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Would your app get Olympic results? It's not looking good

There's no more grueling trial by fire for an application than a huge international event. Find out if your app is going to make it to the podium.

Lots of things may not be working in Rio de Janeiro when the world descends in early August for the Summer Olympic Games -- and one of those things might be your app.

Application performance management platform developer Dynatrace recently released results of a long-term look at Brazil's internet infrastructure that included testing mobile and web app performance. It's not looking like many apps are going to have Olympic results, David Jones, field technology evangelist for Dynatrace, said. The combination of Brazil's less robust infrastructure -- including far fewer content delivery networks (CDNs) -- and a huge spike in usage are likely to result in user frustration, social media complaints and perhaps even outages. Even now, well before the Olympics, Dynatrace monitored web performance at a popular Brazilian hotel chain for a week and found the 45,000 users experienced an eight second wait time, on average, and 60% of them bounced. And to be fair, not even TeamUSA's site was loading quickly in Brazil, Jones said, because it's graphics heavy.

But even if your app isn't going to the Olympics, there are some lessons to be learned here, particularly with other major events looming like the American presidential election. If you don't want your app to be the laughing stock of social media, read on to find out how you can achieve Olympic results.

Optimize for performance

The companies that optimize for performance well -- Jones pointed to Apple and Costco as two examples -- deliver their information to a wide variety of devices in the most streamlined way possible. Don't use a lot of third parties to deliver your content, period, Jones stressed. The company regularly tracks the performance of 1,500 sites as benchmarks, and those that optimize for performance by not using third-party sites and not adding layers of complexity are the ones least likely to have issues if a big event happens. (And by the way, only a very small number of the 1,500 actually achieve "Olympic results.")

Don't just think about the customer

While that's tempting, it's just as important to ensure the servers are doing what they're supposed to do, Jones said. "You don't just want to look at optimizing the delivery of the page itself, but you have to make sure the servers are optimized too," he said. "It's from the moment they click or swipe or tap your page all the way to the back end providing a response to that swipe."

Forget a disaster plan

But do have a plan. When a customer tells Jones the company's ready for everything because there is a disaster plan in place, that's when he gets really worried. "You can't have a plan in place to fail. That's not how you lead." Instead, he suggested everyone from the c-level executives and line of business people down to developers, ops teams and testers be involved in a holistic plan. "When things start to happen, you can have a messy war room scenario with fingers pointing. You want to avoid that."

See both sides

Choose a performance platform that gives insight into every step of the process from development to the end user. "You have to monitor the complete chain because there are too many points of failure, and it needs to be in real time," Jones said.

Understand the data

Information is very siloed at a lot of companies, Jones said, thus in potentially tricky situations, there are only a few people who actually know enough about the entire system to be able to spot and diagnose a problem. That's a huge issue as "you don't want your rock stars spending their time reading log entries." So if you want Olympic results, make sure you have a system in place with analytics or algorithms so the data can be understood by a wide variety of employees.

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Whether it's the Olympics, the election or Black Friday, what plan does your group have in place to make sure your app is ready?
This needs a few revisions.

More importantly than ensuring the servers are optimized, is to ensure that all points in the delivery chain are optimized, including network components, servers, applications, and even databases. You need to understand the architecture of your application end to end and identify potential bottlenecks and the critical path to the customer. Where possible, get functionality off the critical path.

Avoiding a disaster plan is planning for a disaster. A proper disaster plan will help you identify weaknesses in your architecture or delivery, potentially allow you to scale your architecture temporarily (i.e. multiple sites) or at least identify alternatives to factors beyond your control. Your application may be fine, but if Brazil can't handle it, few users will complain to the Brazilian authorities. Few will know, less will care.

Chances are, if a significant portion of your end users will be in the crush of things, you need to put in plans to be able to experience the results from their perspective. That may or may not mean boots on the ground, but many failures to identify a problem start by measuring the problem from the back end out. You need to measure from both directions, because you never know where the problem might be occurring.

Years ago, when the Olympic torch relay ran through downtown Kitchener/Waterloo Ontario (birth place of RIM) communications failed hugely. Calls couldn't even get a dial tone. BBM, text messages, internet all appeared down. The reality is that the cell system couldn't handle the crush. But the crowd was upset with the Blackberry phone. I know, I was there and couldn't meet up with my group. I didn't plan for that, but I should have known better.