Daxko’s TechOps Team’s Top Tools for Monitoring

By | Culture, Life at Daxko, Technology | No Comments

Ask an engineer to “monitor” something and chances are you’ll get a response resembling something just short of the stages of love. It will start with an overwhelming excitement and sense of ease – you’ll hear something like “Oh, sure, that’s easy!” This will soon be followed by countless hours being poured in and an attachment to the project that defies logic as they run through countless iterations of things working, not working, being completely thrown out and rewritten only to start the cycle again. At the end, what started this whole thing will either be fully monitored, partially monitored, or you’ll have a heartbroken engineer who’s just given up. At Daxko we’ve been through this cycle, well, let’s just say a lot.

For those unfamiliar with what the Daxko TechOps team is, let me provide a quick synopsis. TechOps stands for Technical Operations, and at Daxko, it’s the team responsible for the health [performance, uptime], compliance, escalated support, and operation of our production systems.  Stop and think about that for a second. TechOps is responsible for ensuring that the Daxko products are 1) available, 2) not slow, 3) secure, and 4) that the data in them is consistent!  That’s quite a task, and our team is able to excel at it for 2 main reasons. The first is Daxko’s version of DevOps – the TechOps Team and the Development Teams are closely integrated and we work with the Development Teams to ensure they can utilize and consume the tools that we use or build. The second is that we’ve built, and continue to iterate on, a monitoring stack that allows us to keep up with what’s going on and troubleshoot complex issues. That stack is what I’m going delve into in this post.

Monitoring means lots of monitors.

The Consideration

When designing and building any type of solution, you have to stop and consider the purpose of what you’re building and any constraints that may be in place. For Daxko, we have products that run in multiple environments (both hosted and cloud-based), using multiple database engines, and using multiple different technology stacks. Therefore, our core solution needs to be OS agnostic, scale easily, and be very malleable. On top of that, we have product-specific items that must be monitored and developers that want to know when things break. Great problems to have, but also lots of added complexity!

The Stack

To say our stack is complete is like saying that Microsoft is done adding “features” to Windows. Our stack is always in a constant state of flux, and being okay with that is part of what makes things work. Needs change all the time, and the system should be able to cope with that. And, the team should be okay with that.

So, what is our current stack composed of?

#1: Chef: Wait! Chef? What? Yep, Chef is a critical part of our stack. Without it, we don’t have consistency in our configurations and dependencies. Without that, everything else falls apart.

#2: Sensu: The beauty of Sensu is that it works on a complete pub/sub model where clients are configured to subscribe to certain channels and the checks for the channels are published by the Sensu servers. This means if we need another server of type X then we just spin it up and its check data automagically starts flowing in. Simple, efficient, and extremely powerful (also why #1 is so critical!).

#3: Graphite + Carbonator + Grafana: I admit it. I’m a HUGE Graphite fan.  I grew up in the days of MRTG and RRD and used Cacti exclusively for many years.  Graphite makes capturing, storing, and analyzing LOTS of data points extremely (well mostly) easy.  It is an extremely scalable system and allows for the creation of some very complicated graphs that just seem to appear instantly.  Couple that with Carbonator for capturing deep metrics on Windows systems and Grafana for building dashboards and you have a hands down rock solid solution.

#4: ELK Stack: We generate billions of log entries on a monthly basis, and we rely on the ELK stack heavily for ingesting, tokenizing, searching, and alerting on those logs. Our Kibana interface is utilized by everyone from Customer Success to TechOps to the Developers themselves!

#5: Pingdom: No system is faultless, and having an outside perspective is always a good thing. Pingdom provides us with that third party view, and we consider its data to be the gold for our uptime statistics. After all, if your servers are up but nobody can use them – are you really “up”?

#6: NewRelic: Daxko’s application stacks range from .Net to Java to PHP. One of our goals is to have single interface for viewing, trending, and comparing those products. NewRelic allows us to do this and allows us to collaborate between teams easily.

