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Is Something Fishy Happening To Your Website?

Written By: D. Geller
Published On: August 28 2000

Product Background

Freshwater Software specializes in website and web server monitoring. They offer a product, a service, and a hosted service; each of these is configurable to a user's specific needs. The three offerings are:

SiteSeer. This service provides external monitoring of a web site from outside the firewall. It provides information about the user's experience by answering questions like:

  • Can the site be reached at all?

  • How long does it take the site to respond to a page request?

  • Are the correct pages being served?

  • Are the back-end databases responding?

  • Do e-commerce transactions, including all back-end processes, complete successfully and accurately?

Users can configure the monitoring through Freshwater's website. Monitors can verify either the existence of a page or specific content. The frequency with which the site is examined, the pages which are checked, the frequency of reporting, and the method of signaling problems - e-mail, pager, or SMTP trap - can all be set from the user's administration page at the Freshwater website. The basic SiteSeer functionality is available for an annual subscription fee of less than a thousand dollars. Additional packages, providing the ability to monitor more URLs, to monitor URLs from multiple SiteSeer locations, and perform the sequence of steps in a complete e-commerce transaction, are available at prices from $3,500 to $8,500.

SiteScope. SiteScope, now in version 5.0, works from behind the firewall to monitor any servers in your network. Its web-based reports accurately show web uptime and performance and can be used to document whether service level agreements (SLAs) are being met. It offers almost thirty monitors, grouped into three general classes:

  • Application monitors verify that queries are executed properly by the database, that e-commerce transactions are executed (and that associated back-end processes complete as well), that the mail server is alive, that URLs are alive and that registration, cgi scripts and ASP pages and links are all functioning properly.

  • Network monitors check DNS, individual ports and SNMP devices, and also can ping any server.

  • Server monitors measure the performance of an individual server, including CPU utilization, disk space, network performance, virtual memory, LDAP, individual files and scripts, and a number of other critical indicators

SiteScope is administered over a browser. It runs on NT or Solaris systems, and can monitor servers running Linux, HP-UX, AIX, FreeBSD, SGI, and Digital Unix, as well as NT and Solaris. The product requires no software installation on the servers being monitored. Pricing is based on the number of monitors: $995 for 25 monitors, $2,995 for 100 monitors and $49,995 for 2,000 monitors. The annual maintenance fee is 20% of the purchase price.

Figure 1 shows part of a display screen from SiteScope. It shows one group of user-defined transactions; one transaction is monitored on each row. The green lights indicate that all have executed successfully. The first, for example, is a three step transaction that took a total of 1.1 seconds when executed at 11:41 A.M; a total of 28KB was retrieved from all pages during the transaction. The links allow the user to view the details of the transaction, edit it, cause it to run at once, or get to a wider set of tools. There are different tools for different monitors. For a transaction monitor, the tools page takes you to a page that displays the exact content of each page retrieved. This allows the user to quickly discern the cause of an error when the monitor can't execute a transaction properly. Automatic updates can be run as frequently as once every fifteen seconds.

The newest offering is Global SiteReliance. Global SiteReliance gives e-businesses the opportunity to outsource all or some of the monitoring and management of their distributed web environments. This is a package of services that includes:

  • On-site installation and set-up of your monitoring environment using best practices

  • Quarterly on-site visits by Freshwater consultants

  • 24x7 system monitoring from Freshwater's Network Operations Center

  • The SiteReliance Portal, which aggregates monitoring data and allows for customized views of that data and the monitoring environment

  • Customizable portal interface using XML/XSL

  • Customized reports for error tracking and trend analysis.

Product Strategy and Trajectory

With its combination of products Freshwater has offerings for almost every size of company, and their customers range from Fortune 500 companies to small Internet sites. While there's probably not much more that can be added to SiteSeer, SiteScope is targeted for additional features, in the form of new monitors.

Global SiteReliance is also due for enhancement. Look for improvements in the customer's ability to customize the displays, as well as, of course, whatever new monitors are added to SiteScope.

Global SiteReliance reveals another component of Freshwater's strategy, which is to leverage their expertise to increase revenues from consulting opportunities. The company expects to increase in size from the current 40 employees to 100; about half the increase is likely to be technical staff, with the rest in sales, marketing and other areas.

Freshwater is increasingly targeting its offerings toward larger organizations with complex websites, as Figure 2 illustrates.

