UNLEASHING THE POWER
Cisco’s next-gen platform for WebEx free trials
Manager, Web Development
Collaboration Software Group
ZEND & VMWARE
Hello and welcome.
My name is Phillip Shipley and I work for Cisco Systems in the WebEx business unit where I
manage the Web Development team supporting marketing on webex.com.
Today I’ll be talking to you about a recent project of ours in which we used Zend and VMware
to successfully deploy a new free trials platform for our products.
WHO IS ?
• Founded in 1996.
• Acquired by Cisco in 2007.
• Leading SaaS provider of online meetings and collaboration
• Over one billion minutes monthly.
• Primary focus of webex.com is sales and lead gen.
• Primary source of leads come from free trials.
1. Founded in 1996 by Min Zhu and Subrah Iyer right here in the valley.
2. We were recently acquired by Cisco in 2007.
3. We are the leading Software-as-a-Service provider of online meetings and collaboration
4. Our customers use over one billion people minutes monthly, that is the combined amount
of time for all users.
5. Our primary focuses on webex.com are sales and lead generation.
6. I’ll be focusing on the lead generation aspect and speciﬁcally with our free trial platform,
which is the main source of leads for us.
7. Next I’ll be telling you about our problem that led us into this project, but ﬁrst let me give
you a little more context about what a “free trial” of our service is.
8. On webex.com, we have a call to action for users to sign up for a free trial, which is pretty
much a requirement for a software-as-a-service product.
9. When a user opts in for a free trial, they are taking through a signup ﬂow that contains two
pages of form input and a conﬁrmation screen. So later when I talk about completion rate
and timeouts, it is this ﬂow that I am describing.
10.[NEXT]: OUR PROBLEM
1. I like to describe our previous platform as Functional Spaghetti.
2. What I mean by this is that the previous platform was developed over the course of several
years and constantly patched and extended to support new languages and products.
3. Unfortunately through this time and process, multiple individuals contributed to the code
without any standards or consistent practices. So we had a solution that worked to this point,
but was in no condition to scale to new demands.
4. As a result of the “functional spaghetti” nature of the old platform, we had several
technical and business challenges.
Not actually WebEx, illustration only ;-)
1. Change Management
2. Knowledge Management
3. Coding Standards (lack of)
5. Not transactional
7. Very slow
1. Inconsistent and patched together code made it very dangerous to make changes.
2. Over the years there was only ever a single developer responsible for the platform, and so
there was very little documentation or shared knowledge with rest of the team. About a year
ago the primary expert retired, and quick knowledge transfer to a teammate was insufficient.
3. Inconsistent coding practices, repeated code across ﬁles, irrelevant variable and method
names, I myself could barely traverse it.
4. Fully procedural code, no consistent entry point, not transactional, nor fault-tolerant
5. PHP 4 and originally depended on register_globals, however we ﬁxed that a few years ago
6. Fully synchronous and during peak periods, very slow
7. And by the way, this picture was not taken at WebEx.
1. Trial offer creation was very manual, with each trial having its own set of templates and
often times custom logic in the code speciﬁcally for it. A new trial offer took 2-5 days to
2. No business user self-service, so every small change required a developer, even for minor
3. Limited Reporting built into the platform, we had to depend on external sources like web
analytics and our CRM.
4. Based on the risks of modifying the code, QA demands where high for small changes and
thus we often opted out of a change just based on the effort to test and ensure everything
was still working.
5. Poor user experience during peak traffic which would often cause timeouts when waiting
for the conﬁrmation page of a signup.
1. With the acquisition by Cisco, we were able to see that Cisco sales so much product because they
have tens of thousands of partners who do the majority of their sales.
2. WebEx on the other hand only had a few dozen partners and we did most of our sales through
3. In order for WebEx to take the next step of growth, we would need to leverage more partners for
4. As I mentioned before, creating a custom trial signup experience took 2-5 days, so the thought of
thousands of partners wanting to offer co-branded trials made it clear that we needed to do
something about our free trials platform to support such growth.
Robust Popsicle Sticks
As you can see we are no longer building with spaghetti, but we wanted to continue using a
lightweight material, that was both agile and strong, but could also support complex
code? What language?
