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Case Study: Time Warner takes the uncertainty out of custom code

Time Warner's employeeConnection portal enables more than 80,000 employees to keep up with everything work-related, from their benefits, to the availability of free tickets for newly released movies. It's a 'massive' portal with a tight security model, says Robert Caruso, senior business analyst for the media giant.

Problem
The portal was built entirely in-house, using Macromedia's ColdFusion middleware, with some ASP and .NET in the mix. Unlike an off-the-shelf application, there wasn't an easy way to determine how many users the portal could support, among many other considerations.

The load on the portal varies widely, Caruso says. The biggest push is in the final quarter of every year, when employees enroll in a variety of benefit programs for the following year. 'Although the open enrollment process is streamlined and easy, it can take several minutes to go through because people are careful about selecting their benefits,' Caruso explains. 'Session duration was a big issue for us, and we were very concerned about server performance.'

On the other side of the spectrum, the number of users simultaneously accessing the portal can spike dramatically within seconds after an e-mail blast announcing the availability of free tickets to a newly released film.

If users experienced problems while accessing the portal, developers did not always know that a problem occurred, let alone try to pinpoint its cause and fix it.

Solution
To gain more visibility into the inner workings of the portal, the development team began searching for a tool that would allow it to identify problems in the code and to resolve potential problems that might have occurred following an upgrade or after applying a patch, for example.

After a round of evaluating a variety of tools, the Time Warner team selected CompuWare's QACenter Performance Edition, a scaleable performance testing and server monitoring app designed for measuring and analyzing response times and system use under simulated production loads.

The tool is easy to use, one of the prerequisites in the decision to buy it. 'It required a minimal investment of my time to learn how to use it,' Caruso says. Ten to 15 developers currently use the app, and that number will likely grow because other divisions want to use it, he adds.

The other prime motivation for selecting this particular product, Caruso says, was its low cost relative to others the group investigated.

Best of all, the app does what the development teams expected it to do. 'The beauty was that if there was an error in the first application,' Caruso says, 'we knew that the sub applications would have the same problem. Using the tool, we knew exactly where to look.'

Benefit
QACenter allows the developers to identify performance issues with server configuration and applications code that they would not have detected until they tested the app. 'The tool can be used to help identify portions of code that may have a negative impact on the user experience,' Caruso explains. 'It opened our eyes to things we wouldn't have noticed otherwise.'

For instance, 'It allows us to support more users and transactions and to provide a consistent user experience,' he says.

In addition, the app gave the development staff tremendous insight into coding practices, and helped proved why some coding techniques are better than others and why some can get you into trouble, Caruso adds.

About the Author

Michael Alexander is editor-in-chief of Application Development Trends.

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