Cars.com races to make sure performance keeps up with growth

Cars.com runs a race every day to optimize how it can present real-time advertising and sales information to car buyers with a focus on dealer quotes and shopping locally. With business accelerating, it's about handling the bumps in the road.

With anywhere between 18 million and 21 million unique visitors per month, and plus or minus 200 million page views, Cars.com faces challenges associated with growth, according to Jim Houska, enterprise architect for the Chicago-based company. The website has gone from requiring about 30 software releases per year to 250 releases, and keeps hiring more developers, with an emphasis on Java programming. Visitors to Cars.com still originate mainly from browser-based PCs and Macs, but more than 10% of traffic now comes from mobile devices. This all means monitoring and application performance management (APM) is becoming more complex.

Sometimes a glitch will pop up related to the Linux server-based Oracle Endeca search engine that's used, for example. Or other processing resources show signs of strain or a potential for outage, says Houska. The Compuware APM platform dynaTrace that Cars.com now uses to monitor and manage application performance associated with these corporate IT resources, including about 250 Java virtual machines, has proven effective in giving staff the information they need to make adjustments and corrections when bottlenecks start to appear.

With the Compuware APM, "we identify issues and where we're underperforming," Houska says.

Cars.com started using the Compuware APM tool last winter before the marketing push it made with its Super Bowl television advertising, which spiked traffic by 1,800% immediately afterward and for weeks kept traffic about 40% higher than average.

Making sure the user's Web experience is up to expectations is important, says Houska. Cars.com collects browser-based performance metrics that end up categorized as "satisfied," "tolerating" or "frustrated" users, so that the company's front-end development teams can address any performance issues.

Other tools that help analyze website and application performance include those from Keynote Systems, Splunk and Omniture (acquired by Adobe), plus Cars.com is testing Google's PageSpeed Service. Houska says Cars.com, whose servers are mainly based on Red Hat Linux and VMware, also made a strategic move to adopt Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), which Houska says played a significant role in network management.

Cars.com has already started down the road for mobile, offering apps for Google Android and Apple iOS devices. In terms of mobile strategy, Cars.com is considering whether to make a major push into HTML5 functionality too, says Houska, pointing out "more and more traffic is coming from these devices." Compuware's APM Spring 2012 Platform release includes an application development kit that offers a way to build in some performance monitoring directly into mobile apps. Cars.com is looking into that as a possibility for future use.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email: emessmer@nww.com.

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