Managers of client/server systems waiting for the next leap forward in performance measuring tools shouldn't hold their breath.
Until recently, what they most wanted was an efficient way of measuring application response times at an end-user terminal.
The arrival of products such as SmartWatch from Landmark Systems filled that hole without imposing a prohibitive network performance penalty.
The piece of the jigsaw still missing is the ability to create a meaningful picture of how those response times fit with server and database performance.
"It is probably going to be the next thing that customers most want," said Kathy Clark, president and CEO of Landmark Systems, a publicly listed US company specialising in performance measurement software.
At the moment, application performance tools can tell system managers what applications are being used and measure average response times. In a general way, managers can then infer how that correlates with what is happening at the server level.
What managers really want is the ability to track in a specific and unambiguous manner what path an application follows through the system when it executes.
"They want to know for a particular application which server it touched, which database it called and what percentage of its response time was related to the database vs the network," said Clark.
Vendors are moving towards that functionality, but sucessfully delivering it remains several years away, she believes. For one thing, vendors have to figure out how to implement the capability without significantly degrading performance.
Solutions that incur a 50 per cent overhead on each application are unlikely to find favour with customers.
But demand for such tools to head off adverse performance trends is likely to shoot skyhigh as electronic commerce applications become widespread, Clark said.
"It will become critically important because companies in e-commerce will have larger and larger percentages of their revenues dependent on the availability of their Web servers and applications."
Beyond that, the question for performance tools vendors is how to manage performance across an Internet network that nobody controls.
Online companies would love to know how much business they lose because of customers who get fed up with long response times and go elsewhere.
But they can't put typical enterprise performance agents on PCs they don't control, Clark noted.
"We would love to be able to monitor performance over the Internet, but at the moment it is beyond anybody's ability to do that."