into the system for a closer look, said Fields. Then he can either call in the engineers to fix the problem, or send out a management-level alert if it is serious enough.

New tools were a big part of SafeAuto's new test and development strategy but, Fields said, a cultural change was also necessary. The idea was to take a pre-emptive approach to eliminating bugs. The company's application lifecycle used to move from testing, to QA, to production. More recently, it has used Vantage to create a virtualized staging environment to more precisely test for bugs and dependency issues that might only arise in the production environment.

Problems might arise, for example, if developers change an application with new database calls that work perfectly well in the testing environments but cause slowness in production. By having a virtualized replica of the production system between QA and production, testers can catch such issues before they cause a real disruption.

"Because we're a real time environment – direct to consumer – if you have an issue in production then you're hitting that revenue bottom line," said Fields. "We put in that environment to give us an extra level of testing."

Between more quickly diagnosing production application problems and ironing out bugs in the staging environment, Fields said SafeAuto is saving a good deal of money with APM.

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