Inside the War Room: How New Relic Helped Healthcare.gov Get Back on Track

By Posted in New Relic News, Top Post, Video 17 December 2013

When the Obama Administration released a progress report on fixing Healthcare.gov at the beginning of December, they also published an inside view of how they had gone about trying to figure out what was wrong and why.

Jeffrey Zients, the person the President picked in October to lead the effort to fix Healthcare.gov in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), attributed some of CMS’ success in detecting system issues to web-monitoring analytics software.

A live media briefing and published CMS status report included several screen shots showing the web performance improvements – improvements that are critical to people trying to use the site to sign up for coverage.  Those screen shots, in fact, were instantly recognizable to any of our 70,000 customers.

The secret was out – CMS was using New Relic for Healthcare.gov.  In fact, New Relic became part of the daily War Room efforts to meet the President’s Dec. 1 deadline to track down the site’s performance and other IT problems.

HKM
(see GigaOM article)

Clint Boulton of the Wall Street Journal was the first to call us and ask for details about how we got involved and how CMS is using our solution.  He posted a story (subscription required), a few hours later.

In Boulton’s story, New Relic CEO Lew Cirne explained how CMS approached us about using our analytics software a few days after Zients took the helm on Oct. 22, right in the middle of our FutureStack users conference.

From Boulton’s story:

“The software agent installed on applications used to operate HealthCare.gov sends data to New Relic’s servers, which then generate analytics reports on issues such as the amount of time it takes Web pages to load, database errors, and database response times. The information contained in the reports are presented as a color-coded dashboard accessible via the Web, and allows engineers working on the exchange to identify ‘which part is the bottleneck,’ said Mr. Cirne.”

The New Relic application performance monitoring provides “deep visibility” into HealthCare.gov applications, Lew noted in the story.

As Barb Darrow noted in a GigaOM story about the news, New Relic’s strength is its ability to pinpoint where problems are happening in complex websites (like this one) that tap many disparate software components.

“We show how all the pieces are doing and that can reduce finger pointing. When you know where the problems lie, fingers point in the right direction and things get less emotional if there is data to back up assertions,” Cirne said in the GigaOm article.

Last week in front of a congressional hearing (see article), Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted a “night and day” difference in the site’s performance compared to October and an uptick in the pace of enrollment.  Of course, at the same time she formally asked an inspector general to probe what went wrong in the initial roll-out of the website.

While there was a heavy spotlight on the work to optimize Healthcare.gov in short order, in many ways it’s not that different from complex commercial web sites that support millions of users at a time.  This is the type of thing New Relic helps solve all the time.  It’s our mission to make sure that our performance metrics and analytics play a critical role in making sure a website and application do what they are supposed to do.

For a further peek into the War Room that CMS set up to tackle the Healthcare.gov problems, check out Boulton’s other WSJ story on the topic.  This one also prominently features Rackspace CTO, New Relic partner and FutureStack keynote John Engates.

In addition, Lew was Emily Chang’s guest on Bloomberg TV just this morning, talking about the New Relic assistance with Healthcare.gov. Check out the interview here: New Relic’s Cirne on Obamacare Web Site, IPO Plans

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