Product Review: Enterprise apps gain useful analysis tools

In today's fast-paced business environment, business and IT managers continually struggle to increase end-user productivity and improve customer response times. Capturing an end-to-end snapshot of application activity within a given period can go a long way toward arming you with the data necessary to address these challenges.

FirstSense Software's FirstSense Enterprise 2.1 is a costly but comprehensive solution that aptly addresses the challenges of application-performance monitoring. The included tools yield valuable information that can be used to increase the quality of service for mission-critical business applications.

There are many methods that can be used to measure performance in the enterprise. Many sites use network-monitoring tools to improve the health of the network infrastructure. Other companies use capture and playback tools to simulate application activity.

FirstSense stands apart from these approaches by measuring actual application performance based on client activity. For example, you might use FirstSense to measure the average response time for your SAP, Oracle or PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.

FirstSense metrics could tell you that the average response time for processing ERP transactions is 10 seconds. But it could also show you how response times differ based on location and time of day. The FirstSense data can help you precisely tune your application infrastructure to improve performance.

FirstSense is made up of six components: FSrepository, FSconsole, FSagent, FScontroller, FSvision and FSserver. FirstSense's FSrepository is a database that stores configuration information as well as statistics gathered during monitoring.

FSrepository can be set up and maintained using relational database products from Oracle, Sybase, and Microsoft. I found it straightforward to set up my test repository during my FirstSense evaluation.

FSconsole is a Microsoft Windows-based set of graphical tools that are used to manage FirstSense operations. This interface is used to define what applications, users, and servers you might wish to monitor. Additionally, FSconsole includes tools that you can use to create reports and graphs that will help you analyze the results of your monitoring activity.

I used FSconsole to set up monitoring of several different test applications, including some Web, Windows, and Lotus Notes applications. I found the FSconsole interface easy to understand and use.

The FSagent component installs on your client machines. FSagent collects application activity and forwards the information via FScontroller to FSrepository. FSagent can be installed in several ways -- from the product CD or a Web site, via e-mail or software distribution products, or by shell script onto Unix platforms.

FirstSense's FScontroller is a Windows NT service that manages communication between the repository and the agents. FScontroller worked fine during my tests.

FSvision is a desktop monitor that is provided as part of FSconsole. It provides a graphical view of how well your application environment is meeting your defined performance goals. It is a good interface to gain a quick view of how well your application infrastructure is doing.

The final FirstSense component is FSserver. This module is optional, but it lets you gather additional server-side metrics. This is above and beyond the server activity data FirstSense automatically gathers.

After monitoring my test applications for a period of time, I decided to create some reports using the tools in the FSconsole. FirstSense's reporting capabilities are first-rate. FirstSense data can be formatted in ways that are meaningful to chief technology officers, IT managers, network managers, application developers, database administrators and help-desk personnel.

FirstSense does require a sizable up-front investment. However, companies that use FirstSense will recoup costs via increased customer satisfaction and improved internal end-user productivity. Sites that want to improve application performance should evaluate FirstSense as a potential solution.

Maggie Biggs (maggie_biggs@infoworld.com) is InfoWorld Test Center's technical director and acting section editor for Enterprise Computing.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

FirstSense Enterprise 2.1

Summary: FirstSense Enterprise provides full-featured application-monitoring tools that are quite capable of measuring the end-to-end activity of many enterprise applications.

Business Case: Companies that invest in FirstSense Enterprise will be able to gather useful application metrics that can help improve customer and end-user response times, which can improve overall company productivity and competitive advantage.

Pros:

+ Monitors a wide variety of applications+ Analyzes end-user performance+ Can improve service-level agreements+ Good reporting capabilitiesCons:

- Some platform limitations

- Requires learning curve

- Expensive solution

Cost: $US25,000 and up depending on applications monitored.

Platform(s): Windows NT, Windows 95/98

FirstSense Software, Burlington, Massachusetts; +1-888-685-1099; http://www.firstsense.com

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