Agents offer best way of measuring end-user performance: Forrester

Finding out why people using your systems have trouble can be a full-time job: Is the application, an old PC or improper training?

Companies ranging from BMC to HP offer network performance monitoring software, but Forrester Research says four independent companies offer desktop-based end user experience monitoring solutions that are better for figuring out what’s wrong.

However, generally they are not for small companies. The four recently analyzed by the research firm are Serden Technologies of Boston, Knoa Software of New York, PremiTech of Denmark and Symphoniq Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif.

Jean-Pierre Garbani, who did the study, said that while there are many vendors in this market, these four have one thing in common: Their products put an agent on the user’s PC to sweep up information.

Most competitors sell what he called “appliance-based technologies,” basically putting an application on the network that filters packets. However, what they largely do is monitor response time between the user and an application server, he said.

What distinguishes the agent-type of solution is their ability to record information that can lead to determining if the user is making errors when entering data or there is an application interface problem. In addition, they can gather information about the PC and its resources, which can be valuable when its time to refresh hardware.

“Not only does a desktop-based agent better reflect the true end user experience,” Garbani wrote in his report, “it also provides insight into other parameters such as application usability and end user behavior.

He said he also wanted to limit his study to young vendors of roughly the same size. The major difference between the four is the way they report information, he said.

Briefly, he found

• Serden’s InterAct ES provides extensive data-mining capabilities through an OLAP component, which can be exported to other applications;

• Knoa EPM focuses on whether the user is making errors and also has an OLAP-based approach for data manipulation;

• PremiTech’s Performance Guard differs from the others in that the company offers its software for sale or rent, in both Citrix and agent-based versions. Reporting is done through HTML;

• Symphoniq’s TrueView has a transient Java-based agent, which makes it ideal for mangers that want to track the experience of Web-based users who are outside the organization.

Agent-based monitoring is not new, but Garbani said agent administration has been a big obstacle for many network managers. The latest companies in this market have automated the agent distribution, configuration and updates to the point that this is no longer a concern.

Serden’s InterAct ES runs on Windows Server and comes with Microsoft’s SQL Server database. Canadian customers range from Standard Life Assurance to Rolls Royce of Canada.

According to company chief operating officer Rick Martin, the application is aimed a mid-market and large enterprise-sized companies willing to pay US$65 a seat for up to 5,000 users, plus a 15 per cent annual maintenance fee.

However, a year ago the company began offering a subscription licence which, depending on the number of years the organization signs up for, can drop the price to just under $1 a month.

Among its most recent announcements is a tool that tests PCs readiness for Windows Vista, and an agreement with Lenovo to integrate data gathered on that company’s PCs with LANDesk’s management application.

Lars Haugaard, PremiTech founder and vice-president of sales, said in an interview that his company’s Windows-based application is targeted at companies with at least 1,000 seats. While Performance Guard’s Citrix version had been the preferred way the product was sold in North America, he said for the past year the company has also been emphasizing its agent-based version here.

Version 5.1 of the application was released in August, and includes support for both Windows Vista and Windows 64-bit operating systems on its software-as-a-service model.

Lori Wizdo, vice-president of marketing for Knoa Software, said in an interview that the company does not have Canadian customers yet, although it does have several prospects. Experience and Performance Manager (EPM) comes in a version for most enterprise applications, but there are also versions with templates tailored for Oracle Siebel and SAP. A template for J.D. Edwards will be released soon. EPM is priced at between US$40 and $190 a seat depending on the version.

Symphoniq says its TrueView can be used to measure browser-level performance, network latency, server performance and J2EE and .NET diagnostics. Earlier this year it announced a partnership with F5 to develop what it calls the first Web acceleration speedometer. The speedometer will be used to automatically and accurately document the performance improvements delivered by application acceleration appliances, the company said. Customers will be able to use it to understand the performance improvements that F5’s solutions can deliver to their specific environment.

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