Net pros seek tools to manage Web apps

For many enterprises, pushing business to the Web has proven a best practice, one with a plethora of benefits, least of which include increased profits and larger customer bases. However, for the network manager, the basic task of keeping Web apps up and running is the likely cause of many a headache and ulcers a-plenty.

One, of if not the most difficult, challenge is related to the fact that the environment itself is distributed. For IT staff, this becomes a Catch-22: many of the network components, including the Internet service, is often not under their control. Net managers must share management duties with the Internet service provider. For example. Inevitably, however, it is the net manager who is responsible for the health of that application.

“By going to Web, you add a whole new layer or tier to applications management,” said Tim Greiser, program vice-president of enterprise system management for IDC Ltd. in Framingham, Mass. “This involves the complexity of managing this distributed environment, both in terms of detecting problems and in isolating and solving problems.”

According to Greiser, infrastructure management offerings such as Hewlett Packard Co.’s OpenView, BMC Corp.’s Patrol and Computer Associates’ Unicenter tend to first take an infrastructure-centric approach to management. These platforms look at individual network elements, server elements and some Web elements, and in each case monitor them to ensure they are each running properly.

“All this is necessary to having an application operate properly, but is not necessarily sufficient,” Greiser said.

Enter the world of Web application management, one that does not replace the functions of infrastructure management platforms, but adds detailed monitoring capabilities specific to Web apps. Although Web applications are catching on like wildfire, there are few companies in the market that address the management issues surrounding them.

TeaLeaf Technology Inc., however, is one. A spinoff from SAP, the firm offers a solution to handling Web application mishaps like File 404 – file not found – messages. According to Tim Smith, TeaLeaf’s director of marketing in San Francisco, the company’s IntegriTea product line helps network managers solve a number of Web app issues.

“Essentially we feel that we are solving a problem at a time where companies are, on the one hand, relying more and more on business-critical Web applications,” Smith said. “On the other hand, because those applications are often rented or leased or outsourced to third parties, there is less visibility and control into them. The result is that for each node on the network, there is a portion that increases in complexity. When a problem occurs – and problems occur – it is that much more difficult to solve that problem.”

Smith said that IntegriTea manages Web applications in stages. First, the offering captures all data and all requests to and from the Web server and the application server. IntegriTea then indexes the data and performs searches to establish patterns, and enables managers to replay entire Web sessions without disrupting the user.

“What we consider to be the best-case scenario in terms of a Web application management solution includes application performance, includes availability and includes our products,” Smith said. “You need to know whether your pages are loading at the right speeds and you need to know that your network is always available. What we add (is the question)…’Is the application doing what it’s supposed to do?'”

For Levenger in Delray Beach, Fla., relying on user e-mail messages to notify its IT team of problems just wasn’t cutting it. The online catalogue company turned to TeaLeaf to proactively handle problems with its site.

“When you are on the customer service side receiving e-mails from customers, they don’t know the technology or the terminology. They just know they can’t order,” said Lynnette Montgomery, Internet manager for Levenger. “With [TeaLeaf] we have caught so many errors. It really saves time with our IT staff. Instead of sending them an e-mail and having them spend hours trying to figure out what the problem is, they just go and replay the session on TeaLeaf and they know where and how it happened.”

IDC’s Greiser said that e-commerce and financial organizations should be looking at solutions like TeaLeaf to ensure their mission-critical apps are fully functional at all times.

“TeaLeaf right now is in a little bit of a unique niche because they have taken analysis tools that were initially designed for development and test environments, and actually moved them into a real-time monitoring and response role,” Greiser noted. “It doesn’t replace or supplant the infrastructure monitoring or event management, but what it does is give you additional perspective, which says ‘Here is what the end user sees,’ in terms of performance issues, outages or fault problems.”