Customs takes initiative on performance

The U.S. Customs Service is one agency that is using the new performance management tools, and project manager Miguel Rivera said it has helped the agency take a more proactive approach to fixing problems on a range of Web-based applications.

"Pinging the network didn't allow us to get down to the true database level in looking for possible problems," he said, referring to an electronic check to see if a device is operating. "I still had to wait for a user to call the help desk to know I had an issue that had to be dealt with. Now I know [what is going on] at the same time as the user, and even before the user sometimes."

Customs employs a product called Topaz, from Mercury Interactive Corp., which aggregates application performance data and prepares reports on what it sees as the prime suspects that may be affecting performance through a "root cause analysis." It also provides some predictions of where problems will occur in the future.

Through a series of application program interface plug-ins, Topaz also integrates with a range of existing network and application monitoring tools.

Rivera said the Topaz product — actually composed of more than a dozen modules — allowed him to see what the response for certain applications would be from the user perspective, given certain network loads. It works with real traffic, as opposed to simulated data.

The software will also enable the Customs network team to engage in capacity planning, he said, because they will now be able to see how the system degrades over time and under what circumstances.

"We now have the ability to do service-level management, and that will be a big plus for us since we outsource" network connections, Rivera said. "We will be able to tell our providers whether they are keeping to their service agreements or not, rather than having to rely on them telling us."

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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