App Watchers Abound - InformationWeek

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1/26/2006
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App Watchers Abound

Tools to monitor app performance help smoke out memory leaks, infinite loops, and other performance killers

Network administrators at the University of Kansas Hospital discovered in March that data being passed from a private physicians group's IBX medical-billing system to the hospital's mainframe patient-registration system was being corrupted along the way.

The IBX technical-support personnel blamed the Siemens Medical Systems application gateway that managed communications between the two systems. The gateway experts said the fault must lie with the IBX system or the mainframe. "Everybody was pointing fingers at everyone else. We ran into the 'You're calling my baby ugly' syndrome. We kind of got stuck in finger pointing," says Mike Nix, assistant director of communications technologies at the hospital.

Then Siemens field technical support staff started working on the problem, racking up $15,000 in $250-per-hour service charges. Their conclusion: The issue was outside the Siemens' gateway.

Before the problem arose, Nix had deployed nGenius Performance Manager 1.4, an application performance-management tool from NetScout Systems, to monitor the application's message traffic. Probes on the network fed data on message traffic to nGenius, which isolated the problem: It was in the gateway after all. Siemens looked at the data and admitted the hospital was right. It dropped the $15,000 in technical-support charges, and the work was covered by an existing maintenance agreement.

New Choices

The hospital's experience shows how important it is to understand what's happening with your applications and the servers on which they frequently run, especially as networked applications proliferate. A new generation of tools have hit the market, with the ability to monitor application-response times, catch crippling application loops, and spot fouled-up data between applications.

Some, like TeaLeaf's RealiTea, specialize in monitoring message traffic on the network for Web applications and E-commerce transactions. Others, like Wily Technology's Management 360, focus on taking a deep look at Java applications, not only to monitor performance but also to diagnose problems and take corrective actions. CA said earlier this month that it's paying $375 million to acquire privately held Wily. CA already offers CA Unicenter, which reports on whether an app server and its applications are up and running. With the addition of Wily's Management 360 capabilities, CA's product set also can see how well applications are running and troubleshoot performance problems.

Other application-performance-monitoring tools from third-party vendors include Coradiant's TrueSight, Mercury Interactive's Topaz (Mercury acquired BeatBox Technologies, a monitoring-appliance maker, in September for $14 million), Network General's Sniffer Enterprise Platform, Symantec's Veritas, and Xaffire's Management Server. But the field is rapidly becoming crowded with additional contenders that see opportunity in providing application-performance-management software. Last May, Compuware acquired Adlex, maker of application-performance-diagnostic tools, for $36 million and incorporated its technology into Compuware's Vantage application-management product.

The focus on application-performance management is a result of increased business dependency on applications and the need for sustained quality of service, Forrester Research analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani wrote in a November report. IT budgets are under intense pressure, he said. "This means that all quality issues have to be resolved in the shortest possible time with a minimum of resources."

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