Tune Up Your Site With Web Server Monitoring

As World Wide Web sites have become more mission critical, Web servers have grown increasingly powerful, with such advanced capabilities as clustering and load-balancing. Nevertheless, most of the best Web server packages lack a critical feature: self-awareness.

Where are the bottlenecks that are slowing down response times and irritating your users? What pages do the most users visit, and which files do they most frequently download? Are there "broken" links on your site that are taking users to pages that no longer exist?

The answers to such questions can help you fine-tune your site and may even make a difference in getting people to return to your site or to keep it on their list of bookmarked sites. For example, if you found that a high percentage of visitors to your site were getting there via another agency's site, you might want to consider developing a closer strategic relationship with that agency.

It's true that server packages generally create logs of connections, disconnections, page hits, referring URLs and the like. But if you've ever tried to open up a log and decipher it, you are painfully aware of the distinction between data and information. And if your site is a large one, those log files can grow to many megabytes-sometimes more than a gigabyte-in size, making them effectively unusable.

That is where Web server monitoring programs come in. The Microsoft Corp. Windows-compatible packages we've assembled provide pre-designed reports that analyze the plethora of statistics that reside in Web server logs. And you also will find tools for graphing the data to make it even more digestible as well as for customizing reports from log data.

In our comparison, we reviewed e.g. Software Inc.'s WebTrends Professional 1.0, Marketwave Corp.'s Hit List Enterprise 3.5, Sane Solutions' NetTracker and WebManage Technologies Inc.'s NetIntellect 3.0.

The strongest packages on the market generate reports not only from logs created by Web servers but from their own real-time monitoring activities. That means you can track things the designers of the server software did not think of. Unfortunately, for the time being, you'll have to go to Unix Web servers if you want to take advantage of such capabilities because there aren't any Windows-compatible packages yet that support real-time monitoring.

However, some of the Windows packages offer extended capabilities, such as integrating with external databases to generate custom reports that go beyond the data available in server logs.

You might, for example, want to generate a report from your own database of background information on all the contacts who filled in a form on a specific page. And two of the packages even provide ready-made databases of companies with a presence on the Web so that you can look up background information when someone from the company visits your site.

One significant program that you won't find in this comparison is Microsoft Site Server. Site Server-Version 3.0 of which is currently in beta testing-offers an all-in-one solution that includes server software, a search engine and transaction capabilities in addition to a range of monitoring and analytical tools.

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