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  • New guidance offers four steps for updating traditional monitoring technology
  • Supplementing existing monitoring with new instrumentation techniques help businesses monitor dynamic content in modern, web-based applications and gain exceptional insight into application performance

Dell Software recognizes that modern web technologies present both opportunity and challenge to the business: dynamic content, composite applications and content delivery networks (CDNs) facilitate faster time-to-market for web applications while accelerating performance and increasing efficiency, but they also present challenges to traditional application performance monitoring solutions.

As businesses of all types become increasingly reliant on online channels for customer interactions, the need for faster, more functional websites is becoming a requirement. This need for speed is driven by organizations’ growing use of the website as the primary source of interaction with their customers and prospects, and it’s compounded by the consumerization of IT. Consumers now demand access to more services, from more devices, and from any location, so providing them with a positive online experience has become paramount.

While Web 2.0 technologies, like JavaScript and AJAX, answer this need, they can also render data center-based monitoring solutions inadequate when used on their own. As websites become increasingly dependent on dynamic content and third party services, the true quality of end-user experience is measurable only from within the browser itself, and therein is the problem for traditional performance monitoring solutions. Because much of the processing for Web 2.0 technologies takes place in the browser itself, traditional solutions are often hampered by significant blind spots, which can result in poorly-performing applications.

The Web 2.0 challenge in APM
Prior to Web 2.0, user activity could be tracked simply by monitoring HTTP page requests and their associated responses. Because all requests were sent back to the web server, effective monitoring could be accomplished through agents on the web server tier, or by sniffing packets traveling on the wire. With Web 2.0, browsers have the ability to execute code embedded within a web page, which eliminates the need for calls to back-end application servers for code operations. JavaScript is the most popular language used for this purpose. The broader trend of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) programming also provides the ability for browsers to make asynchronous requests, eliminating the need to reload an entire page when portions of the page are updated. Some key blind spots associated with AJAX and JavaScript include: 

  • Inadequate code-level analysis: APM solutions traditionally focused on monitoring code execution by installing agents on data center servers. This approach now only tells part of the story. In modern applications, the majority of the code execution may take place within the browser.
  • Incorrect page response times: It’s no longer possible to obtain accurate page response times through monitoring of network traffic alone. With this approach, only the HTTP request and response for each individual object that goes back to the web server (or origin point) can be timed. With Web 2.0, however, many requests may not go back to origin at all, and calls to third-party web services cannot be accounted for through network sniffers. To be fully inclusive of ads, maps, shopping carts, web analytics, social media modules, content delivery network (CDN) and DNS response times, etc., page load time must be monitored from within the browser itself.
  • Insufficient context: At best, network traffic monitoring can associate back-end calls with the page they came from. While this would provide sufficient context for troubleshooting a traditional application, it doesn’t work with AJAX, where there may be hundreds of calls from a single page. Even more challenging is the fact that many JavaScript events do not create calls to web servers at all, making these browser-only events invisible to network sniffers and web server monitors.

As with any new technology, the continuing evolution of Web 2.0 offers both challenges and opportunity. Traditional monitoring methods alone are no longer adequate and supplementing existing solutions with exciting new instrumentation techniques can give DevOps teams and businesses more insight than ever before. Dell Software offers four tips that will help organizations modernize their APM strategy to overcome these challenges and gain optimal insight into their business critical applications.

  1. Capture functional issues and establish contextPerformance is not all that matters when it comes to external-facing applications. Application functional issues are far more common than performance issues, and a major factor in abandonment and conversion rates. Since the web application is often the only interaction point a company has with its customers, troubleshooters will not typically have the opportunity to ask the user what happened. Consider, for example, an error caused by a leading zero in a zip code field that the application was not designed to parse. Implementing a solution that captures browser events, such as mouse clicks and keyboard input data, and has the ability to replay a user’s session activity, will help to proactively identify and troubleshoot these kinds of problems.
  2. Capture and troubleshoot JavaScript errorsConsider what would happen if a company rolled out a new AJAX feature for placing online orders, but it started returning JavaScript errors. There would be no indication in the web logs, and all response times would look satisfactory. As a result, troubleshooters wouldn’t become aware of the problem until customer complaints began pouring in. In this case, ignorance wouldn’t be bliss, but rather lost revenue. A good APM solution should be able to detect and alert on JavaScript errors immediately so they can be quickly resolved.
  3. Look for detailed insight into page load timesTo be fully inclusive of ads, maps, shopping carts, web analytics, social media modules, CDN and DNS response times, etc., page load time must be monitored from within the browser itself. Luckily, the HTML 5 navigation timing feature is available in newer Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome browsers. It includes full page load times broken out by DNS lookup, redirect, SSL handshake, processing, and cache access timing. Look for an APM solution that integrates this feature.
  4. Isolate problems to specific individual page elementsCurrently the information captured by the browser is limited to full page loads, and does not provide timing information on individual page hits such as loading of graphics or images, CSS stylesheets, or back-end calls to web servers or REST APIs. Network sniffers with web page analysis capability can time HTTP request and response for individual page objects, enabling troubleshooters to isolate issues related to specific page elements. Make sure your network monitoring solution includes this feature.

Monitoring Web 2.0 applications with Dell™ Foglight™ APM
Dell Software’s Foglight Application Performance Monitoring delivers a collaborative customer-centric approach to APM, providing IT and the business alike with answers, not just data. When combined with other Foglight capabilities for database, virtualization, or network performance monitoring, Foglight APM complements a full range of enterprise monitoring strategies.

Foglight™ APM captures extensive performance and content data to detect both application performance and functional problems in modern, web-based and composite applications. This enables DevOps and application support teams to modernize their application performance monitoring strategy and adequately support AJAX processing in the browser, while uniquely combining the best of traditional and modern approaches to deliver a well-rounded APM solution.

Supporting Quote:
John Newsom, vice president and general manager, Application Performance Monitoring, Dell Software
“Dell Software has long been a leader in application performance monitoring. Because the significant opportunity offered by Web 2.0 technologies is tempered by challenges to traditional data center-based APM solutions, we have developed a set of steps to help businesses modernize those traditional solutions so they will work more effectively with Web 2.0 technologies. These steps, coupled with a well-rounded APM solution, will give businesses better insight into their website application performance and ensure their website visitors have the best user experience.”

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Dell Software empowers companies of all sizes to experience Dell’s “Power to Do More” by delivering scalable yet simple-to-use solutions that can increase productivity, responsiveness and efficiency. Dell Software is uniquely positioned to address today’s most pressing business and IT challenges with holistic, connected software offerings across five core solution areas, encompassing data center and cloud management, information management, mobile workforce management, security and data protection. This software, when combined with Dell hardware and services, helps customers simplify IT, mitigate risk and accelerate business results.

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