Java or PHP?
Extend existing code base?
No, although the existing platform has served our needs thus far, for all the reasons I described earlier it would probably
be more work to refactor it to a solution we could scale than it would be to start from scratch.
Language: PHP or Java or other?
Java is very common in WebEx and Cisco for major services, but it has a longer development cycle and tends to be a
little too heavy for an agile web environment.
PHP on the other hand is something we had already proven was very adaptive, performant, and could be developed with
quickly. And since PHP5 it has really moved from being a web scripting language to a solid object oriented language.
And both a blessing and a curse, PHP is forgiving enough to let you write your code as structured or unstructured as
you want, so you are not forced to write everything 100% OOP if a particular part of an app does not need extension or
Switch to standardized framework?
Which framework? Cake, CodeIgniter, Symphony, Zend
Newer framework, giving it the beneﬁt of being able to learn from otherʼs mistakes.
Mature development lifecycle, friendly to enterprise expectations.
Modular design and implementation options (stack or glue).
Nice integration with Zend Studio.
PHP: Community edition or Enterprise edition?
•" Free, but since it is necessary to recompile in order to enable some extensions, it is a lot more work to maintain. Also
in a corporate environment, where developers do not have root access to servers, there is an added layer of
complexity for the developers to work with the system admins on what changes to make and how, which can add
signiﬁcant amounts of time to do something as simple as enable mysql support.
•" Little to no support beyond the community, and when something as critical as our free trial system is at stake, we want
someone to call should there be a problem.
•" Requires external services for advanced features like caching or job queues.
•" Reasonable cost, easy conﬁguration and management through web GUI. Central management for entire clusters
•" Advanced features like job queues, caching, code tracing, etc.
JQ SC ZF
Free Trial App
VM VM VM
We start withVMware as our virtualization platform.
On top of that we run several web serverVMs in a load balanced conﬁguration (RHEL5,Apache2.2).
For our PHP app server we run Zend Server 5, centrally managed with Zend Server Cluster Manager.
For our Database we are running MySQL Enterprise 5.1.
For our application itself, we’ve taken advantage of Zend Framework and Zend Server capabilities wherever appropriate, including, but
Zend Framework - Zend_Auth, Zend_Localize, Zend_Log, Zend_Db, Zend_Validate, Zend_Test...
Zend Server - Job Queues, Cache, Session Clustering, and Events
We also created our own library of classes for use across multiple applications for things like WebEx API abstraction, authentication, an
customer-relationship-manager interaction, and themes (template sets).
1. Starting from scratch
2. Agile development
3. Zend Framework, Server
4. Zend Support, Consulting
6. Continuous Integration
1. Staring from scratch, great opportunity to make better decisions, and we learned a lot through the process.
2. Agile development process - iterative development cycle saved wasted time on features no longer needed and
kept the business closer to the developers.
3. Zend Framework - Pretty good documentation and resources online, huge community for support. Established
coding standards for consistent development, abstracted design patterns for better organization and
separation of concerns.
4. Zend Server - I mentioned most of the components we are using in the last slide, but perhaps my favorite is the
Job Queue and how we are able to disconnect backend processing from the user’s session.
5. Zend Support - We ran into a few issues through the process of deploying Zend Server, but the Zend Support
team was very responsive and persistent with resolving our issues.
6. Zend Consulting - Early in our design process we were able to meet with several product managers at Zend,
including Matthew Weier O’Phinney and review our plans for Zend Server and Framework usage. Received some
great feedback on which components to use and which not to use.
7. Virtualization - Ridiculously convenient to deploy new servers and clone existing ones.
8. Continuous Integration - Identify issues sooner by running unit tests regularly.
1.Learn a major ORM
4.Consult for speed
5.Ask for directions
1. Take the time to learn a major ORM, don’t write your own. Ours started simple, but with every iteration it had to
be extended to add more functionality and became complex quickly and harder to debug.
2. Virtualization was common in dev and QA environments, but we hadn’t done much with it in production. Being
the ﬁrst use case in production took a little extra persistence in the process of approvals, but has paid off in terms
of time-to-market and time-to-capability. Also very convenient to try something out on a clone and delete it if
change doesn’t work.
