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Top five questions before buying into a Web management scheme

Experts say to home in on data gathering, correlating processes

By Beth Schultz

How does the tool gather performance data?
Tool vendors approach the monitoring challenge in different ways. Some monitor passively, at the server, while others use agents out in the infrastructure and run synthetic transactions, for example. Some have a network bent, providing insight across the network, including the last mile, while others are more application-centric. The best tool architecture most accurately reflects the user experience, says George Hamilton, director of enterprise infrastructure, Yankee Group.

How does the vendor handle data correlation?
A Web application and performance management tool that cannot hook into other internal monitoring systems isn't a whole lot of good. "If that data is in total isolation, it doesn't give you a clue as to where to look for the problem, and it doesn't help with diagnostics and troubleshooting," Hamilton says. You need to be able to correlate the data with other systems and assess whether the problem resides in the network, on a server or perhaps in a bad piece of code. "The more help a vendor gives me on the diagnostics piece, the higher it should rate in an evaluation," he says.

And don't forget to ask who's going to do the initial and ongoing integration work, adds Jasmine Noel, principal at Ptak, Noel & Associates. Some vendors, like Indicative Software, are great at providing adapters for ease of integration. But the same should be true of any vendor you select, she says. "That's how you future-proof."

How sophisticated is the modeling engine for service-level agreements?
Some of the tools' SLA modeling engines will look only at the transaction, while others will provide a deeper view, showing how different classes of users interact with an application, for example. Also important is finding out how the analysis engine will integrate with other IT systems. For example, a good engine will recognize when an SLA will be missed, identify where the problem likely resides and take action, such as alerting the help desk or Web application manager, or entering a trouble ticket, Noel says.

What does the installation process entail?
If you're looking for ease of installation, a Web application and performance management appliance may be your preferred technology choice. That's one of the factors that drew Patrick Gardella, director of online architecture for Discovery Communications, in Silver Spring, Md., to Coradiant's TrueSight product. You plug it in, attach a cable to the span ports and begin accessing data. Without agents to install, the amount of time it takes from plug in to data capture is only about 20 minutes, he says.

How much support can my team expect?
As Tom Eckfeld, senior project manager at OhioHealth, a nonprofit healthcare organization in Columbus, Ohio, evaluated Web application and performance management tools, one thing stood out about Indicative Software, which he ultimately selected: the company's thoroughness. "At the front end, they really wanted to make sure they truly understood our requirements," he says. The vendor team hasn't slacked off, either. "The CTO and that team are constantly looking at ways to enhance the product and make it more valuable to us, and they've tried to stay in tune with new things we are doing and look for ways to help us out."

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