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As an alternative to buying tools, agencies also have the option of buying performance monitoring services.

As an alternative to buying tools, agencies also have the option of buying

performance monitoring services.

For example, Keynote Systems Inc., which has more than 1,000 customers,

has computers designated solely to measure the performance of World Wide

Web sites located in 100 cities worldwide, and the company logs 25 million

measurements each day. The company generates comprehensive reports detailing

site performance — such as how long it takes for a page and each section

of a page to load and the origin of any error notice.

That data allows customers to pinpoint where performance barriers may

lurk, either with an Internet service provider or within their own infrastructure,

said Fritz Mueller, Keynote director of product marketing.

"Without this, people are reduced to opinions [such as], "I think we're

doing fine,' and "that's all they can offer,'" he said. "By throwing money

at it, they knew they were improving, but they didn't know by how much.

This will give you a measurable benchmark of how much you've improved."

Keynote's federal customers include the Defense Technical Information

Center and the National Library of Medicine. Fred Wood, special expert at

NLM, said that Keynote can "give you data on how your site is performing

against their benchmarking." The library is working to establish a benchmark

for reasonable performance levels and for diagnosing performance.

Drilling down to the root of a problem associated with accessing data

on a Web site is key to NLM's work to develop benchmarking, Wood said.

Monitoring services can be particularly important when a Web site is

hosted by a third party. "Most providers will never tell you when they're

down because they know they're really being paid to be up," said Miles Nixon,

president and chief technology officer at the performance services company

@Watch Inc. "[With a monitoring service], you're able to find out if you're

getting a decent uptime percentage."

@Watch provides an online monitoring service that visits a customer's

site as often as every five minutes to simulate user activity. If a problem

is found, the service alerts the site administrator via pager, fax, e-mail

or cell phone. Alerts can be scaled up from a site administrator to someone

else within the department if the problem isn't fixed the next time the

engine checks the site.

While Web site operators often seek outsourced solutions to ensure that

deployed applications are performing well, others want to subject their

beta applications to real-time traffic loads to judge how they will perform.

Envive Corp. offers a subscription-based service that lobs traffic to sites

from locations across the country to test applications, said Bill Leavy,

Envive vice president of marketing.

"You want to find out where performance degrades and where it breaks,"

Leavy said. "They can literally do this test in a couple of hours without

the investment of hardware, software or training."

Outsourcing is a good option for Web site performance management if

agencies do not have staff who have the time to learn about software monitoring

products and to tweak those products to exploit all their various features,

said Caryn Gillooly, senior analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc.

"It's something maybe someone else can do better then you," she said.

"If you can outsource the basic maintenance of performance management, you

can certainly decrease that revolving door [of IT staff] and the headaches

that go with it."

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