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How to avoid Web application pitfalls

By Robert Wenig, TeaLeaf Technology
February 26, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Chances are your users have a better idea of how your Web application investments are serving your business than you do. They may not know the intricacies of your infrastructure or understand how the applications work behind the scenes; they probably don't care. But they do know when they can't complete a transaction or when they can't get the information they need. In those cases, your customers are painfully aware when your technology investments aren't serving your business goals. Are you?

Because the Web is an integral part of business for many companies, organizations spend billions of dollars each year monitoring the software and hardware systems powering their sites. Outages, slowdowns and other errors are costly. However, due to the increasing complexity of Web applications, tracing the source of errors is becoming more and more difficult.

Today's tools, and the business processes that have grown up around them, measure Web performance based on infrastructure components -- not on the actual experiences of users. Because applications are being monitored in a piecemeal fashion, every troubleshooting exercise begins with having to re-create the initial problem. This is always the most time-consuming part of the process. But what if that step went away? What if we changed perspectives and began to quantify Web application success from the customer's point of view?

Questions such as "Is the network up?" and "Are the pages loading quickly?" provide only limited visibility into the success or failure of an application. No one assumes the customer perspective. Does the application deliver the right information? Which users are affected by application failures, who are they, and how much is it costing the business? With so much invested in the success of mission-critical Web applications, why are we still relying on outdated success metrics such as page download speed and system uptime? Are these measurements really telling us how technology is enabling business?

Robert Wenig

Absent a completely predictable and unchanging technology environment, Web application support specialists are limited to creating synthetic test scripts based on every instance they can imagine and/or afford to model. Using 20th-century systems management tools and methodologies to extrapolate Web application success is really nothing more than "best-guess computing."

All systems go, but the car won't start

A great way to illustrate best-guess computing is with an example from another discipline where components, uptime and infrastructure reign supreme: automotive repair. Recently, my car

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