Apica Systems Uses Grafana to Enhance End User Experience
"Back in the day, when Bruce Springsteen released concert tickets, nine times out of ten, the website crashed. The Olympic Games did their first stream and the whole site crashed."
Apica Synthetic Monitoring and Load Testing
There was clearly a gap in the market, and Apica moved to fill it with two enterprise products: Apica Synthetic Monitoring and Apica Load Test. “Our products allow customers to accurately measure performance and understand what the end user experience really is,” says Hammar. With synthetic monitoring, Apica simulates real user traffic around the world in order to detect availability and performance issues before they affect users. “Let’s say your headquarters are in Stockholm, Sweden, and your end users are in Australia. Without that synthetic monitoring data, you have a really hard time providing any insights in terms of how the people in Australia are accessing and experiencing your service. Ultimately we strive to make the life of the end user much better by having everything on the website available and with a higher uptime.”
While managing not to crash just one time out of ten could (maybe) fly in 2007, it’s an entirely different story today. “Companies know that things need to be fast,” Hammar says. “We’ve seen that development with mobile taking over, and now it’s the next era with IoT devices. Now it’s not only the end user, but also the digital experience that matters.”
Accordingly, Apica’s customer base has grown to include a wide range of large enterprises, typically with more than 1,000 employees and end users all around the world, like Scholastic and Rakuten. And the company’s sales meetings aren’t about education anymore. “Nowadays, companies are more prepared for events that can cause a surge in traffic,” says Hammar. “They come in advance to test out and review the performance, so they are more proactive nowadays than reactive.”
For Apica, being proactive means adopting new technologies to continually improve its products. Case in point: The infrastructure team members were early adopters of Grafana. “We have used it heavily, and we collect a lot of metrics from all around the world,” says Hammar. “We operate a system with 3,000-4,000 servers worldwide, and we collect metrics from these in real time, so we can have a very good insight into what is going on globally and in our system.”
About a year ago, the team began looking into how to build a “better, future-proof, and very dynamic dashboard 2.0” into Apica’s SaaS products. The team evaluated several solutions, and decided to go with what they were already using internally. “We chose Grafana, as it was more of a dashboard layer, and didn’t have any direct connections or boundaries to a database or a data source,” says Hammar. “You could pick whatever you wanted and they would just visualize it. We began a project to integrate Grafana closer to our synthetic monitoring product, and see how we could build a completely new dashboard layer for our customers using the Grafana solution.”
"There's been a need for a long time to be able to take the data from various places and visualize it in one single place. There have been all kinds of dashboard solutions, but Grafana changed that game in terms of being extremely dynamic and hooking in whatever you like."
The first version of the next-generation dashboard, powered by Grafana, was released to Apica’s SaaS platform at the end of 2017. Since then, Apica has also released a package with the data source and some plugins the team developed for Grafana, that customers can use if they’re running Grafana on their own.
The response has been extremely positive, especially since many of Apica’s customers were already using or evaluating Grafana. “There’s been a need for a long time to be able to take the data from various places and visualize it in one single place,” says Hammar. “There have been all kinds of dashboard solutions, but Grafana changed that game in terms of being extremely dynamic and hooking in whatever you like, and at the same time being very flexible so you can extend them.”
The biggest value Hammar sees is the fact that you can visualize anything with Grafana – not just the newest technologies but also the legacy ones, like SAP applications or mainframes that may still be powering the core of the business. “That makes Grafana an ideal go-to place either if you come from the business side and want to visualize your KPIs, or you’re from the IT ops or DevOps perspective and you want to have more insight into the health of your system and your environment,” he says.
The Apica team is now focusing on building in new features and greater support for Grafana in its products. And soon, the company will be releasing an open-source version to the greater Grafana community. “The community has made Grafana what it is, together with the organization behind Grafana,” says Hammar. “That combination is the key to success, to really make the product what it is today and what it can become in the future.”