The Application Support department at Virgin Australia maintains the many digital assets that their customers rely on daily for making reservations, checking on flights, and checking in. To maintain the health of their website and apps, Virgin Australia depends on Uptrends to monitor their APIs, web application, web performance, and transactions. In this interview, we talk with Steven Andrews, Leader Application Support at Virgin Australia.
An infrastructure as complex as Virgin Australia’s consists of multiple layers of servers, databases, APIs, Content Delivery Networks (CDN), and other third-party content providers.
Keeping all of this running requires large teams of people and the proper tools. Uptrends is proud to be a part of the toolset that Virgin Australia chooses to safeguard their most precious revenue generating digital assets.
A multi-level application requires a multi-level solution
Due to the complexity of the systems, Virgin Australia needed a monitoring system capable of giving them a 360-degree perspective on their systems.
“We take incidents very seriously, and we respond quickly to the alert, so we want to be able to get as much information as we can and diagnose the problem, engage the right teams, and have them coordinate a response quickly.”
Virgin Australia uses seven different monitor types and over 160 monitors to track availability, performance, and transactions for their website, mobile apps, and APIs. They have aimed multiple monitors at different levels of their systems, so when a problem arises, they get multiple alerts that can lead them quickly to the problem layer. For example, they have a web server running Apache and Tomcat with F5 load balancers. They’ve distributed the web servers over multiple data centers. These web servers send transactions to an API layer that they also distribute over multiple data centers and computers. These data centers and computers then refer to databases or backend systems. Problems can happen anywhere among these layers, and without multiple monitors, finding the problem is difficult.
“We take incidents very seriously, and we respond quickly to the alert, so we want to be able to get as much information as we can and diagnose the problem, engage the right teams, and have them coordinate a response quickly. Uptrends has made it possible for us to do that in a much better way than we had before.”
Millions of customers fly with Virgin Australia each year resulting in millions of transactions. Downtime on any of their systems has a significant impact on Virgin Australia’s revenue. The unique properties and abilities of Uptrends' monitor types give Virgin Australia the data-rich information they need to make decisions quickly.
Climb into the cockpit with Uptrends' customizable dashboards
A pilot needs his dashboard to know what is going on with the plane at all times. The Application Support team relies on Uptrends customizable dashboards to keep them informed. With six strategically placed big-screen monitors, Virgin Australia keeps their teams informed. The team has over 30 custom dashboards at the ready to monitor any situation.
“We revert all of our displays around the place to focus on that particular dashboard, which might be the dashboard relating to a loyalty product or might be the dashboard relating to our public website, or our API services. So we’ll use those dashboards to focus on the specific attributes that are important to us or for that incident.”
Transaction monitoring—it’s radar for websites
The complexity and ever-changing nature of Virgin Australia’s websites present many challenges. It is often difficult to determine where a transaction is failing due to the many application layers. Virgin Australia found that transaction monitoring speeds problem resolution for some of their more challenging applications by allowing them to pinpoint the problem components quickly.
Fly first-class with the Transaction Recorder
Virgin Australia uses the Uptrends Transaction Recorder to click through their site using a Chrome browser. They can submit their recordings to the Uptrends team and receive a fast turnaround on their transaction scripts, or they can test and edit their scripts using step editor. The complexity of their multi-tiered websites and the constant changes to their website’s functionality causes their transaction scripts to be a bit “fragile,” but Virgin’s team can quickly make script updates directly in the application or automate updates using Uptrends’s API. They also know that, if they need it, Uptrends' dedicated team of transaction scriptwriters can be there with the superglue and VIP service to get Virgin Australia’s transactions working again.
“The recording process is quite straightforward. We submit the recorded transaction, and your team has always been pretty quick to respond, which is great.”
Coach or business class? With multi-browser transaction monitoring everyone gets a quality experience
Customers interact with Virgin Australia’s websites and apps using a variety of browser types and versions. Virgin Australia is aware of their customer’s preferences, and they have observed that their transactions work better based on the user’s browser type and version.
“We monitor the performance of the home page of our Virgin Australia dot com website, and we get quite different performance with different browsers.”
To make sure all of their customers have the same great experience, Virgin Australia monitors the same transactions with multiple monitors using different browser types. By changing the user agent, Virgin Australia can simulate 16 different browsers.
“We have tried to mix it up a little bit because we have on occasion seen quite different behavior between different brands of browser types. For example, we monitor the performance of the home page of our Virgin Australia dot com website, and we get quite different performance with different browsers, so sometimes we do duplicate a similar functionality simply so we can compare the different browser performance.”
Transaction monitoring is just the ticket to monitoring server interactions
Virgin Australia found other uses for transaction monitoring beyond the user transaction. The flexibility of the transaction monitor made monitoring server based transactions a breeze.
“Where the transaction fails tells us what layer in our API or backend system that we might have a problem.”
Because of the step-by-step nature of a transaction monitor, Virgin Australia can tell what layer is failing based on where in the transaction script the error occurred. For example, Virgin Australia uses their transaction monitors to test for valid responses from their SMS gateway and to verify the XML returning from server calls.
“We use transaction monitoring to ensure that the core functions are viable, obviously, but also because our applications have the multiple layers. Where the transaction fails tells us what layer in our API or backend system that we might have a problem. That’s another reason why we like using transactions, and it reflects the real world experience.”
Out the windows on the right, you can see transaction waterfalls and screenshots
Users don’t wait around when errors happen. They file a support ticket and move on. The support team can’t see the state of the system at the time that the user experienced the error, so they find problem diagnosis difficult. With Uptrends' transaction waterfall reports and screenshots, not only do they have detailed information about the state of the page at the time of an error, they have a picture of it too!
“The transaction waterfall graph and the screenshot features are really good because you can build up a lot of evidence and information that will help you to diagnose exactly what’s going on. It’s like you are sitting behind the user and experiencing what they’re experiencing.”