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Financial firm unclogs RIA, portal bottlenecks

Traditional performance monitoring tools look at network and server performance, but American Century Investment Services is now able to identify client side bottlenecks.

Ajax and rich Internet applications (RIAs) present a challenge to system administrators looking at application performance.

The biggest problem we have with most of our Web-based systems is that we get the dreaded 'system is slow.'
Myke Borylo
Senior Web Infrastructure EngineerAmerican Century Investment Services Inc.

Traditional performance monitoring tools focus on the network and the servers, but what about the performance the end user is experiencing working with a Web portal? That is a problem Myke Borylo, senior Web infrastructure engineer on the enterprise integration team at American Century Investment Services Inc. was looking as performance became an issue at portals used by investors.

"The biggest problem we have with most of our Web-based systems," he said, "is that we get the dreaded 'system is slow.' That's one of the worst. And we don't know where or who or how many users are being affected."

With Ajax and RIA applications, the network may be running at peak performance, the hardware and application servers may be operating sufficiently and still the end user at the portal is experiencing slow response times because of a localized problem.

Looking for a way to get a view into what the end user is experiencing at a portal site, Borylo downloaded TrueView Express, a client monitoring tool from Symphoniq Corp., a startup company which has designed a client side monitoring technology for service-oriented architecture (SOA), Web services, Ajax/RIA, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Web 2.0. Symphoniq has coined the acronym TRUE for The Real User Experience.

Borylo original downloaded Symphoniq's introductory TrueView Express, which he said was downloaded and working with his existing F5 appliance within 20 minutes. With TrueView Express he said he was immediately able to see what was happening on the client side of his company's portal applications.

"One thing TrueView Express has done for us is we can point it at a virtual server that the Web site sits behind and collect all the stats on the traffic going to that site," he explained. "We can collect stats by IP address hitting it. We can see stats per Web page being served. And we can also see the overall performance of the site."

This allows him to zero in on the problem that is causing end users to report "system slow."

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"So in a few minutes time I can see if individual users are being affected or if it's a site-wide problem," Borylo said. "Also, it tracks pages being served so I can use a sort feature to find out which pages are the offending pages."

In a recent example, he said there was a reported slow down with a portal for benefits enrollment. While users were reporting that it was slow, the overall system supporting the Website was indicating good response times. With the TrueView Express tool, Borylo was able to pinpoint the problem, which turned out to have a human cause.

An email had been sent to employees of a company telling them that the deadline was nearing to enroll in a benefits program. The volume of users hitting that one portal application for benefits enrollment has suddenly spiked causing the slow down. Resources could then be allocated to that specific application.

Without the ability to pinpoint the problem of the client side, Borylo would have been in the classic dilemma of having end users reporting slow response while the network and server monitoring software found good performance levels.

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