Welcome!

AJAX & REA Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, ChandraShekar Dattatreya, David H Deans, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: AJAX & REA, Java, XML, SOA & WOA, .NET, Cloud Expo

AJAX & REA: Article

Diagnosing Stuck Transactions in Minutes

A Step-by-Step Guide

Does the following situation sound familiar? From one minute to the other, your production servers grind to a halt, terse emails are complemented by equally hectic phone calls, and the first order of business is to get back up and running. After the dust settles, you're usually left with a pile of log files and the assignment of figuring out what happened, why it happened, and what to do to keep it from happening again.

A common first step is trying to reproduce what has gone wrong. More often than not, this consumes a considerable amount of time that would be better spent on actually fixing the problem. In this first blog post of a series, I will present a Step-by-Step Guide to Diagnose Stuck Transactions within minutes and show how a modern APM Solution helps to pinpoint common production problems, without spending hours on reproducing it at first.

The Problem: Response Time Increases
One of our customers deployed a new version of their prime web application and, for the first couple of days, everything seemed fine. One evening, their operations team was alerted about significantly increasing response time, and upon further investigation they recognized that a Stuck Transaction was blocking their application. While restarting the server solved the problem from an operations perspective it is not a long term solution as currently processing transactions get canceled and users are thrown off the system.

Their APM solution automatically captures thread dumps in case of too long running or stuck transactions. These dumps assist developers with diagnosing the issue. Let's take this example and walk through one of the problems often seen in a production environment: Diagnosing Stuck Transactions and Identifying the Root Cause.

Step 1: Identify problematic JVM/CLR
To identify the correct thread dump to analyze, it's important to know which server was affected by the stuck transaction and at what time that happened.

The transaction flow indicates a problem on one of the application servers

When drilling to the actual transactions that flow through that application server and focusing on the timeframe just before the server got restarted, I noticed a timed-out PurePath that spent 100% in sync time. This means that all it did was wait for one or more monitors, which makes it a likely culprit for our stuck transaction.

The PurePath reveals the information about which Application Server (=Agent) was involved in that stuck transaction

Step 2: Identify blocked threads
Having identified the affected application server, we can browse the list of available thread dumps and open the corresponding one.

Thread dump overview on runnable, blocked, waiting and timed waiting threads

When looking at the thread dump, threads can be grouped by their state to get a quick overview on how many threads the application executed when the dump was performed and how many of them were actually blocked. In this case, we are looking at four threads as Figure 4 shows.

Out of the 600+ Threads in the application, 4 are blocked and subject for further investigation

Step 3: Identify root cause
Already the first one of these threads is the thread from our timed-out PurePath we looked at in Step 1 - identifiable by its ID. We also get the most important piece of information we need to identify the root cause: Which object is this thread waiting on, and who owns it?

We now know which method is blocking and that it is blocked because it waits for an object owned by another thread -> a potential deadlock?

Usually, the thread owning the object we are waiting for is highlighted in red. Given the number of threads in this dump, it's unlikely to spot it this way, but search for the ID of the owning thread giving us the following information:

The HistoryLayout thread owns a monitor object with two waiting threads, which causes the web request handler to block and run into a timeout for the end user - the deadlock is identified!

In this case, the method com.vaadin.ui.Table.unregisterPropertiesAndComponents is working on the same instance of ConfigurableReportsApplication that AbstractApplicationPortlet.handleRequest is waiting for. Having identified the thread, we have the full stack trace at hand in the lower pane, and can track down how this situation occurred.

Conclusion
Trying to reproduce such concurrency-related problems on a developer machine with typically requires a major effort. If your APM tool fully supports collaboration between teams, all analysis steps described above can be performed in your local environment, without direct access to production servers. Using an APM Solution like dynaTrace, it only took a couple of minutes to answer the crucial questions named above: we know exactly what happened and how it happened, and are thus also able to modify our application in a way to avoid this situation in the future.

More Stories By Wolfgang Gottesheim

Wolfgang Gottesheim has several years of experience as a software engineer and research assistant in the Java enterprise space. Currently he contributes to the strategic development of the dynaTrace enterprise solution as a Technology Strategy in the Compuware APM division’s Center of Excellence. He focuses on monitoring and optimizing applications in production.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionalit...
"We help companies that are using a lot of Software as a Service. We help companies manage and gain visibility into what people are using inside the company and decide to secure them or use standards to lock down or to embrace the adoption of SaaS inside the company," explained Scott Kriz, Co-founder and CEO of Bitium, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Some developers believe that monitoring is a function of the operations team. Some operations teams firmly believe that monitoring the systems they maintain is sufficient to run the business successfully. Most of them are wrong. The complexity of today's applications have gone far and beyond the capabilities of "traditional" system-level monitoring tools and approaches and requires much broader knowledge of business and applications as a whole. The goal of DevOps is to connect all aspects of app...
The 4th International DevOps Summit, co-located with16th International Cloud Expo – being held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's large...
SAP is delivering break-through innovation combined with fantastic user experience powered by the market-leading in-memory technology, SAP HANA. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce, SAP, discussed how SAP and partners provide cloud and hybrid cloud solutions as well as real-time Big Data offerings that help companies of all sizes and industries run better. SAP launched an application challenge to award the most innovative SAP HANA and SAP HANA...
When an enterprise builds a hybrid IaaS cloud connecting its data center to one or more public clouds, security is often a major topic along with the other challenges involved. Security is closely intertwined with the networking choices made for the hybrid cloud. Traditional networking approaches for building a hybrid cloud try to kludge together the enterprise infrastructure with the public cloud. Consequently this approach requires risky, deep "surgery" including changes to firewalls, subnets...
Want to enable self-service provisioning of application environments in minutes that mirror production? Can you automatically provide rich data with code-level detail back to the developers when issues occur in production? In his session at DevOps Summit, David Tesar, Microsoft Technical Evangelist on Microsoft Azure and DevOps, will discuss how to accomplish this and more utilizing technologies such as Microsoft Azure, Visual Studio online, and Application Insights in this demo-heavy session.
DevOps is all about agility. However, you don't want to be on a high-speed bus to nowhere. The right DevOps approach controls velocity with a tight feedback loop that not only consists of operational data but also incorporates business context. With a business context in the decision making, the right business priorities are incorporated, which results in a higher value creation. In his session at DevOps Summit, Todd Rader, Solutions Architect at AppDynamics, discussed key monitoring techniques...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, a...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water,...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happe...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series dat...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and asse...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
SYS-CON Media announced that Centrify, a provider of unified identity management across cloud, mobile and data center environments that delivers single sign-on (SSO) for users and a simplified identity infrastructure for IT, has launched an ad campaign on Cloud Computing Journal. The ads focus on security: how an organization can successfully control privilege for all of the organization’s identities to mitigate identity-related risk without slowing down the business, and how Centrify provides ...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrateg...
"SAP had made a big transition into the cloud as we believe it has significant value for our customers, drives innovation and is easy to consume. When you look at the SAP portfolio, SAP HANA is the underlying platform and it powers all of our platforms and all of our analytics," explained Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce at SAP, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device exp...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps,...