April 24, 2008
BEYOND NETWORK CAPTURE
Network packet capture products' primary strength is in measuring transaction response times. But there are other ways to approach end-user monitoring.
Synthetic user monitoring: Some vendors, including Nimsoft and Precise Software, employ synthetic user traffic to simulate user data. While sometimes criticized because it's not "actual" user data, synthetic monitoring does have its place in preventive maintenance. For example, synthetic transaction tools are useful to ensure that your applications are working, even if no one is interacting with them at that moment. Think of synthetic transaction monitoring as more proactive, while real-time user monitoring with network packet capture or agents tends to be reactive. There is a role for both in organizations that need to ensure near 100% availability of Web-based apps.
User agents: Knoa Software, PremiTech, Serden Technologies, and Symphoniq rely on agents. This method of data collection is independent of the network protocol and relies on desktop agents, which are generally better at reflecting the true end-user experience than network capture. It's also true that most IT shops will balk at installing additional desktop agents, but stop and think before you discount this option--these clients provide visibility into system errors and the cumbersome user interfaces that cause navigation problems.
Combination approach: Compuware, CA-Wily, and HP-Mercury are among the relatively few vendors that offer several data collection choices for end-user management, including agentless and synthetic end-user monitoring combined with deep network and server monitoring. This flexibility will help large enterprises that are concerned with scale and custom requirements and don't mind a little extra configuration and maintenance. These combined systems provide back-end transactional analysis, monitoring not only front-end user transactions, but also how those transactions are being delivered within the back-end application architecture, between the Web server and application server, and to the database server.
Since user monitoring is central to application-centric service-level agreements, in-depth end-to-end transaction visibility is required for business process and component-level application and infrastructure. Compuware's ClientVantage focuses on both Web-based (HTTP/HTTPS) and many non-Web applications, including Citrix and Oracle Forms. Like Compuware, CA-Wily can help by offering a broad mix of user management tools. Wily will correlate end-user SLAs and systemwide SLAs into overall health reports. This helps organizations understand the relationship between back-end system downtime and the end-user experience.
Wily's Customer Experience Manager, or CEM, can detect when an end user experiences a performance problem or transaction error. Alerts are generated based on specific errors or group thresholds for users or business transactions; once a transaction violates a threshold, CEM captures it and aggregates similar defective transactions into an incident.
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