Q&A: Web Application Performance Management

Monitoring your end users in real time takes the guesswork out of maximizing their experience.

There's only one measure that's important to the end user: their perceived performance of the application. Users don't understand -- or care about -- network delays and application latency. They want the fastest possible performance. Given the increasing importance of Web applications, it's no surprise that, like your traditional applications, you need to pay attention to what the user is experiencing, not what your IT metrics tell you is going on in your environment.

We look at Web application performance management, the impact of cloud computing and virtualization, and best practices for implementing WAPM strategies with Ali Hedayati, the COO of Coradiant, whose products use customer metrics from Web user visits as their primary data source to support IT management.

Enterprise Strategies: We've heard about application performance management, but what is Web application performance management (WAPM) and why is monitoring end users so important?

Ali Hedayati: Web application performance management is based on the idea of managing application performance by monitoring the full end-user experience. As we've become increasingly dependent on the Web for most any type of business or consumer transaction, the risks and impact from Web latency become significant. Gaining full visibility to actual end-user traffic allows organizations to effectively and proactively manage Web application delivery where it matters -- to the end user.

By monitoring every transaction in every session for every user (or group of users) in real-time, Web application performance management provides real-time insight into problems that affect performance levels that can degrade user satisfaction. Without the end-user view, effective performance management is really just guesswork. Monitoring actual users allows you to know what each user's, or group's, experience was and to detect Web problems as they happen. This makes it much easier to reproduce, analyze, and resolve problems.

Are there common difficulties or mistakes that organizations make in managing Web application performance?

Many organizations put applications into production with no clear strategy to monitor performance, save for a series of random synthetic tests. The core issue here is availability is confused with performance monitoring. Pre-deployment testing strategies can often give false predictions -- they can lead IT to expect good performance, incomplete, or simulated user traffic when, in fact, applications fail when released to production. Testing cycles often don't test with real-world transaction loads. Often it's a question of educating IT professionals that the performance of a Web application or system -- as perceived by the end user -- is the most accurate way to mange Web applications.

IT often places too much reliance on synthetic testing, which, although useful, is just a snapshot of performance and can't show you what actual users are doing real time and how the application is responding. Some organizations elect only to look at the health of data center components, but that's also a mistake. Just because infrastructure components such as servers and network devices are working correctly does not mean that the performance of a system -- as perceived by the end user -- is acceptable. A comprehensive Web performance monitoring strategy ultimately rests on the end-user experience, as perceived by performance, as the only valid indicator of the performance success of an application. Organizations should rely on a blended approach for Web performance management, with the main focus on actual users and supplemented by additional capabilities including synthetic and infrastructure monitoring tools.

How is cloud computing affecting Web performance management?

More content is being delivered from private and public clouds for a variety of such reasons as lower cost and faster time-to-market. Organizations no longer have direct control of the physical infrastructure after moving parts of their Web delivery to the cloud. That makes the management of Web performance even more difficult. The cloud makes the use of many traditional IT performance management tools obsolete.

The only technically viable and feasible way to monitor and manage newly architected Web applications in the cloud will be from the end-user performance perspective.

How is virtualization affecting Web performance management?

The inherent complexity of contemporary Web environments -- especially the advent of virtual infrastructures -- makes it nearly impossible to successfully manage sites using traditional, piecemeal management tools. The traditional tools were architected a while ago for the old architected applications which run on traditional infrastructure.

Understanding what is being delivered to the end user and knowing exactly where it originates in a virtual environment allows you to effectively manage the infrastructure.

There's a lot of discussion about the end-user as the most important stakeholder within the enterprise. Does Coradiant see this as true, and if so, how are you further leveraging the end user as that stakeholder?

The end user is the key to effective Web application performance management. It's important for any online application or online business. This "user-centric" approach to managing Web applications has a number of compelling benefits. Who are my users and how well are we treating them? How well are we treating groups of users? Are there any issues? Are individuals affected by problems or are groups of users affected? Is the problem with my application, network, or back end?

Knowing what is delivered and how effectively it's delivered to end users -- every page and object accessed and every error encountered during actual sessions -- takes the difficulty and stress out of pinpointing the real source of the problem.

Web application performance management answers the most commonly-asked questions in any Web problem scenario: "What just happened?", "Who is affected?", and "Where does it originate?" and the most recent question: "How much revenue was lost?"

What best practices can you recommend for implementing WAPM strategies, and what should be avoided?

The market has decided that our approach – from the user point-of-view – is the single most effective strategy to Web performance management. As the Web evolves and becomes more mainstream, sources of revenue in new business models like SaaS are dependent on assuring SLAs,for end-user customers sSo managing Web applications from the end-user perspective is the key in reducing cost as well as increasing revenue and retaining customers, as well as handling SLA disputes much more effectively with real data.

Monitoring real users allows Web operators to detect every error as it happens. Having immediate access to full data on users' sessions means there is a record of any problems. That data makes it significantly easier to reproduce, diagnose, and fix problems. Organizations know what each user's experience was like, as well as how the site really performs under production conditions.

Approaching Web performance management from any other vector has proven difficult at best. Although strategies that include device monitoring and synthetic testing have certain merits, they are unable to provide a holistic view of the user experience.

What future do you see in (or trends ahead for) WAPM?

We expect that the technology trend will continue to allow more measurement capability for areas that have traditionally been outside the control of IT operations executives, including the larger amount of third-party content that many applications rely on. As the technology progresses, it will become common to easily invoke end-user monitoring in public clouds and through other third-party providers.

What products or services does Coradiant offer for WAPM?

Coradiant offers a range of Web application performance management products that all share the central idea of starting from the end-user perspective. Coradiant offers a portfolio of solutions with a focus on the front-end that integrates seamlessly with the application server back-end. These include our TrueSight product targeted at the Web tier as well as our Edge for Akamai to provide visibility into the Akamai cloud and integration capabilities into the application server products such as Dynatrace for single view and correlation capabilities.