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Furniture Retailer Gets Comfortable With Application Performance Management

When furniture retailer Rooms To Go started hearing complaints from store managers about slowdowns with critical applications, the IT team went to work. The team checked networks and systems and ran reports, but was unable to find any specific problems. However, the poor performance continued, and it was affecting customer service. In particular, employees were complaining about an application that lets them show customers detailed information and photos of the retailer's entire inventory.

"We don't have the same furniture in every store, so this application lets a salesperson show customers what we have," says Jason Hall, director of IT systems for Rooms To Go. "The salespeople were telling us the tool was great, but when it takes two minutes to pull up the information, the customer is already aggravated and annoyed."

So the organization deployed CA Technologies' NetQoS Performance Center in hopes of shedding light on the problem. Several years ago, the company centralized much of its IT operations for 150 showrooms at its headquarters in Seffner, Fla. The inventory application and other store systems are run from the central location. Rooms to Go has also embraced virtualization, turning a two-server farm into five virtual servers that support store applications and business applications, including the company directory, the purchase order system and employee expense reporting system.

The NetQoS Performance Center began sounding alarms almost as soon as it was deployed. "We found a lot of problems within the first 15-20 minutes," Hall says. The software monitors how well the network delivers applications to the Rooms To Go showrooms, and pinpoints any bottlenecks to the network, server or application environment for faster troubleshooting. In addition, Rooms To Go uses the software to understand how application traffic affects network performance, with views into the composition of traffic on every network link. The software also tracks bandwidth consumption by applications and users.

"We were able to get a handle on the application performance, find out where the actual slowdown was occurring and what the exact problem was," Hall says. Turns out, the slowdown was in the retailer's WAN. One problem involved HTTP traffic moving between Microsoft Entourage clients and an Outlook Web Access (OWA) server. Another had to do with an intranet server that hosts many of Room To Go's Web-based applications.

Rooms To Go is still ironing out the issues but has made improvements. The retailer has expanded its Web farm, for example. In addition, Hall says, the software helps eliminate the finger-pointing that often occurs in the course of troubleshooting. Rooms To Go also deployed CA Virtual Assurance for Infrastructure Managers to help overcome several obstacles it faced in its virtualization rollout. The product is helping improve visibility into Rooms To Go's heterogeneous physical and virtual environments. It also provides a process for problem notification and escalation.

Hall says proactive monitoring lets his infrastructure team stay on top of issues without having to expand the IT staff. "We've been able to keep our staff small. There's five people, including myself. And we cover all of our stores." Rooms To Go began using CA Technologies' NetQoS Performance Center and Virtual Assurance for Infrastructure Managers in March, after completing a proof-of-concept early in the year.

Hall and his team continue to expand the their use of the software. "We've got a lot of things we are looking at. Now that we have the tools, we are trying to identify every piece of traffic going across the WAN to see if it really should be there or not," says Hall. "We also have Cisco's Wide Area Optimization tool and one of the things the NetQoS Performance Center is helping us with is building correct policies for what traffic is running across the WAN."