Curing Web App Performance Ills

ProactiveNet 5.0 management tool is the right medicine at McKesson.

As mission-critical, Web-based applications proliferate in the enterprise, organizations are rushing to deploy tools that better monitor and manage performance across a distributed infrastructure.

McKesson Corp., a $50 billion pharmaceuticals company in San Francisco, needed a comprehensive solution that could handle the load of measuring and managing the availability and performance of its Supply Management Online system—an online ordering system used by more than 2,000 pharmacies across the United States.

After evaluating different products root-cause analysis and performance management capabilities, Alan Pearson, director of systems architecture at McKesson, and his staff decided to deploy ProactiveNet Inc.s ProactiveNet 5.0, an application performance management tool.

Case file

  • Company McKesson Corp.
  • Location San Francisco
  • The problem Find a way to measure and manage the availability and performance of the companys online ordering system for customers
  • The solution Deploy application performance management software to reduce the time and effort it takes to identify the source of application performance problems; minimize downtime by monitoring WebLogic and Sun ONE J2EE application servers
  • The tools ProactiveNets ProactiveNet 5.0; IBMs WebSphere; Sun ONE J2EE application server
  • Whats next Use ProactiveNet to handle the management and monitoring of applications from SAP, PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems Inc.

Source: eWEEK reporting

"We had a number of problems we couldnt successfully diagnose, so we needed a tool that would help us narrow down in a production environment what was going on," Pearson said. "Were constantly trying to improve our end-user response time."

During an on-site evaluation, eWEEK Labs was impressed by the speed and ease with which ProactiveNet identified the source of McKessons application performance problems. McKesson is also using ProactiveNet, which it deployed last year, in conjunction with monitors from vendors such as BMC Software Inc. and IBMs Tivoli Systems Software.

Peter Matthiesen, enterprise systems management technical leader at McKesson, said ProactiveNet has enabled McKesson to reduce the time and effort it takes to identify the source of application performance problems. In addition, use of the management tool has dramatically minimized downtime resulting from performance issues and has improved the direction of problem-solving resources, Matthiesen said.

As corporations deploy an increasing number of Web application servers, they need improved visibility into the source of those servers performance problems. Deploying performance management tools can reduce the time it takes to find and fix performance issues.

Like all companies, McKesson is constantly looking for solutions that will streamline processes and reduce operating costs. The company is the second-largest pharmaceuticals distributor in the United States and has more than 24,000 employees.

McKessons Supply Management Online application is the companys primary back-end online system, supporting order management, supply management, decision support and financial management for health care clients and partners.

McKesson relies on Supply Management Online for its online product ordering in the pharmaceuticals business. The company does $2 billion to $3 billion a year in sales via the online ordering system, Pearson said.

Supply Management Onlines order management capabilities include full catalog searches, customer- specific pricing, and provision of real-time product availability and order status information. Customers can also use the site to see their purchase history.

Supply Management Online is built on BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic and Sun Microsystems Inc.s Sun ONE J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) application servers. Those servers tie in to Oracle Corp. Oracle9i databases. Supply Management Onlines front end is a portal-based application built on WebLogic and Vignette Corp.s Epicentric Foundation Server. The entire ordering and inventory check process relies on a distributed infrastructure that includes a Hewlett-Packard Co. Compaq/ Tandem system.

Today, the ProactiveNet tool is used to monitor everything—the network, firewalls, databases, Web servers, application servers, applications, Web URLs and transactions. Because the tool touches the Supply Management Online system from end to end, deploying it required cooperation among multiple departments.

"One of the challenges with rolling out any big systems management tool like this is that deploying it is as much a political process as a technical one," Matthiesen said. "In the past, each group had its own monitoring tools, so we had to get everyone in the same room to hash out what the full path of deployment was, end to end."

Matthiesen said the primary benefit of using the ProactiveNet tool is its ability to determine root-cause analysis. In the past, if there were a high-severity outage and Supply Management Online went down, McKessons operations team would determine which application was down and initiate a conference call including every division that played a part in maintaining that application. Using ProactiveNet, Pearson can isolate the problem to one or two groups.

Early on, ProactiveNet pinpointed enough issues that a decision was made to turn it off and work to fix some underlying application problems in Supply Management Online.

"Initially, the tool helped to identify so many issues with Supply Management Online that the applications people said wed better switch it off because we were getting too many alerts," Pearson said. "So we switched the tool off and redesigned some of the applications to fix those performance problems."

Today, McKesson uses the tool primarily to identify the impact of an application that has gone down. If one database fails, for example, Pearson will use the tool to determine which applications are affected and how, so that engineers can fix the problem efficiently.

McKesson uses Tivoli Enterprise Console to manage all the reporting for Supply Management Online.

Like many companies, McKesson uses various monitoring services for systems management purposes. The company used ProactiveNet to consolidate monitoring views and to gain visibility into infrastructure performance problems within Supply Management Online.

Before deploying ProactiveNet, there was no easy way for McKesson to build cross-device reporting, nor the ability to display system performance to various departments.

ProactiveNet ties in to the Tivoli console and enables McKesson to pull in monitors from BMC and Tivoli to correlate and manipulate data. The data is then used to build business metrics trends, such as the number of orders taken per hour or the number of orders that havent been acknowledged in a certain amount of time. In the event of a performance problem, the ProactiveNet console will generate a ticket and notify the operations group of the issue.

The tool also allows McKesson to generate performance reports for different tasks performed by Supply Management Online. For example, Pearson was able to pull up a report that showed the application processed 72,000 order lines on July 31. A daily performance log showed that the average response time for orders was 3.4 seconds. All Supply Management Online statistics are captured and published for internal use.

Pearson and Matthiesen are now considering using ProactiveNet for capacity planning and to automatically manage application availability.

Further down the road, Pearson said, hell look at rolling out ProactiveNet on a global basis and begin to use the tool to manage other major applications, including enterprise resource planning systems from SAP AG and customer relationship management applications from PeopleSoft Inc.

"McKesson has a centralized IT division, and 90 to 95 percent of the enterprises business-critical applications are now managed through this centralized organization," Pearson said. "Were looking at ProactiveNet as a key piece of this infrastructure we will use to manage all of the IT applications for McKesson."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at