RealTime IT News

Symphoniq Reveals Truth About Web Site Tracking

Symphoniq extended its Web site performance monitoring and management software on Monday to help give companies a more accurate picture of Web site users' actual experience.

The extensions are united under the umbrella of its TrueView Web management suite: TrueView Web Diagnostics is designed to identify bottlenecks in e-commerce and enterprise Web applications; TrueView J2EE Diagnostics aims to do the same for Web-enabled J2EE applications; and TrueView Outlook Web Access Diagnostics manages the performance of Outlook Web access.

TrueView Web Diagnostics and TrueView J2EE Diagnostics monitor all site URLs, including dynamically generated pages, providing real-time diagnostics and reports. According to the company, the management tools can trace problems back to specific users, Web page servers and machines. They can also identify bottlenecks in the Web application infrastructure, such as Web pages or servers, that don't perform well.

TrueView Outlook Web Access Diagnostics lets IT administrators monitor problems and find the users and e-mails affected by outages. Administrators can set up business groups with different service levels and rules, and then monitor them separately.

All of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's measurement tools focus on application response time at the browser, rather than at the Web server, said Symphoniq CEO Hon Wong.

Symphoniq uses what Peter Sevcik calls "real" versus "synthetic" measurements of Web application performance at the task level. Sevcik is president of NetForecast, a consulting company that helps enterprises manage and improve networked business applications. In synthetic measurement, remote computers run scripts that mirror a user task or series of tasks. The machines are programmed to operate at a pre-defined pace, and the results are reported to a central database for analysis.

Real measurement can be accomplished via a tool at the data center that watches the Web traffic go by and can see every user and every session, measuring how long it took to load every page. It also can be done by adding a small applet to the desktop, as Symphoniq does.

Sevcik said it's nigh impossible to create scripts that can test the millions of potential pages generated by e-commerce sites.

"There might be a thousand different kinds of pages that can be delivered," he said. "Out of 1,000 pages, users look at perhaps 800, while the agent has been set up to repeatedly ping on the homepage and maybe one other page."

In a study of data from three online companies that used both synthetic and real performance measurement tools, NetForecast found that the synthetic agents tested just 8 percent of the shopping pages accessed by real users.

Symphoniq did not pay for the NetForecast study, nor did it use Symphoniq's software, according to Sevcik. Instead, NetForecast used a passive probe that watched traffic from the data center. "But I fundamentally believe it would be equivalently applicable to using [Symphoniq's method]," he said.

In a similar study conducted by Symphoniq with its own software, the company crawled the Web sites of 60 different e-commerce sites to generate a list of 100 URLs per site, for a total of abound 6,000 URLs. It then simulated page views against that list during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The test found that one in eight Web pages was unacceptably slow -- taking longer than 4 seconds to load -- and almost 2 percent failed to load correctly.

Those four seconds could translate into lost sales, according to Wong, as users become frustrated and move to another site.

On a site running the management tools, when a human user's browser requests a Web page, the Symphoniq software that sits on the Web server automatically inserts three extra lines of HTML code into the page. The code calls a special JavaScript application, a tactic used by most major e-commerce sites for Web analytics.

On the browser side, Symphoniq uses standard JavaScript technology to create a transient applet that monitors performance as the user clicks around the site. No software is installed on the user's browser, and the entire process is invisible to the user, according to Symphoniq product marketing director Chris Yeh.

This method lets the software track and report aborts -- when a user leaves a page before it's fully loaded. Analytics can help match aborts to a particular object that loads slowly and the particular server that hosts it, so the problem can be fixed, Wong said. "We manage by exception. If errors exceed a certain number, we initiate a tag and trace mechanism."

A similar mechanism provides Outlook administrators with the ability to identify which users, mail servers, business groups or domains are experiencing unacceptable performance levels.

Because the performance measurement information only travels between the browser and the Web servers of the business, Wong said, there are no security or privacy implications.

The software license can be based on the number of servers, business groups or management consoles served. The entry price is $10,000 per five-server site.