#7: pagerduty: Do I really need to explain this one? 😉

#8: Daxko Monitoring Service: You won’t find this one available for download anytime soon as it’s an internally developed tool, but it’s also one of our most powerful because it fills in the gaps left by the others. The Daxko Monitoring Service started life as a simple enough tool that was used for identifying and alerting on invalid data states that would crop up in our databases due to bugs in the software. Over the years, and multiple iterations, it has grown into a much more capable tool that still heralds back to its origins. However, in its latest iteration, it is also being expanded in a way that will allow our developers (on any team) to build test cases and execute them on timed intervals. This may seem like a trivial task; however, when you consider that some products have multiple (and some hundreds) of databases and you need the ability to be able to scale these test across all of those in a quick and effortless way while also taking some business logic into account – a custom tool is the only way to go.

A lot of tools means a lot of interfaces and honestly, that’s just a plain pain. Compound that with lots of people wanting more visibility into what’s going on, and this becomes very overwhelming.  So how do you handle that? We searched for a tool to help us solve this problem and in the end settled on a plan that will extend our Monitoring Service UI to incorporate data and alerts from all of our external systems into a simple, easy to use, interface that will give our team members the ability to subscribe to events and alerts on a product by product / service by service level.  Our hope is this will help to increase the collaboration between teams by making it easy for team members all over Daxko to get visibility into what is happening behind the scenes, leading to faster fixes and happier customers.


Ed M. is Daxko’s Director of TechOps and Lead Infrastructure Architect who has a passion for problem solving, system architecture, and embedded electronics.

Putting the ‘Engage’ in Engagement

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What is engagement really? It’s hard to disagree with its importance, but it’s even harder to define. You know it when you feel it.

At Daxko, we take engagement seriously. For our team members, engagement is about enthusiasm, fulfillment, and feeling connected to our culture. Engagement is about building relationships through experiences.

You could say the same about our product, Daxko Engage. Daxko Engage is where Daxko’s commitment to providing mission-critical solutions intersects with our promise of creating Exceptional Experiences. We cannot talk about Daxko Engage without talking about doing engagement. Think about it this way: while engagement is a noun, Engage is a verb.

Daxko Engage is a relationship management platform – the industry term is CRM (customer relationship management), but there’s more to it than that. Engage is your association’s marketing hub and communication engine. It’s where you track relationship growth, and it’s where your data becomes meaningful and actionable. Using Daxko Engage makes being an engagement wizard easy.

How? Here’s a sampling of verbs Engage makes possible:

  • SEE who’s checking in. At a glance, you’re equipped with key information about your members. Now go connect with them.
  • LOG notes from meaningful conversations. Each interaction needs to build the relationship. Every 2 interactions your staff has with members results in one extra facility visit1.
  • SEGMENT your membership base for targeted marketing. Know who you’re communicating with, and know you’re staying relevant.
  • CREATE engagement initiatives that streamline your day-to-day. Work smarter, not harder.
  • PREDICT the future. The Daxko Engagement Index, our algorithm made up dozens of data points, gives you a glimpse into how likely a member is to stick around. From here, you can make initiatives to do something about it.
  • DESIGN best-in-class, mobile-optimized emails. These days, 72% of your members prefer to hear from you through email2, and 55% of emails are now opened on a mobile device3.
  • ASSIGN tasks to your team and make hospitality and member satisfaction everyone’s job.
  • TRACK how you’re measuring up against retention and engagement goals and celebrate your successes. As we like to say: what gets measured gets remembered; what gets measured gets improved. 
  • CHANGE your culture. What’s the story you want members to know? How are they part of it? How will you change their lives? 

At Daxko, we believe that our customers are committed to engaging their communities and that they have the ability to build a culture of engagement with the right tools. We promise to do our part by empowering & educating our customers through relationship-driven experiences. Nothing fires us up more than seeing engagement in action.

1http://www.ihrsa.org/blog/2017/1/24/15-surprising-facts-about-health-club-member-retention.html

2https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/case-study/customer-communication-by-channel

3 http://www.emailmonday.com/mobile-email-usage-statistics


Charlie P., Engagement Solutions Team Lead at Daxko, wakes up early for a good long run, a good book, or just because.

A Designer’s Perspective: Top Tools & Resources

By | Culture, Free Career Advice, Grow Your Career, Professional Development, Rewarding Careers, Talent, Technology | No Comments

When I think about cool tech and design resources, so many options pop into my head. As a user experience designer always looking to learn something new, I have to say that there is an ocean of books, blogs, design tools, and inspirational sites out there that can help you grow personally and professionally. If you are curious, passionate about design, and eager to learn, we have already something in common.

