Founded in 1984, Cash Converters is a franchised retailer and micro-lender specializing in the sale of second-hand goods. And since then, the company has grown into a network of more than 700 retail locations in 21 countries. Cash Converters’ Point of Sale System is built in the .NET framework and runs on the Windows Azure Compute and SQL Database Platform.
An All-or-Nothing Proposition
For the IT team at Cash Converters, application monitoring is an all-or-nothing proposition. “You need to be looking at everything,” says Software Development Manager James Miles. “If you’re not looking at some aspect of your environment, you can be sure it’s causing a problem. You just don’t know it yet.”
When Miles joined Cash Converters at the end of 2011, his team relied on application log files to diagnose emerging issues. And this was a problem. “Azure monitoring is very helpful at the machine level, but it doesn’t give you end-to-end application insight,” he explains. “We needed a better visibility into network I/O, disk I/O, CPU, memory, application throughput — better visibility into how our application consumed system resources and how it behaved. If a problem arose, we couldn’t be sure if it was a database issue or an application issue. We were essentially flying blind.”
The company addressed part of that challenge by developing application instrumentation for lower-level insight into granular performance issues. However, the team was still unable to see the big picture. “We could drill down, but we couldn’t pull back for a system-wide view,” says Miles. “We obviously needed a more holistic approach to monitoring the performance of our application.”
Monitoring Made Easy
Cash Converters works closely with the Data Platform Customer Advisory Team at Microsoft, a group of engineers who offer guidance to SQL users. “We talked to them about our challenges related to monitoring and they immediately recommended New Relic,” says Miles. “We deployed the software about a month ago, and we’re already monitoring 400 servers and 135 applications. It’s so quick and easy to deploy. You can install it via a NuGet package from within Visual Studio, then deploy it to the Azure Role Environment. Just a few clicks and you’re there.”
Miles and his team now have a truly holistic view across their entire system. They use New Relic on a day-to-day basis as an overall health indicator, gaining near real time insight into problem areas that demand immediate attention. “If New Relic sees a spike in error rates, we know where to start our investigation,” says Miles. “Upon diagnosis, we fade that back into our development team to improve the health of the whole system.”
New Relic Visibility
After deploying New Relic, Miles and his team had actionable results almost right away. “Within days, we learned that we had a memory leak in one of our applications,” he says. “That was causing our servers to freeze for short periods of time, which was affecting users. It was the sort of issue that we probably wouldn’t have caught without New Relic, and that diagnosis led to immediate improvements in overall performance.”
New Relic offers visibility into the resource constraints of any application, placing those constraints within the larger context of the entire Cash Converters environment. “The holistic view of our application performance is especially important because we’re utilizing so many servers in Azure,” says Miles. “I can’t learn very much by logging onto a single server, because the application is distributed across multiple data centers. The health of one server or even a particular node is almost irrelevant to me. But with New Relic, we get the broad visibility that we need to understand performance in a complex environment. For example, we recently had a hardware failure in the Azure data center in Singapore, which knocked four of our applications offline. New Relic instantly alerted us that our system performance had degraded, and we addressed the problem right away.”
These days, Miles and his team are no longer flying blind. “New Relic is our eyes into our Azure cloud environment,” he says. “Now we can always be certain, from moment to moment, that our entire system is operating up to its potential.”
Try New Relic in your Azure Environment Today
Read the full case study to see how New Relic helped Cash Converters get a holistic view into 400 of its servers and 135 of its applications.