Peer Network Tests ‘Real World’ Site Performance

The new e-commerce site you launched looks great and you got great comments from beta testers. So why isn’t it getting the traffic you expected?

One issue might be the site, or certain pages, are not as easily accessible to as many customers as you assumed. There are many Web site performance measurement tools, but they don’t all measure the so-called “last mile” or performance at specific endpoints, i.e. user’s desktops.

Enter Gomez, which has quietly grown its peer network measurement solution to over 40,000 users worldwide. Like other Web performance companies, Gomez has a distributed set of test nodes that measure Internet backbone performance, but the company said its additional Gomez Peer Community is the only global Web site monitoring network made up of real online users.

The service works much like the SETI@Home project (which utilizes many computers to crunch numbers in the search for extraterrestrial life) and others like Folding@Home.

Gomez Peer Network runs tests that measure the speed, availability and consistency of Web performance on various desktop systems. Users need to download an intelligent agent software application to participate. The software emulates the most popular Internet browsers, and then executes tests in the background when the peer machine is online.

Gomez said its software is a hundred percent non-invasive, cannot track the individual client’s personal Web usage or collect any private data. Those who participate receive a small stipend that tops out at $45 per month, though you’d likely need to be a small network, like an Internet café, to reach that level.

“Gomez is one of the more interesting performance measurement companies, because they have a lot of endpoints, but they don’t own the endpoints,” Dan Golding, research director at Tier1 Research, told “Internet backbone performance might be really, really good. The trick is find out how are your transactions and interactions performing at the edge of the network.”

Testing multiple browsers

Finding that answer is not always simple. Golding points out there were many competing browsers after Netscape first appeared. “Then Internet Explorer 6 kind of dominated and now you have IE6 and 7, Apple’s Safari, Firefox and others with real market share. You have to test against all of those, because that’s what people are using,” he said.

Customers can also select the profiles they want from the Gomez Peer Network. For example, there are still many dial-up users in addition to multiple browser types.

“We’re very specific about where we recruit new users,” Imad Mouline, chief technology officer at Gomez, told”We can get coverage down to the city level, but we don’t need, for example, 2,000 Comcast customers in Boston.”

The Peer Network extends as far as China and Europe as well as the U.S. Mouline said one customer was able to determine it took IE6 users an average of eight seconds to load their portal site, but only half that time for Firefox users. “It turned out we were able to identify a piece of JavaScript was slowing performance, not the network.”

Chad Wagner, Web site administrator for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper, has been using various Gomez monitoring products test Web site performance. “We’ve made some dramatic performance improvements from the statistics we’ve collected,” he told

In one case, Wagner said he was shocked to see how long a calendar page was taking to load on some user’s systems. “We saw the page was doing a lot of unnecessary work, so we were able to fix the problem by making a few simple code changes.”

Mouline emphasizes the Peer Network agent performs a simulation and doesn’t interfere with the client system’s performance. “The agent emulates the step a user would take, say, searching for a book online and going through the steps of making a purchase,” he said.

“We let companies like Amazon see all the steps and collect all the metrics of how long it takes and they can use that information to make changes if needed.”

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