Real-Time Window on Your Web Server

SAN MATEO (01/31/2000) - With i-commerce fast becoming the linchpin of many organizations' sales efforts, it's imperative for you to know how well your Web servers and applications are performing. Alas, this data is hard to find -- often requiring lengthy analysis of server log files or the installation of software that degrades server performance.

WatchPoint 2.0, an upgrade to AG Group Inc.'s server monitoring and analysis application, gives IT managers, marketing staff, and executives real-time information about the performance of your Internet server and network, as well as how visitors are using your Web site. The software, which is easy to use and noninvasive, monitors connections to and from multiple servers and lets you define filters to see, for example, which pages visitors view. Additionally, you can review page errors, network and server response times, and other statistics that can help you evaluate the ROI of your Internet spending and find out if servers and software are working efficiently.

WatchPoint doesn't provide the detailed reporting of log file analyzers such as WebTrends; for mission-critical e-business sites, you would also want to do detailed log analysis. But whereas log analysis takes time -- often hours or days to mine the data -- WatchPoint provides real-time results, allowing you to spot network or server problems immediately. Products that don't work in real time cost from $17,000 to $150,000, making WatchPoint a fine value.

Always on watch

WatchPoint 2.0 has two components: Monitor, which captures and analyzes Internet activity; and Console, which displays statistics collected by the Monitor. It took just a few minutes to install the Monitor on a computer in my data center where the software sits passively on the network, and to load the client Console application.

In more than a month of testing, I didn't notice any serious problems running WatchPoint 2.0 over a 100Mbps LAN and through Cisco network switches. A high-traffic server (handling about a million hits per day) I monitored was 2 percent to 5 percent slower with WatchPoint 2.0 running; however, the latest 2.0.2 release did not show this performance degradation.

Once I started to look at the Console display, I quickly appreciated the depth of information that WatchPoint 2.0 collects, which ranges from network traffic to protocol and page data. Web page information included top pages served as well as where visitors came from, the type of browsers they used, and their paths through my Web site.

The Console display's convenient tree menu let me select a graph depicting the number of HTTP transactions over time. A companion chart displayed server and network response times, which let me pinpoint bottlenecks in the network at peak times of the day.

In addition, I found the HTTP Server Stat window very informative. WatchPoint collected the number of HTML pages served, how many requests came from unique IP addresses, and HTTP errors. The Enterprise Edition I tested monitors multiple servers, and it was easy to compare performance of several servers through color-coded charts. This helped me to discover right away when one server stopped delivering pages, and to fix the software problem before many users were affected. (The Small Business Edition of WatchPoint analyzes one server.)Version 2.0 adds PathTracking, which allows you to track visitors' journeys through your site. Through PathTracking, I quickly discovered which were the most popular pages, how deeply visitors delved into the site, if visitors got stuck, and at what point visitors left.

Furthermore, I used the new Top Level Domain Breakdown Report to sort visits to my server by domain (such as.com, .net, or.org). Other drill-down data queries helped me track traffic to certain download areas or by file types.

Also new with this release is User Security Profiles -- a feature that let me specify which HTTP and FTP servers could be observed by different users.

WatchPoint 2.0 provides statistics as HTML reports that you can archive or e-mail to others. You can customize the reports in terms of both content and time frame. In addition, this update includes an export function that saves its database in a standard log file format. You might want to do this if you also run a log file analyzer or a custom program.

WatchPoint 2.0 doesn't affect your network bandwidth, lets you instantly see how your Web servers and infrastructure are performing, and lets you mine the data to see how visitors are using your site. For almost any commercial Web site, and especially large e-commerce sites, it's an excellent investment in customer service.

Mike Heck (mike_heck@infoworld.com) is a contributing editor and manager of electronic promotions at Unisys Corp., in Blue Bell, Pa.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

WatchPoint 2.0.2

Summary: WatchPoint offers corporate Internet data centers an affordable way to monitor the performance of Internet servers, the health of networks, and the usage of Web site content. The Enterprise Edition works in complex networks of Web servers, back-end databases, middleware, and legacy applications.

Business Case: For e-businesses, WatchPoint is a good investment in customer service. It not only provides an overview of Web site usage, but it also allows Webmasters to spot network or server problems immediately, avoiding costly downtime and frustrated visitors.

Pros:

+ In-depth HTTP and FTP analysis

+ Monitors multiple servers, protocols, and application types+ Immediate results without log analysis+ Individual access to reports about specific serversCons:

- None significant

Cost: $3,000 (Enterprise Edition); $1,000 (Small Business Edition)Platform(s): Windows NT Server 4.0; Console: Windows 95/98 and NT 4.0, Power MacintoshAG Group Inc., Walnut Creek, Calif.; (800) 466-2447; www.aggroup.com.

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