SAN MATEO (08/17/2000) - The growing reliance on wireless technologies for business-critical data applications is beginning to pose challenges for enterprises and carriers striving to keep tabs on network performance. Whether companies are developing pure wireless applications or migrating existing Web applications to the wireless realm, wireless technology promises to reshape e-business. Challenges await enterprises, not just due to the demands of increased Web traffic but also from the compounded complexity of the new systems.
Because wireless adds a layer of infrastructure to network systems, businesses developing and testing wireless applications are contending with a number of issues, according to Carl Zetie, a director at the Giga Information Group Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif. For example, the wide variety of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled phones results in each brand running a different browser and various models sporting differently sized displays, which can throw a wrench into testing processes. Additionally, the lack of interoperability between WAP gateways and handsets also complicates matters further.
Enterprises are now beginning to investigate uses of WAP -- the standard for wireless applications communications -- and they also are looking at how to integrate wireless with Web processes, Zetie says.
"We've heard all the prophesies of doom about WAP, but enterprises are starting to take WAP seriously and now are looking at what this can do for them," Zetie says. "Businesses that are being strategic are recognizing that wireless isn't something that stands off to the side by itself, but it is another way of delivering existing business processes."
To help companies prepare for explosive growth in the use of business-critical wireless applications, Mercury Interactive and RSW Software are extending their e-business application testing tools for WAP and iMode environments. In addition, Bellevue, Wash.-based WatchMark recently announced a network management software framework designed to assure the reliability of wireless networks.
Targeting issues with wireless application delivery, such as the increased traffic load and added infrastructure complexity, Mercury Interactive recently added support for WAP and iMode protocols to its LoadRunner and ActiveTest products. LoadRunner is a load-testing tool that exercises a wireless system by generating via a phone simulator on a PC a load equivalent to thousands of users.
The intricate nature of the wireless data infrastructure, in which data requests from cell phone microbrowsers pass through a WAP gateway, a Web server, an application server, a back-end database, and back through to the cell phone, makes wireless performance testing a challenge, says Zohar Gilad, vice president of marketing at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Mercury Interactive.
Mercury Interactive licenses technology from microbrowser vendor Nokia to accurately emulate the load of thousands of users. Using a PC-based phone simulator, LoadRunner captures the user interaction and turns it into a script, which is then used to pinpoint bottlenecks in the system.
In a similar vein, Waltham, Mass.-based RSW Software earlier this month extended its e-Test product for testing WAP wireless applications. The product tests and monitors the functionality of WAP applications.
As does Mercury Interactive's LoadRunner, RSW's e-Test for WAP uses a PC-based simulator to record interactions with a WAP application, then e-Test builds a visual script based on how the simulated user navigated the application. Errors in the transmissions, if they occur, are illustrated with red flags.
The E-Load component for load and stress testing can simulate five to 10 different types of transactions at the same time, hundreds or thousands of each to see how the application responds. Because back-end systems are hit with both desktop and mobile phone traffic, E-Load generates a blend of the traffic types, says Steve Caplow, director of marketing and business development at RSW.
Tackling wireless management for carrier, ASP (application service provider), and large enterprise networks from a systemwide perspective, WatchMark has recently teamed with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems to offer Insight, a network management application suite grafted on Sun's Solstice net management platform.
Insight monitors and analyzes network conditions, allowing carriers and enterprises to watch and monitor network traffic throughout different geographic areas. Insight displays network information about a geographic area so network operators can locate dead spots in a circuit or packet-based network.