Checking up on your ASP

Although a service-level agreement with an application service provider

details system performance goals and support response times, how can an

agency ensure that its service provider is delivering? The answer may be

to invest in a monitoring service.

A few ASPs offer to monitor their own performance, but increasingly,

ASP customers are turning to third-party companies to emulate end users

and evaluate how applications are performing and to time transactions.

Many ASPs do not drill down to the application level when they are defining

performance goals, said Emilie Schmidt, assistant vice president of business

solutions at Candle Corp. As a result, a government agency may be guaranteed

that its server is up but have no idea how an application is responding

to users, she said. Candle offers a monitoring service that measures Web

page load times, response times and the time it takes for a transaction

to be resolved, she said.

"You can tell each time someone has been on your site [and] what their

experience has been like," she said. "You can pinpoint where there might

be bottlenecks."

In addition to gathering metrics on response times and browse times,

Candle can also provide alerts to ASPs or their customers when certain thresholds

for response time are not being met.

Candle also provides reports with usage statistics that can be used

to spot customer trends, which can help an agency mold pages to reflect

user needs. For example, if one Web page that supports a transaction is

taking too long to load, and as a result users are abandoning the transaction,

the agency can redesign the Web page to shorten the transaction time.

"If citizens start to use that Web site and get frustrated...and think

this is worse than standing in line, that's certainly not the image that

government is trying to put forward," Schmidt said.

Envive Corp. also offers a monitoring service that can have "virtual

users" simulate transactions from multiple points throughout the world to

gauge how well an application is performing. The automatic simulations can

be performed every 10 minutes, and reports on a specific application with

details such as load times and purchase times can be supplied to customers

or ASPs, said Bill Leavy, Envive's vice president of marketing.

"You really want to monitor transactions because that's the real thing

that people do," he said. "It facilitates improved communication between

the end-user customer and the service provider."

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