What is considered good application performance?

* Optimal application performance is in the experience of the end user

Like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, optimal application performance is in the experience of the end user. It's a subjective matter that can bewilder network managers trying to ensure every app performs as its end users expect. And while the process of determining what optimal application performance is can be ambiguous, it is crystal clear when the goal has not been met and end users are complaining about slow service and non-responsive applications.

"There are logical limitations that apply to every application across various organizations. Everyone assumes the faster the better, but it's good to calculate the end-user expectations in your specific environment so you're not working to achieve an unreachable goal -- that doesn't really matter to your end users as much as you think," says Charles Thompson, manager of systems engineering at Network Instruments, a maker of network troubleshooting and analysis tools. (Compare Web Site Application and Performance Management products)

For instance, a call center location that is all about call processing would place a higher priority on accessing customer data than an end user that doesn't field such calls in their daily work. According to Thompson, network managers need to baseline that normal behavior of applications in their environment and determine the response times end users expect from their applications. What end users can live with in terms of application performance can sometimes be more realistic than what network managers assume.

"There are thresholds that one organization would consider bad, but that might be perfectly suited for another organization," Thompson says. "Network managers need to look at the deviations from what is considered normal in their organization and not set expectations that might not apply to every application."

Another speed bump organizations could run into when looking to optimize application performance is unexpected usage. While network managers know to expect spikes in e-commerce applications around holiday shopping seasons or streaming video applications following specific sporting events, sometimes applications undergo increased usage that impacts performance and that type of trend can fly under most network managers' radar.

"The ability to understand the trends in business usage of the application -- such as functions that are being used more than before or resource intensiveness functions -- is key," says Motti Tal, executive vice president of marketing, product and business development at OpTier, which makes transaction monitoring software. "Without this visibility, such a problem would take ages to identify, isolate and repair."

For instance, a company that employs a self-service portal application might start marketing it to different departments over time. Usage of the portal could slowly increase -- not registering a spike in activity across the monitoring systems network managers use to track performance issues. Once usage rates hit a certain level, performance for the application could become spotty and inconsistent, Tal explains.

"Time outs and unavailability of functions could occur when all the health indicators seem normal and operating at the expected levels," Tal says. "Because something in the application or the infrastructure might not have changed, it would take some time for network managers to figure out why out of seemingly nowhere performance degraded."

In this scenario, it would help IT to be in the loop on business initiatives, including the marketing of services that could tax application resources. This type of business activity monitoring could help IT plan for gradual increases in resource consumption and application usage.

"Organizations must be able to track the invocation of services on an application by business users at a granular level -- and be able to trend this usage -- over time," Tal explains. "Organization must also be able to associate resource consumption with their IT infrastructure with those business activities."

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