Caw Networks tests Web apps

With ever more complex Web applications, businesses now need to stress test an application in a way that realistically reflects the unpredictable nature and the varied access modes of the Internet.

That's the premise of the WebAvalanche network stressing device, to be released this week from startup Caw Networks Inc. in Mountain View, Calif.

To ensure the promised functionality of a Web site, companies typically run quality assurance scripts from PCs. But even linking several PCs together fails to simulate a large enough load.

Not so with WebAvalanche. The stress-testing system plugs directly in to a network and allows an administrator to set stress levels, simulating up to 1 million concurrent users and over 10,000 new users per second. It can even recreate dropped packets, a frequent occurrence in Internet transmissions, Caw Networks officials said. And future versions will simulate traffic that comes in bursts.

Forbes.com used WebAvalanche to battle test its newly built site before an anticipated high-traffic event in which Forbes.com would make public its rankings of the world's richest celebrities.

"This new site had never been through the traffic influx of a big traffic event. After having spent a good deal of capital expenditures on rebuilding the site, I had to make doubly and triply sure that it could hold up," said Michael Smith, CTO of Forbes.com in New York.

The company's alternatives were to run a number of scripts, which are difficult to write and maintain, or to hire a third-party service provider to test it, which Smith said was prohibitively expensive.

"A lot of business people and Web executives assume it's easy to test a site. But it's difficult," Smith said. "It's much more an art than a science."

One analyst said the proprietary device will likely be used in conjunction with testing scripts for complex Web applications.

"Testing tools from companies like Mercury are looking at the application or transaction level. Caw is looking at the infrastructure, the guts underneath," said Dick Heiman, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

Pricing starts at US$50,000.

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