Selecting an Application Performance Service

Date:   Thursday , June 01, 2006

The Internet has conquered the world over the last ten years and today more than 40 percent of the world’s population is online!

Not many talk in EST or PST time standards now! Time now means 24/7 and enterprises are increasingly leveraging the ubiquitous presence of the Internet to transact business and enable business-critical functions. The rapidly growing landscape of Web-based applications ranges from messaging software to enterprise systems, custom portals, and other business applications.

These offerings are enabling companies to strengthen relationships, improve customer services, optimize operations and facilitate collaborations across the globe.

Businesses are quickly discovering that Web applications offer their own set of challenges for the IT department. Highest on this list is application performance—the ability to deliver an application consistently, reliably, and with high-performance. The stark reality is that Web-based applications can be painfully slow, as latency and availability are dependent on the performance of wide-area networks that operate beyond the enterprise’s control.

Poor application performance can cost companies a great deal, particularly as Web applications become more mission-critical. Poor performance means low adoption rates, incomplete transactions and low user satisfaction. This severely undercuts the value of the application and adversely impacts the enterprise’s bottom line. And, application downtime can mean millions of dollars in lost revenue and productivity.

Problem solving
Properly optimized, Web applications can cost-effectively provide corporations with tremendous reach and flexibility to meet their business goals. To help companies try to tackle the challenge of improving a poorly performing Web application, a number of technologies and potential solutions have emerged in the marketplace. An ideal solution should have the following five critical capabilities:

• Superior application performance—provide significant and proven boosts to Web application performance by overcoming all of the bottlenecks that cause performance problems. End users must experience fast application response times, consistently and reliably.

• Superior application availability—provide continual protection against any problem that can bring down a Web application, including Internet reliability problems that are typically outside IT’s control.

• Superior application scalability—provide a cost-effective way to meet both predicted and unpredicted traffic growth and traffic peaks, no matter what their magnitude.

• Rigorous application security—complement the existing application security framework and offer the highest levels of physical, network and application security possible.

• Complete visibility and flexible control—empower IT staff while reducing their management overhead by providing clear and effective tools to monitor and manage their Web applications.

The three main types of services that businesses should consider are: Capacity On-Demand, Application Acceleration and Secure Information Delivery:

Capacity On-Demand
Web application acceleration services should include tools that give enterprises the visibility and control that comes with knowing exactly how their extended application infrastructure is functioning at all times.

Required is a set of infrastructure management, monitoring, and reporting modules targeted at helping enterprises optimize their site’s performance and ensure the effectiveness of content delivery. Via this window into their e-business efforts, enterprises can confirm successful delivery of content, view traffic patterns and geographic dispersions, and monitor/troubleshoot Internet conditions proactively. A unique real-time alert capability should inform enterprises directly when customer-defined thresholds have been crossed, indicating that performance and user experience have degraded.

Application Acceleration
By leveraging connection optimization techniques, including reducing the number of round trips required for content retrieval and tuning inter-server connections, this service can accelerate the delivery of dynamic (application-generated) content, even if it is uncacheable.

Secure Information Delivery
This service enables access control functionality, which integrates with a customer’s existing authentication solution to control which users can view application content, whether authentication solution relies on username/password or client-side certificates.

“Consumers spend 7 percent of their total shopping dollars online, and that number is expected to rise to 12 percent by 2009,” writes Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li in her May 2005 report US Online Marketing Forecast: 2005 to 2010. “In 2004, 36.8 million U.S. households, or 34 percent of all households, shopped online. While there will be a steady growth of new households shopping online for the first time, broadband adoption — which will reach 60 percent in 2009 — will spur new online spending.”

The price of downtime for e-business is measured in dollars. Peaks and valleys can be hard to plan for—let alone deploy cost-effective solutions against. Security is probably the single biggest challenge facing e-business today. That’s because security threats—in the form of attacks, viruses, worms, and intrusions—can impact every measure of e-business performance, including speed, reliability, customer confidence, and information security. Whether we like it or not, e-business is a pay-for-performance enterprise. Slowdowns and failures cost dollars, and can be a chief reason for losing customers and brand loyalty.

To have super efficient Web sites, businesses have to implement and maintain hardware in each of their data centers. For businesses with a highly distributed, global user base, the cost to own and manage these appliances increases significantly, and does not guarantee that application transactions can be routed around Internet bottlenecks as they occur.

Many companies in India are beginning to think differently about Web application acceleration — “thinking out of the box – not necessarily owning their own server box!”

They are turning to Web application service providers who are making a business of reducing latency for application transactions across the internet. Through a combination of people, processes, and technology, they are establishing an impressive record of reliability, stability, and predictability that helps customers deliver on the promise of e-business. They have the critical mass to handle planned and unplanned peaks without additional hardware investment and configuration on the enterprise’s part.

Intelligent routing software—continually refined and optimized—ensures that users experience fast page loading and content assembly wherever they are on the Internet, regardless of global or local traffic conditions. They allow for proactive monitoring and response to security events and anomalies in real time—both through built in defense mechanisms and the ability to route traffic around potential security issues so performance is not compromised.

The result? Consistently faster Web site and application performance, fewer drop-offs and incomplete transactions, and more satisfied customers.

Sanjay Singh is the Managing Director of Akamai Technologies India.