Web Informant #184, 16 January 2000:
Managing web systems effectively


All of us have some story about goods not shipped or orders delayed this past eCommerce shopping season. Maybe one solution is to have better tools so that IT managers can become more proactive about managing their web-based systems. Mike Metzger, VP of Products at WRQ filed this report:

These tools are still part of an emerging category of products, called web systems management. Web system management solutions will be essential for any modern company that relies on the web for conducting business; just as network management tools are essential for companies trying to keep their networks running properly.

This is not a simple problem to tackle. Just as businesses are facing challenges in being able to scale up their systems as traffic increases, web system management tools will also have to scale with them and be quickly adaptable to new applications without adding administrative overhead.

There are many companies in this growing area, and as you might suspect WRQ has plans for its own product. We've learned in the process that any successful web systems management product will need to meet six criteria:

  1. Work right out of the box. People are tired of six-month management system installation projects with six and seven figure consulting contracts to get them running. I won't mention any names here but you know who the guilty parties are. Part of working out of the box means the product should be adaptable to any web environment, and have the flexibility to evolve and scale up alongside a growing business.

  2. Be very easy to use. System administrators will not put another system on the network that requires a steep learning curve, or that increases network complexity and troubleshooting time. Screens need to be clean, manuals thin, and features obvious.

  3. Monitor, manage, and correlate all discrete elements of a web environment with the end user experience into a holistic fashion. This includes managing and proactively responding to problems that contribute to the user experience.

    For example, a company has branch offices spread across the country. The branch offices use one web application to access the HQ-based customer database and other applications to access regional databases. Meanwhile, these applications have to pass through firewalls, routers, a load balancer or two and bounce around a server farm.

    And when something goes wrong, how can IT effectively pinpoint the problem? There isn't a single system that can tie all these parts together effectively to make problem resolution easy, not to mention prevent the problem from happening again.

  4. Make use of existing standards and management agents that are already deployed such as SNMP, TCP/IP, Perfmon, HTTP and WMI. The world is too crowded already with management standards, and no IT manager wants to add to this overgrown (and underused) list.

  5. Easily identify, monitor, and manage new elements as they are added to a growing and changing e-business, including: application servers, transaction servers, policy servers, etc. And do so whether these services run on Unix or NT.

  6. Finally, any tool should provide a level of plain-English reporting that can be adapted easily for specific audiences including IT management, line of business managers, help desk and upper management. We don't need another pile of cryptic reports here.

So what are my recommendations? Several companies are making their way into this space: companies we've looked at include Avesta, Luminate and Foglight, whose products successfully meet several of these criteria. And we at WRQ will have our own web systems management offerings soon.

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David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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