How's My Site Doing? There's No Easy Answer

BOSTON (05/15/2000) - Systems managers know what it takes to keep revenue-generating Web applications working: proactive monitoring of all the software, databases and infrastructure that affect them.

The question is, How? The dream is to have one tool, said Glen Schulze, quality assurance manager at PHH Vehicle Management Services in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

But no single product can do it all - and some tools on the market are pricey.

"We're tracking around 75 products" in the Web-performance space, said Herb VanHook, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut.

Among the new offerings is SiteAngel 2000 from Evity Inc. in Austin, Texas, which was bought this month by BMC Software Inc. in Houston. BMC offers Web site monitoring as a stand-alone service. Users of BMC's Patrol 2000 monitoring software can also integrate the SiteAngel data with network and application monitoring data collected by Patrol.

Each copy of SiteAngel monitors one transaction, which can comprise up to 50 steps, such as requesting a Web page and authorizing a credit card. As part of SiteAngel, BMC generates the sample transaction against the customer's Web site every 30 minutes.

At American Express Financial Advisors Inc. in Minneapolis, SiteAngel "lets me and my colleagues get a snapshot view of performance that was unavailable before," said Spenser Segal, Amex's vice president for e-commerce strategy.

"It's not the comprehensive, definitive end-to-end answer, but that doesn't exist."

SiteAngel "presents the data from a business perspective in a way you can quickly explain to a senior executive," Segal said. "In two minutes or less, I can show them how to get a quick perspective [on Web application performance] that will tell them, ‘Should I worry about this or not?'"Carmello Lisciotto, network operations and security director at Ubid Inc. in Chicago, also uses SiteAngel. "It's not just some external agent checking for uptime and downtime. It really mimics the actual user experience," he said.

Pricing starts at $6,000 annually for one SiteAngel license.

Application hosting company Bitlocker Inc. uses Sunnyvale, California-based Mercury Interactive Inc.'s ActiveWatch Web application monitoring service.

ActiveWatch is based on Topaz, Mercury's Web application monitoring software.

Deanna Falcon, director of customer care and quality assurance at Palo Alto, California-based Bitlocker, said she evaluated "everything from software that just pings your site to very sophisticated suites."

Falcon said Topaz provides information such as when a transaction takes longer than it should, and it "gives us a way to offer proof to our [customers] on how their applications are doing," she said.

Users of Topaz can define a test transaction and how often the test transaction should be executed. Topaz emulates the transactions from 40 to 50 sites in metropolitan areas.

Bitlocker has a two-year contract under which it pays about $2,000 per month for reports on five transactions running every 15 minutes from eight locations, Falcon said.

Topaz can help in stress-testing a site by, for example, simulating 50 users who all have different passwords and who all try to access dynamically personalized pages at once, said a Mercury spokesman.

Hewlett-Packard Co. has teamed with Keynote Systems Inc. in San Mateo, California, for another network-centric view of Web application monitoring.

Keynote's Perspective service offers data collected every 30 minutes on simulated transactions generated from up to 400 PCs at 50 sites, comparing the client's site performance with that of 50 top business Web sites. Through HP's partnership with Keynote, subscribers to HP's service can see Perspective data integrated and correlated with data from HP's OpenView network monitoring tool on one screen.

Amex is also a Keynote client, Segal said. "It gives a different perspective," he said. "It's more robust [than SiteAngel] in that it monitors from lots of locations, but less robust in that it doesn't go every minute or two," he said.

Cost Concerns

Keynote's service starts at $295 per month for monitoring of one URL, a Keynote spokeswoman said. But added options can quickly swell the bottom line, said Meta Group analyst Corey Ferengul.

"Keynote is expensive - we have clients paying nearly $10,000 a month," Ferengul said. But the comparatively low cost of competing tools such as SiteAngel should bring prices down, he said.

Keeping tabs on performance is too big a job for one tool, Lisciotto said, so "we also use RedAlert [Web site and network monitoring service from Internet Resources Group in Dallas] and Patrol with Compaq Insight Manager."

PHH, a subsidiary of Garden City, New York-based Avis Group Holdings Inc., uses several tools, including internally developed scripts, to monitor its Web applications and the infrastructure that supports them, Schulze said.

When a manager evaluates the options, Schulze said, he should ask:

-- Does this tool offer adequate coverage?

-- Does it tell us enough about our customers' experience early enough to let us act swiftly and plan accordingly?

-- Does it let us be proactive?

-- Does it let us analyze trends so we can make good decisions about how to enhance our architecture?

"If there's a tool or suite of tools that lets you answer, ‘Yes,' I'd say you've got what you need," she said.

The question of which package - if any - emerges as the leader will "come down to who understands how to integrate the tools, correlate the data and extend the capabilities of users' existing software," said Stephen Elliot, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. "For today, it's still left to the end user to correlate the data," Ferengul said. But companies such as "HP and BMC have the potential to change the playing field," he added.

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