Figure 2

Product Strengths

Freshwater's offering mix is interesting because even though the products stand alone it makes sense for many companies to purchase both SiteSeer and SiteScope. The two are definitely complementary.

This complementarity points to an important advantage over potential competitors. There are other companies that provide external web monitoring services, and even more that perform network monitoring and analysis. But Freshwater does both, and its two products are consistent in their technology and reports. It isn't a technical tour de force to provide monitoring and generate reports, but packaging all this in a way that helps users make sense of it is a challenge. In effect, a user of SiteSeer and SiteScope (or a subscriber to Global SiteReliance) gets two data streams combined into one consistent set of reports. Not only does this reduce the effort required to review the data, it makes it much easier to understand problems that come from interaction between the internal and web systems.

In fact, customer service has always been a strong point for Freshwater. The company has had a policy that everyone has to be able to answer the phones, and our own experience is that this service has always been prompt and efficient. The company is also driven to a significant degree in new development efforts by customer feedback, which it solicits assiduously. This has led to a number of significant features; for example, the ability to direct all system and error logs directly to SiteScope was based on customer feedback.

In emphasizing these points, we shouldn't lose sight of the basic value proposition. Compare Freshwater's solutions with the kinds of tool that IT departments are more familiar with - network analysis or enterprise management tools combined with a high quality report generator. These are very powerful, but solve different problems. They don't directly measure user experience - they can only describe some of the attributes that might contribute to it - and they certainly have no capability to recognize the steps of a complex transaction involving many web pages and database accesses as a single unit, except perhaps with careful programming. They may require installation on the servers they track, and do not generally cross the corporate firewall well. Finally, each addition of a server or change of a monitor is a complicated task, whereas this is trivial with Freshwater's tools. Finally, the reports from enterprise IT tools don't generally travel well from inside the IT organization to other departments; by contrast, marketing and content managers are able to easily interpret Freshwater's reports and frequently demand to be on the distribution list.

We think an argument can easily be made that even organizations that have sophisticated network analysis tools will find it much cheaper to take a Freshwater solution than to bend the tools they already have to do the same job.

Product Challenges

The major challenge we see for Freshwater is surviving growth. The corporate culture is highly attuned to being a small, friendly, highly cooperative company. Indeed, even marketing has been largely viral: in one recent month 73% of new business came through word-of-mouth referral. It would be lovely to see a hundred-person company work this way, but even in Boulder we suspect it won't turn out that way.

We also look on an architectural decision made by Freshwater less favorably than they do. None of the SiteScope monitoring requires any kind of software installation on the servers being monitored. All data collected derive from standard system utilities. This has a number of advantages, to be sure. It makes installation of the product much simpler and quicker. However, it also has the disadvantage that some third-party system monitoring tools are vastly superior to built-in commands. We think this is a minor deficit in the product, although providing optional connections to best-of-breed tools on each system type can easily rectify it.

BOTTOM LINE

Vendor Recommendations

In general Freshwater is on the right track. There is a real need for monitoring, and the company delivers high value. We see two ways that Freshwater can extend its offerings in a meaningful way. First, with the current emphasis on eCRM as a way to generate content or additional sales opportunities, Freshwater might find that its customers are spending significant amounts of money on recommendation engines without any external way to verify how well they work. Adding capabilities to SiteSeer to monitor and report on the quality of recommendations would be a nice technical coup, and an additional source of recurring revenue.

Second, and much along the same lines, while monitoring of current data is what shows the existence of a problem, it is watching trends in data that can predict problems in the future. An analytic product that could analyze - or even only display - historical trends from the data that Freshwater collects could be quite successful among those customers who have recognized that performance problems marked by gradual degradation of service result in loss of user confidence, if not of the users themselves. Such a product should be leveraged through partnerships with companies that specialize in generic analysis tools.

User Recommendations

There is no excuse for a website to not use SiteSeer or a product like it. It's that simple.

Note that SiteSeer is available for a free ten-day trial. This trial offers monitoring of up to five URLs, notification by beeper or e-mail, and SiteSeer's regular reports. At least some competitors make a similar offer. There might be differences between competitors in price and other details that appeal to you, but if you want to move quickly you won't be disappointed with SiteSeer.

SiteScope probably calls for a more extensive comparison with competitors, given the complexities of internal networks these days. We do believe, though, that SiteScope's current features are second to none, especially given its complete monitoring of e-commerce transactions.

 
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