“The system is awfully slow today.” This seems to be a common complaint among a majority of companies recently polled by enterprise security software firm Symantec Corp. as it sought to determine the impact of sluggish application performance on employee productivity and customer loyalty.
Information Technology (IT) staff spend almost one fourth of their time dealing with application slowdown, according to the survey, which included 200 IT managers of global corporations and 200 consumers in North America.
Persistent downtime, the survey found, lowers employee morale and has a direct effect on customer loyalty.
The survey said the common complaints include slow response to user commands, long delays in business transactions or processes and slow loading of Web pages.
For many organizations, Web-based business applications are essential to daily operations and interaction with partners and customers. These applications include those that run financial and accounting systems, human resources and inventory management. Core applications that affect consumers include those that automate online transactions such as shopping, banking and travel.
“Application performance delays are not only costly to the top line but also erode invaluable business assets such as customer satisfaction and brand loyalty,” said Henri Isenberg, vice president for server foundation at Symantec.
IT managers polled by Symantec said their staff devotes 24 per cent of their time addressing application delays. About 76 per cent of the managers acknowledged that persistent delays affect customer loyalty to their organization.
Of the business users polled, 86 per cent stated that the delays lowered morale. In addition, 93 per cent of the users noted that application issues affected their productivity.
Among the 200 consumers surveyed, 93 per cent said they engaged in online shopping. The online shoppers said frequent delays in transactions would affect their loyalty to their service provider.
Slow online performance would cause 18 per cent of the respondents to abandon the transaction or switch to a competitor.
Roberta Fox, principal of telecommunications research firm Fox Group Inc. in Mount Alberta, Ont., says the damage that persistent downtime can bring to a company warrants the deployment of tools that can quickly pinpoint the problem.
She said most system problems involve the failure of disparate components to interact with each other especially during peak demands.
Lack of applications to identify the bottleneck compounded the problem, she said.
“Some companies spend weeks or months trying to determine where the problem lies,” said Fox.
Tool helps firm
BT Retail Internet Operations, a UK-based Internet service provider (ISP), found itself in this predicament shortly after it implemented a broadband price promotion campaign.
BT Retail serves more than five million businesses and consumers in the UK and receives more than 7,200 online orders per day at five minutes per order.
At the height of its campaign, the company discovered its eHub portal was slowing down due to a bottleneck in system configuration.
Over a period of six months, the IT team installed more than 60 patches to remedy the situation. The fixes only enabled BT Retail to tune the system manually in response to each change in the order demand profile. The slowdown placed the company at risk of not meeting service level agreements (SLA).
Because it had used Symantec products in other projects, BT Retail decided to try out Symantec’s Veritas i3 application performance management (APM) software.
“On the first day of its full use, following six months of exasperation, we identified the cause of the problem,” said Neal Kelshaw, head of infrastructure at BT Retail.
“There was an Oracle performance problem that was affecting the BEA WebLogic server connecting the remote Oracle database. This impacted the eHub and resulted in the failure of order queues,” he said.
The APM software provided the IT team with tuning advice, problem alerts, root cause analysis and SLA reporting.
“In the past, we didn’t know which application component was coupled to broadband orders. With i3 we immediately identified a response problem with the back-office end of the application,” Kelshaw said.
He said it used to take four hours and 40 minutes of system processing time each day to provision 5,600 orders.
With an analysis from i3 of the transaction data, the IT team was able to reduce processing time to one hour and 25 minutes.
Prior to using i3, the company spent US$ 215,000 in system fault and instability management. With the new software, BT Retail spent only US$77,000 on routine platform maintenance and upgrades.
“Some organizations need to deploy servers from a variety of providers. This calls for the installation of point tools that would allow applications to work for a specific server,” according to Mark Lohmeyer, vice president for product management at Symantec.
“A key advantage of i3 is that in can integrate with any server environment, reducing system complexity and cost.”
Fox said such a set-up would offer companies several benefits. “Organizations can cut down the number of vendors they deal, lessen the time learning curve with new equipment and even possibly allow for corporate-wide pricing discounts.”