Monitoring Web Site Performance Off-Site

An important connection is severed in the Midwest. It’s causing delays for users attempting to get on your e-commerce site, which is located on the eastern seaboard. The Web-monitoring software loaded on your Web server tells you when something is wrong with your site, but you never thought to worry about something like this.

There are now efforts under way in the industry to monitor site performance remotely, through a third party, to notify Web site administrators of impending problems that may not be located in-house. One effort comes from site monitor Red Alert (www.redalert.com). Red Alert checks its customers’ Web sites four times every hour. If something seems amiss, Red Alert double and triple checks from different sources around the country, then notifies the customer when the problem is confirmed.

"About 75 percent of all instances of inaccessibility are not due to server or ISP connections," says Bob Garrity, vice president of services and sales at Red Alert. "The vast majority of problems are related to accessibility through Internet backbones and peering."

The Red Alert system is customizable, allowing the administrator to choose which alerts he wants to be notified of and which ones he wants ignored. That can be configured on a time basis, as well; so at night, one alert may not be as important as it is during the day.

Alerts can be sent out via e-mail, page, phone, fax or all of the above. "One of the primary things to look at is we're independent of the customer's network," Garrity says. "Anytime there's a problem Red Alert can still notify the [administrator]."

The outsourced service comes with other features, such as reports and daily monitoring statistics. One useful tool is the ability to point Red Alert's attention to competitors' Web sites. This enables a Web site administrator to compare his Web site's performance to his peers’.

Red Alert can also help address one of the frustrating aspects of outsourcing Web content development to a service provider. Service level agreements (SLAs), contracts promising a certain level of uptime and service to the Web site, are difficult to gauge if they are being met.

"Users are becoming less and less tolerant about inaccessibility," Garrity says. "So really what is happening is our customers are starting to tighten up their service level agreements, and they can take our documents and negotiate those agreements." By using a third-party monitor, the administrator not only has an independent look at the service level, but documentation to back up any claim on the SLA that an administrator might make.

Competitors in this space include Keynote Systems Inc. (www.keynote.com) and Freshwater Software Inc. (www.freshtech.com). According to a report by Sue Aldrich, an analyst with Patricia Seybold Group (www.psgroup.com), there are also two other competing approaches to monitoring service levels.

One method is the homegrown approach, whereby a company pays individuals -- such as college students -- to check the site at certain intervals. In this instance, it's difficult to determine if they're doing the job correctly, and difficult to get accurate, reliable reports on the service.

Another service is the enterprise management approach. This entails installing and configuring testing software across the enterprise, which can be costly. Aldrich reports, however, that if done successfully, you can get predictable and valuable analysis about the Web site.