Productivity, design thinking, behavioral change, and innovation, are a few areas of focus that have shaped the person and designer I am today. Below is a selection of tools and resources to help people like you and me:

Books:

  • Change by Design – An introduction to design thinking and how to drive innovation in organizations.

A little bit of everything:

  • Einstein window – Identify which is your most productive time in the day and get the most out of it.
  • Bullet Journal – A straightforward and productive way to design your to-do list.
  • Toastmasters – Improve public speaking and leadership skills while meeting new people.
  • Leadercast – Leadership event to get inspired and learn from top leaders in the world.
  • Pomodoro technique – The best productivity tool that helps you prioritize and time yourself.

Community:

  • AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) – Excellent professional organization for design, especially around graphic design.
  • IXDA – Interaction Design Association
  • Code for America – If you are interested in civic projects, open data and, helping your community, I highly recommend finding the Brigade chapter in your state.

Trend, news and, inspiration:

  • Website Awards – Recognized web designers and agencies in the world.

Webinars, blogs, and podcasts:

  • Mural.com blog – Mural is an awesome tool for remote collaboration and documentation. They also have really good webinars.
  • UserTesting.com – Test your designs and sites with this tool. They also provide webinars with top leaders.

Prototyping tools:

  • Balsamiq – Create quick mock ups, and wireframes
  • Invision – Build web and mobile prototypes to share and to gather user feedback.
  • Axure – Create highly interactive prototypes.

Design resources:

  • Codepen – Front-end inspiration
  • Usability Hub – Use this free service to get quick user feedback

I hope you find these tools useful, regardless of whether or not you are growing a design career or a career in another field. Do you have other exciting tools and resources? I am always looking for new things to try.


Erika B. is a multidisciplinary designer, thinker, researcher and strategist from Caracas, Venezuela. She is an alumni of Savannah College of Art and Design where she studied Industrial Design and Service Design. She works at Daxko as an Interaction Designer and during her free time, works as a community organizer at Code for Birmingham.

A Recap of Kids Code-A-Thon

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This month TechBirmingham presented their Kids Code-A-Thon at Daxko! Over 60 local children attended, eager to team up and create an app that would positively affect Birmingham.

Let me start by saying this: I work in Services. I know very little about coding… but [spoiler alert] by the end of the day, I moved from the Hospitality Team to leading a team of brilliant kids with the coolest app in the building.

Trent and Adam (of Airship) kicked things off by leading a brainstorm with the kids to come up with app ideas that would benefit Birmingham. Here are a few of my favorites:img_0766-jpg

After splitting up, each team selected ideas from the brainstorm to develop and later present to a panel of judges. At this point, I was still on the Hospitality Team, so I was walking around to see if the kids (or volunteers) needed anything and scoped out what everyone was working on.

One team was working on a pet translator. Another worked on a volunteer crowdsource. Yet another was working on a “BirminghamGo” app. My favorite, though, was a team working on a Birmingham Scavenger Hunt. In the app, the user had to go to each landmark in Birmingham to answer a trivia question. When the user answered the question correctly, they would acquire an item needed to save the princess from “Blazer,” the UAB dragon, at Vulcan.

Just before lunch, one of the volunteers had to leave, and I was asked to step in and work with the Birmingham Scavenger Hunt team (aka Team Awesome). SCORE. We got right to it. They had already decided on landmarks and characters, and although the team was swiftly building the app, their difficulty was in telling the story and coming up with a plan – something I am good at. I absolutely loved helping them discover how to tell their story, what types of imagery to use, and coaching them in how to present their app to our panel of judges.

img_0582

They were having fun, I swear.

Prior to judging, a couple of very special people joined us…

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The kids (and adults) were enthralled to see the Stormtroopers! They lined up to have their pictures made and get autographs.

At the end of the day, Team Awesome won second place and were begging for some extra time to finish building out their app and implement it.

I’m so grateful that Daxko is invested in future generations of coders and geniuses and that my teammates would show up to work on a Saturday – some in full Stormtrooper gear – to make an impact in our community.

Congrats to TechBirmingham for a very successful event!


Emily V. is a proud dog mom, and Netflix connoisseur, and lives on Daxko’s Engagement Solutions Team.