Every child matters. This is the motto of Catholic Schools NSW, which takes the lead in coordinating and representing Catholic education at a state and national level for New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state. Catholic schools educate one in five NSW students, and employ more than 30,000 teachers and support staff across 591 schools.
One of the organisation’s most important objectives is to ensure that NSW Catholic schools comply with evolving federal and state funding and legislative requirements. To help the schools keep up with these changes, Catholic Schools NSW doubled its IT staff so that it could rapidly create applications and functionality to support new legislative requirements. Today, that team manages nine in-house-developed applications in addition to more than 30 off-the-shelf applications.
Developing a strategy for reliability
This rapid growth came at a cost. ‘The side effect of rapid growth and development was a shortage of time and resources to focus on reliability’, says Brad Anderson, information technology manager at Catholic Schools NSW. ‘Every time a new requirement came out, a lot of individual effort went into developing a new application and releasing it quickly.’
Soon, however, reliability issues began cropping up across an increasing number of applications, and dealing with them began to take up most of the developers’ time.
‘When I came into this role, people at the schools didn’t trust the tools we were providing because of sporadic outages’, says Anderson. ‘If they aren’t engaged and don’t feel the tools are reliable, they won’t use them, and we won’t get the data we need to accurately report back to the government.’
With $3.5 billion in government funding on the line, accurate data is critical for demonstrating that funding is equitable and allotted correctly. If a school is flagged as having incorrect data, an audit could be triggered, resulting in more work for teachers and less time for them to focus on their students.
Anderson quickly realized that the first thing he needed to do in his new role was develop a strategy to improve the level of service, reliability, and engagement that his IT team could provide to the schools.
Making visibility mandatory
As Anderson began to create his strategy, it became clear that the IT team at Catholic Schools NSW didn’t have a way to understand application performance or identify the issues behind reliability problems. ‘With a small team like ours, it’s really important to have visibility into performance’, he says. ‘We already had a tool, but it wasn’t working correctly, and the cost to get it working would have been more than the value it could deliver.’
Since Anderson had used New Relic at other companies before coming to Catholic Schools, he suggested that the organisation engage in a proof of concept for the platform. ‘I was very impressed with New Relic in my other jobs, so I wanted to see how it could help us here’, he says. ‘When we saw the amount of information that was available literally out of the box with New Relic, we knew it was the answer to our visibility problem.’
Once New Relic was deployed across the in-house-developed applications in the Catholic Schools NSW environment (which runs on Microsoft Azure), the IT team immediately saw the benefits. ‘As soon as we began using New Relic, our problem resolution time dropped significantly, and we were able to apply that savings to making development and reliability improvements’, says Anderson. ‘For example, there was one case where we had the wrong type of disk for an SQL Server. Identifying the problem and resolving it might have taken a week in the past; instead, it took us 30 minutes using data from New Relic.’
Learn more about using New Relic on Microsoft Azure.