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By: Mathew Lodge

How do you build an application that can handle 2,000 requests/second in less than 6 weeks that has to integrate on-premises systems, native mobile and SaaS services? It has to pass a strict security audit, be managed as a single application, and absolutely cannot fail during one of the tech industry’s largest events in San Francisco and Barcelona? Using a hybrid cloud, of course! If you’ve ever wondered what a “hybrid cloud application” looks like, then the VMworld 2014 mobile application is a great example.

The VMworld application represents a new generation of hybrid applications: those that span on-premises, off-premises and SaaS services. The “backend” of the mobile application, containing the data layer and the core logic, ran on vCloud Air and integrated with all the other systems. We engaged mobile solutions provider raw engineering to build the application for VMware, who deployed their built.io app development platform on vCloud Air. The VMworld mobile application was designed and developed in 6 weeks using agile methodology with regular demonstrations and testing by the VMworld team. The rest of the project schedule was spent on scale testing, security and privacy audits, bug fixes and legal review before submitting to the Google Play Store and Apple App Store about a month before VMworld San Francisco.

VMware’s identity management systems were the on-premises component, ensuring that customer data was secured while allowing single sign-on. VMware partner Crittercism provided mobile app performance management for a real-time view of key application performance diagnostics including uptime, responsiveness, and transactions. The Lanyon Event product was the system of record for sessions, attendance management and the survey engine — another SaaS service.

solution diagram

Many cloud adopters have written about the advantages of not having to do accurate forecasting of demand with horizontally-scaling web applications. While this sounds good, with an event where downtime would be hugely problematic and a brand new application, scale testing was going to be very important. We talked to organizations running large scale consumer mobile apps with millions of users to get an idea of peak loading, and arrived at 400 requests per second for an audience of about 20,000 conference-goers. Boy, were we wrong!

In the event, the backend demand peaked at 2,100 requests/second right after the Day 1 VMworld keynote at 10.30 am on Monday August 25th. Roughly 12,000 attendees left the keynote hall and opened the app to review and plan the rest of their day – all at the same time. This illustrates a key advantage to a hybrid application architecture where the mobile portion of the application could be rapidly scaled to cope with demand. The built.io platform scales horizontally along with the underlying Redis key-value store and MongoDB database. We learned that conference apps are far more demanding than general mobile consumer apps due to the synchronizing nature of conference events, where app users all end up doing the same thing at once.

Management

Cloud automation and analytics were essential to monitor the environment as well as capturing attendee behavior and preferences. Using vRealize Operations, we were also able to keep a close eye on the cloud infrastructure behavior, and that helped us understand how the application behaved on vCloud Air and where the bottlenecks were. That helped us make important decisions about what we needed to do to keep the app delivering a great experience, and squash any API performance issues.

With built.io on vCloud Air, it was easy for us to monitor load on our systems and map it back to what was happening on the show floor. The below graph shows the number of API calls from the mobile app to the backend on the first day of the conference. Note the spike in API calls around 10.30 am.

spike in api calls

From an analytics perspective, the system was monitored by vCOps running in our on-prem vSphere environment pulling data from our vCloud Air tenant, and showed us our infrastructure’s resource consumption. It allowed us to have a quick and accurate trending analysis for metrics like network traffic and CPU load, while the analytics provided by built.io gave us insight into actual usage of the mobile app. Together, the systems were tracking several hundred million data points including things like buttons pressed, resources consumed, surveys submitted, network throughput, storage performance, latency, and more.

data points

Customers liked the new application

Customer feedback on the new mobile application was overwhelmingly positive, with many taking to Twitter to voice their approval of the clearer, simpler layout and easier navigation. We also had time to add in a few fun features like the “Tweet a selfie” option.

Here’s an interview with vCloud Air core platform VP Scott Collison summarizing the app’s highlights:

 

Mobile apps are hybrid cloud applications

The official VMworld 2014 conference app provided an exciting large-scale enterprise mobile application that was brought to market in just a few months and achieved significant customer enthusiasm and adoption. It also illustrates how today’s enterprise mobile apps are native hybrid cloud applications, bringing together core on-premises systems, dynamic public cloud-based mobile apps and SaaS services to solve business and IT requirements.