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Choices abound for tracking Web performance

Mature products hone in on providing meaningful stats

By Beth Schultz

Most any company operating an internal or public-facing Web site relies on one type of monitoring tool or another to determine whether its applications are performing up to snuff. The choices are plentiful, with vendors evolving their mature core products to deliver ever more meaningful data.

Major players include Citrix Systems (via its Reflectent Software buy) and PremiTech, which provide management software combined with distributed agents that are deployed on client machines to capture application performance; Compuware, ProactiveNet and Symphoniq, which offer monitoring software that collects performance metrics across an infrastructure; Coradiant, Indicative Software and Tealeaf Technology, with appliances for monitoring traffic and capturing response times and other metrics while users interact with applications; and Gomez and Keynote Systems, which provide synthetic Web application and site performance measurement tests – otherwise known as Web analytics.

One particular thrust of late is to provide a more holistic view of the application in context of the business and IT goals. For example, Tealeaf Technology now offers a dashboard application aimed at letting users of its flagship application performance-management product, Tealeaf CX, better understand why customers abandon online applications and Web sites. The dashboard application, Tealeaf cxView, offers IT and business managers a portal through which they can monitor real-time application performance from the user or customer perspective and pose what-if scenarios to improve performance going forward.

Coradiant, too, updated its Web-traffic-analysis product with business-intelligence capabilities. It offers the Web.I WI-2100 Performance Analytics appliance, which plugs into the network and works with Web traffic and transaction data collected by its TrueSight Web performance management appliances. Web.I then adds business-intelligence analytics to show IT managers how well Web applications perform based on several criteria, such as user, geographical location or branch office.

Coradiant and Tealeaf are on the right track with these developments, says Thomas Powell, founder of Web development firm PINT and a member of the Network World Lab Alliance. Yet, these vendors face a hurdle getting over the network and application divide that persists within most IT departments, he cautions (see best practices. Need to link to that./cb).

Jasmine Noel, principal at Ptak, Noel & Associates, sees many good things coming from the ability to tie together Web-oriented business analysis, such as whether a company is successfully converting browsers into paying customers, with the IT performance information. This type of Web application and performance management tool, for example, not only could enable a company to map out the Web applications needed to deliver a new service, but also could provide a better understanding of the resources needed to support it. "If you can bring those two worlds, those two sets of analysis, together, you have a stronger understanding of how profitable a particular service would be. If the service needs five-nines availability to be valuable to users but it's going to cost you gazillions of dollars to deliver those five-nines, you don't want to be in that business," she says.

Bringing together the business side, Web application analysis and IT performance availability "is the future of where these products will go," she adds.

The real-time monitoring now becoming available through these tools has been a huge plus for users. Financial-services provider Sallie Mae, for example, uses Tealeaf CX as part of the flexible, real-time platform it developed for spotting system events that cause Web bottlenecks. Sallie Mae earned a 2007 Network World Enterprise All-Star Award for the project.

At OhioHealth, in Columbus, Ohio, Indicative's real-time monitoring and holistic view have helped change the way the organization approaches Web application and performance management. "The nice thing is, we typically are aware of a problem before our end user is. We now understand that something is not performing as it should and can start problem resolution and escalation before we hear from users," says Tom Eckfeld, senior project manager at the nonprofit healthcare organization. "Also nice is being able to accumulate all the various items into one location. We don't have to bring up 10 different products to do problem resolution."

Eckfeld says he doesn't consider the Indicative tool a "be-all and end-all" product but says it's far better than nothing.

As the Web application and performance management mainstays adapt their products for more rigorous business demands, other types of companies are looking to participate in the action, too.

Noel points to companies like ClearApp, which tries to understand performance by correlating the services provided by applications to the underlying code components supporting those services, as providing an interesting twist on the traditional relationship mapping concept as well as a new spin on application performance management.
This approach to Web application and performance management could really heat up now that enterprises are truly beginning to embrace service-oriented architectures. Traditional tools don't jibe all that well with SOA because that application model uses no defined infrastructure, Noel says. "From a technology perspective, SOA is the one that will twist [the traditional vendors]."

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