The Shortcut Guide to Assuring Website Performance through External Web Monitoring

by Dan Sullivan


For most businesses running today, Web sites have become the new storefronts and office buildings.  Businesses have become increasingly dependent on Web sites and Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) to conduct commerce with customers, keep tabs on internal resources, and communicate with partners, suppliers, and employees.  But as this dependency increases, so does the complexity of the Web site system and the expectations on the system's level of service delivery. So how can businesses ensure that their applications are always functioning as expected?

The Shortcut Guide to Assuring Website Performance through External Web Monitoring addresses this question with a comprehensive overview of the technical and business issues driving the need for external monitoring.  This book offers a detailed look at the essential components of external monitoring, a discussion of how to leverage external monitoring to protect your brand, and finally, a roadmap for implementing and maintaining an external monitoring process.


Chapter 1: Understanding the Technical and Business Needs for External Web Monitoring

Business Web sites are the new store fronts and offices. Consumers and businesses have more options now when it comes to conducting commerce than ever before. We can travel to a retail store to browse and shop or we can go online to a retailer’s Web site. Why bother calling a vendor to check on the status of our latest order when we can go online 24‐hours a day, 7 days a week to see the latest updates. Rather than comparison shop for a new car by visiting multiple auto dealers, we can check inventory and prices online. For a growing number of businesses, their Web sites are their only means of contact with customers. Clearly, Web sites are now as critical to business as offices, store fronts, and call centers have been in the past.

Significant time, effort, and talent go into designing retail and professional spaces. Businesses want to provide an appealing environment for customers and clients, distinguish themselves from the competition, and strengthen their customer relationships. The same can be said for business Web sites.

In fact, there are challenges faced in Web site design that do not occur or are less difficult to manage in physical spaces. For example, navigating a Web site becomes more difficult as the volume of information increases and special consideration has to be given to ensuring ready access to different parts of the Web site. Another difference is in the level of peak demand. A retail store is limited in the number of shoppers it will have at any one point by constraints such as the physical dimensions of the store and the number of spots in their parking lot. When a customer visits an online retailer, there is no indication of how many other customers are using the Web site at the same time. (At least there should not be.) In the online realm, it is hard to hide a problem. If something goes wrong in the stock room of a retail store, most customers will be unaware of the problem. When an application server is down, a database is not performing up to expectations, or a Web server returns a page not found error, the customer knows.

Chapter 1 examines the problem of increasing expectations for service delivery and the increasing complexity of applications. This leads to the operational need for visibility into network and application performance using both internal and external monitoring.

Chapter 2: Examining Essential Components of External Web Monitoring

The confluence of increasing expectations for continuous service delivery and the growing complexity of Web applications has created a need for robust application performance monitoring. In the past, monitoring was primarily an internal operation with network performance monitoring checking volumes of network traffic and the availability of servers.

For example, when most mission-critical applications ran on mainframes, in-house IT professionals could monitor the state of the mainframe from management consoles using performance management tools provided by the mainframe vendor. As applications become distributed with client-server applications, performance became a function of several machines sometimes running different operating systems (OSs). Ensuring application performance on those systems required the ability to monitor servers that might run Unix, Linux, or a Windows server OS as well as client devices, typically running a Windows desktop OS. Moving applications to the Web made performance monitoring significantly more difficult.

Web applications can rely on multiple servers, possibly in several locations and maintained by different groups. To add to that complexity, end users could be located around the globe running the user interface (UI) portion of applications in different browsers on platforms ranging from desktop clients to handheld mobile devices. In this chapter, we turn our attention to understanding the technical aspects of Web site monitoring, including:

  • Key components of external monitoring
  • Key types of monitoring
  • Analysis methods and response procedures
  • Implementation testing
We begin with the building blocks of an external monitoring system.

Chapter 3: Acquiring Customers, Controlling Costs, and Protecting Your Brand with External Monitoring

When you conduct business on the Web, your customer's browser becomes your store front. Businesses go to significant lengths to keep up appearances around their physical store fronts and offices. Buildings are cleaned and well decorated, parking lots are swept and well lit, and grounds are professionally landscaped. The outward appearance of a physical business reflects on the entire business itself. A broken door, a litter-riddled parking lot, and overgrown shrubs can make more of a negative impression than could be undone with desired characteristics, such as low-priced quality products. Customers, perhaps without being aware of it, expect a certain level of professionalism and quality in the delivery of services. This is true whether you are talking about physical stores or online services.

Poor performance in online service delivery will adversely impact business. Of course, you do not have front doors, parking lots, and landscaping with online services, but you do have product catalogs, search and navigation services, and checkout services. How well these function and perform can shape a customer's perception of a business and ultimately how much business she or he does with your company.

This chapter will examine the potential pitfalls of poor service performance along four key business concerns:

  • Maintaining and growing revenues
  • Acquiring and retaining customers
  • Controlling service delivery costs
  • Protecting brand image

Let's start by reviewing evidence for the direct link between business metrics and service performance.

Chapter 4: Implementing External Monitoring: A Roadmap from Building the Internal Business Case to Long Term Maintenance

Establishing and maintaining an external monitoring system for business applications is becoming increasingly important to supporting strategic initiatives. The best made plans for deploying a new product or service line will fall flat if customers cannot readily complete transactions or depend upon a reliable service. Even loyal customers will switch providers if technical impediments, such as slow and unresponsive Web sites, get in their way. Customers are in many ways already performing external monitoring on your business applications. The problem with this is that feedback from customers too often manifests itself in declining revenues and increasing churn.

This guide has examined several factors that are driving the adoption of external Web monitoring, including increasing expectations for service delivery, increasing application complexity, and demands for greater visibility into networks and applications. Effective external monitoring combines geographically distributed agents, application-specific monitoring tests, and reporting services that enable rapid detection of and response to performance problems. We have also discussed how external monitoring can help acquire customers, control operational costs, and protect brand image. This concluding chapter describes a framework for implementing external monitoring. This framework addresses several key areas:

  • Establishing the business case for external monitoring
  • Planning an external monitoring operation
  • Designing and implementing external monitoring
  • Developing testing and acceptance criteria
  • Communicating and responding to events
  • Developing governance and policy
  • Performing long-term maintenance

As these topics show, it is essential to address both business and technical considerations with external monitoring. Let's begin by considering the business case for external monitoring.