3. Don’t re-invent the wheel, we saved a ton of time taking advantage of Zend Framework and Zend Server. Also,
an excellent development best practice is to google-before-headache and ask on stack overﬂow.
4. Engage with Zend Consulting to gain insight early in development lifecycle. I’m sure if we had consulted
regarding object persistence with Zend Framework we would have been pointed to one of the many examples of
combining Zend Framework and Doctrine.
5. Zend Server has a lot of conﬁgurations not exposed through UI, so if you wish you could change some
behavior, contact support before giving up.
Spaces, not tabs!
The CIO of Cisco, Rebecca Jacoby, once told us that if we want someone to adopt our
software, we need to build it how they want it.
When developers go wild and build something the way they think it should work, even if the
application is awesome from a technology stand point, it will probably be a complete failure.
So let me tell you some of the ways we aligned with our business partners to be successful.
• Close involvement
• Collaborate on Priorities
• Progressive UAT
1. Often times the business requirements process for an application takes longer than development
itself, and the end result is never what the business originally pictured. So rather than go through a
tedious requirements process, we started with a shortened cycle for gathering requirements and used
the list to kick start our product backlog.
2. Following the Scrum agile development process, we maintained a close involvement from the
business to modify and prioritize the backlog, which resulted in a signiﬁcantly different ﬁnal product,
based on changes in priorities and experience.
3. Our business partners not only invested in the project ﬁnancially by more importantly with their
time. Had we just received a huge requirements document and been told to return when complete, we
certainly would have failed.
4. There are a few teams considered as stakeholders to our free trial experience, so keeping them all
involved in a collaborative prioritization process we were able to keep them in sync as well as let them
make decisions about changes.
5. A fundamental principle of the scrum process is the sprint review, which includes anyone who is
interested to come out and see what work was done in the previous sprint. Through this process we
constantly had business users interacting with the application, which is really user acceptance testing.
• Sign-up time: 68%
• Completion: 800%
• Time-to-Market: 300x
• Time-to-Capacity: 30x
• Utilizing Job Queues, overall time to signup improved by 68%.
• Signup completion rate improved 800% (due to previous system timing out during peak hours).
• Time to create new trial offer decreased from 2 days to 5 minutes.
• Time to increase capacity decreased from 2 months to 2 days (VM cloning).
• Key for Cisco
• VMware ESX
• No downtime
• Dedicated clusters
• MySQL Enterprise
• Extended HA
• Physical Consolidation
• Key initiative for Cisco
• VMware ESX
• Resource prioritization
• Highly Available
• Conﬁgured once, clone as needed
• Single VM setup took 1-2 days, clone only takes minutes
• No downtime for physical maintenance or upgrades.
• Dedicated application clusters
• Resource prioritization
• Ease of maintenance
• Problem isolation
• Session clustering across clusters for multiple applications
• Physical server procurement and deployment took at least two months, cloning a new VM takes minutes.
• MySQL Enterprise certiﬁed for VMware with negligible performance cost.
• Extended HA combining VMware and Zend Server Cluster Manager.
• Cost savings by consolidating physical servers and reducing data center footprint.
• Starting over
• Zend Monitor & Tracing
• Collaboration with Zend
• Zend Community
• We saw an opportunity, made the rare choice to start over, ended up with not only an awesome free trials platform, but a framework to
use for future applications.
• New visibility from Zend Monitor has led to several performance enhancements in combination with CodeTracing.
• Working closely with Zend provided us with great insight into Server and Framework and helped us make key decisions about
• Huge community of Zend Framework developers provided us with examples and answers to all our questions.
• Zend Studio 8
• VM Template
• Reviews with Zend
• Developer kit packaging
• Take advantage of Zend Studio 8’s integration withVMware Workstation for improved development
• CreateVM template based on our ZF application template for kick starting new applications and test
• Regular reviews with Zend for product development road maps.
• As Matt Merchant talked about yesterday, packaging all the developer tools and guides for consistent
environments and practices for improved efﬁciency.We’ve standardized on things like Zend Studio and
Server, and have developer guides, but have not taken the step to preparing a ready-to-go bundle for
efﬁcient ramp-up of new developers.