Vendors focus on network performance

In response to calls for help from IT managers trying to head off network gridlock, vendors of management tools are rolling out software that can monitor application performance across networks and on individual systems.

Houston-based BMC Software Inc. this week added increased network performance-reporting capabilities to its application monitoring tools, which traditionally have been systems-oriented. And Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Mercury Interactive Corp. on Dec. 17 plans to release an upgraded tool designed to let users quickly identify applications that are gumming up their networks.

Some beta testers have already placed the products in mission-critical environments. For example, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) in Herndon, Va., last month installed BMC’s Application-Centric Network Management technology in an effort to curb a series of bottlenecks.

NRTC, which provides satellite TV, Internet and long-distance services to more than 1,000 rural utilities firms, upgraded its enterprise resource planning system to Oracle Corp.’s E-Business Suite 11i applications in July. While the new applications were more sophisticated than Oracle’s older ones, they also proved hungrier for network and system resources, said Joe King, NRTC’s director of systems services.

“A lot of times, you couldn’t determine whether it was the application or database that was the problem on a given server,” King said. IT staffers would also often hunt through servers to find what turned out to be network problems.

Those issues have eased since the NRTC began using BMC’s tools, King said. But it’s too soon to quantify how much time and effort his workers are saving because of the software, he said.

Most IT managers “have no concept what resources a given application is using,” said Jean-Pierre Garbani, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. He added that BMC’s new application management features give it an edge over rivals such as Computer Associates International Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM’s Tivoli Systems Inc. unit.

At PHH Arval, a Hunt Valley, Md.-based subsidiary of Cendant Corp. that offers truck leasing and fleet management services, the classic response when an application creates a logjam is to blame it on the network, said CIO Tim Talbot.

Talbot said the problem goes beyond load testing and into figuring out how applications behave on a network. PHH Arval, a user of Mercury’s tools since 1997, already installed the vendor’s new troubleshooting module, which performs root-cause analysis of how applications run into trouble.

Talbot said quicker troubleshooting will give his staff more time to work on strategic IT projects. But the key point is improving the experience of end users, he said.

“If they think [performance] is slow, it’s slow,” he said. “You have to figure out what’s slowing that application down.”