The automotive manufacturing, sales and service industry has some of the most demanding and complex requirements for IT and networking teams.  When dealing with just-in-time inventory, real-time logistics and customer facing requirements, the IT team at a leading automotive company’s European regional headquarters was challenged with keeping the network fine-tuned to ensure success across the entire organization.

The automotive company supports more than 100 locations spread across 29 countries with the majority having different national languages.  The European regional office supports a wide range of customers and services including headquarters, research and development, manufacturing plants, logistic sites, and part warehouses. 

Adding to the complexity, the IT organization supports almost 30 national marketing and sales companies throughout the region.  Even though it owns most of the regional companies, some remain independent, adding to the complexity of supporting these entities without controlling the regional LANs and devices.

The company supports a wide range of applications including proprietary and commercial off the shelf (COTS) software.  “In our environment, even the slightest degradation in application performance can have a huge impact across many different groups and customers. For example, if an app isn’t working properly, the manufacturing line stops.  Or if the logistics group cannot get the trucks filled and out of the center, the parts don’t arrive and that escalates to orders not being completed and unhappy customers,” said the senior manager.

To address these challenges, the company fully implemented Visual Network Systems’ Visual Performance Manager including the Application Performance Appliance and Network Performance Appliance across the region.  The network team uses the solution to monitor transactional-level measurements and pinpoint the cause of problems.  In addition, the real-time visibility and forensics provides detailed troubleshooting to reduce the time associated with finding and solving potential issues.

Knowing what is normal is critical

As IT organizations are tasked with doing more with less, the ability to find anomalies in performance data earlier can greatly reduce the risk of the problem compounding over time.  In order to determine when something exceeds normal, the underlying baseline first must be identified and quantified.

In an attempt to get better measurements from an end-to-end response time point of view, the company deployed robots at end sites to simulate user transactions.  “The robots were a step in the right direction for us because they simulated the enduser response time, but since they were only periodic transactions, they really didn’t provide a strong baseline which we could proactively monitor against,” said the company’s senior manager.  “With the Application Performance Appliance,

we measure and monitor every transaction 24×7 and with the reporting views, we quickly see if there is deviation from the baseline and our targeted goals.”

Once the company identified a deviation from a targeted response time, the IT team began trying to identify and solve the problem even before end users were impacted.  “Once we see an issue, this first step is to find the point of cause across all the potential components,” said the company’s senior manager.  “Even though the robots simulated traffic and gave some good information if there was a delay, they are missing the critical aspect – they don’t tell us where the problem is or where the slowness starts.  This is where the Application Performance Appliance excels.”

Finding the point of cause faster

When dealing with application and network performance management, finding the point of cause can greatly reduce the time and effort to isolate and solve problems.  Typically, if an organization fails to find the point of cause, the time, effort and cost to troubleshoot and solve exponentially increases.

“One of our key goals has been to reduce the time to find the point of cause when we have performance degradation,” said the senior manager.  “Even though it’s common knowledge you can solve a problem faster if you know exactly where to start, executing on that goal can still be a challenge without the right views.”

“For example, several of our key applications may have 20 different components and several different groups managing them including the network, security and application teams,” added the senior manager.  “Before Visual Network Systems, we had individual tools for each component and that took a lot of time and effort to try and find the culprit.  We did our best to work together across the different groups and tools, but it was like trying to find the needle in the haystack of components spread out across all of Europe.”

“The Application Performance Appliance has been great because we can see the actual transaction going on and it immediately provides us the point of cause because of the detailed measurements between each component,” stated the senior manager.  “The system proved itself right away during our proof of concept.  An end-user had an issue and in a very short time, we identified the cause and solved the problem.  Without the Application Performance Appliance, an intermittent problem like that might take several people two to five days to find the cause.”

The diversity of the company’s network also increases challenges.  “Since the sales and marketing offices manage the retailer network, it can be a challenge to manage end-to-end response time when we don’t own or control the devices within that country,” concluded the senior manager. “But with the Application Performance Appliance, we still can see the exact point of cause, even if we don’t control it.  Now, we have the detailed information to share with the regional office and we spent the time solving the problem instead of guessing.”

With the deployment of the Application Performance Appliance, the company was able to not only receive end-to-end response times down to an individual transaction level, but also receive detailed measurements along each network segment.

Application acceleration still requires monitoring

The application requirements for the company are extremely complex and demanding.  The applications may be COTS, corporate proprietary, custom developed by national sales arms or a combination of all three.  Each application has different requirements and sensitivities to performance impacts.

“Supporting the entire EU requires a great deal of effort and coordination. From an application point of view, the retail apps tend to be very delay sensitive while content publishing for training can be extremely bandwidth intensive.  We have implemented acceleration with both shaping and compression across the network,” said the senior manager.

“Even though acceleration provides great benefit, we know we must proactively monitor it from our end to ensure we are getting the results we want and optimizing our investment,” added the senior manager.  “We love the integration of the Network Performance Appiance and our acceleration solution.  By getting the NetFlow information directly from the Packeteer devices and digging into the analytics of those flows with the Network Performance Appliance, we have an independent view to see exactly what is going on before, during and after the acceleration.”

Network Performance Appliance and the Application Performance Appliance are tightly integrated within the Visual Performance Manager platform.  By providing a single pane of glass to monitor the entire system, the users get the most value from their investments.

“Visual Network Systems did a great job integrating NetFlow data from the Network Performance Appliance and the Application Performance Appliance within Visual Network Systems’ Visual Performance Manager. Instead of having to piece together information manually, it’s automatically correlated on a single system so we don’t have to waste time trying to correlate different tools, platforms and views, said the senior manager.

Keeping the organization on track to meet its goals

With such a diverse network infrastructure and complex requirements, the IT and network team for the company needs the highest level of visibility to ensure overall service levels are met.  The company’s decision to deploy Visual Network Systems’ Visual Performance Manager provides the team with toolset needed to identify, isolate and solve potential issues faster.  “Even before we deployed Visual Performance Manager, our team did a fantastic job in meeting the overall corporate and IT goals. However, since we rolled out the system, the entire IT team is working smarter, faster and better since we have the right information.”

“From my point of view, since the Visual Network Systems system helps us isolate the cause of problems and solve them faster, it really allows the entire team to be more productive and efficient,” concluded the senior manager.  “The best part is we are spending a lot less time doing the reactive things we had to do and now we can focus on the things we want to do like improve the overall quality and experience for the entire Europe organization.”