Browser Performance: More Than Meets the Eye

For users, the browser is their primary interface to the Web, and browser vendors put a great deal of time and effort into making theirs ever speedier.

But when a site is slow or doesn’t perform as it should, is it always the browser’s fault? Not necessarily.

There are a number of links in the Web delivery chain, including the Web browser itself that can impact the user experience. Internet testing vendor Gomez is now out with a new platform that aims to provide developers and Web site managers with a complete view of the Web delivery chain to assess performance and to fix issues wherever they might reside.

“The Internet is becoming the new datacenter,” Claudia Dent, Gomez’s director of product management told “It’s no longer helpful to just have a network management system, you have to have a way to look holistically across all the different elements and understand from a collective perspective what is happening on the Internet in general. We’re bringing all that information together.”

The new platform is officially being called the Gomez Platform Summer 2009 Release and includes new JavaScript, RIA , mobile and load testing capabilities.

The Gomez platform is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based platform, and with the new release, supports testing of 500 different browser and operating system combinations.

With the offering, Gomez is providing a new JavaScript agent to specifically look at how JavaScript performance differs across browsers. The JavaScript agent does not cover all browser and is currently only available to test IE 7 and Firefox 3.5

Dent said the decision not to include IE 8 is a market share decision.

“Obviously we’re going to add more browsers as time goes on,” Dent said. “We’re not limited in the browsers we can support, so as the market share expands around IE 8, we’ll add that and other versions of browsers as well.”

JavaScript is a key technology that is part of every modern browser, and Gomez provides an indirect JavaScript measurement as well: Dent explained that Gomez will provide performance measurement for the site and page as a whole, but with the JavaScript agent, users can glean additional JavaScript-specific information.

Another tool added to the platform is a recorder that enables developers to record a Web page interaction to measure performance.

“The purpose of the recorder is to make it really easy to record a test transaction and get measurements from our network,” Dent said. “Really, when you think about it, the Web page is not the key element in a business transaction. You can do an entire transaction all on the same page.”

Dent added that the traditional approach of simply measuring a Web page’s performance doesn’t provide the detail necessary for modern Web transactions.

Load testing

While the browser is the final stop in the web delivery chain, it first needs to travel a network. That’s where Gomez’s load testing function comes into play. In addition to generating testing traffic from its cloud based platform, Gomez is now employing real end points too that can be geographically dispersed.

“At this point in time we have 100,000 customer grade desktops as part of the network and we mix load from those last mile locations with load we generate from cloud,” Dent said. “So you get volume with the advantage of understanding more detailed metrics about the user experience under load.”

Dent commented that from a load perspective, people discover things in the last mile that they wouldn’t have found just by generating load in the cloud.

She explained that the difference has to do the performance of content delivery networks (CDNs). In her view, some of the cloud load-testing locations are in close proximity to the CDNS, and as a result, don’t always provide an accurate performance measurement.

“When you mix cloud load with last mile some of our customers have seen performance variations across geographies,” she said. “If you have a solution that just looks at the average response time, you’re not going to see the variation.”

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