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5 Really Cool Uses for End User Experience Tools

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End user experience (EUE) tools have been used for some time now.  Most of you have some sort of EUE in your enterprise and are familiar with the basic concepts of it. I want to go over some benefits of basic EUE monitoring and then offer up some other uses that EUE tools have been found to help out with.

As you probably know there are 2 basic types of end user monitors: synthetic (active) and real (passive). Active is used by “robots” which play back recorded or scripted business transactions.  These are ideal for SLA monitoring, and early detection of problems. Passive monitors normally sit on a mirrored port off of a network switch and watch traffic go by. They watch the real transactions as they occur. Passive monitors are good for knowing exactly what end users are experiencing. Passive monitors normally cannot monitor a complex, multi-step transaction as active monitors can. But you can normally group the individual single-step transactions to look at a larger view. There are other complexities with working with passive monitors, such as being able to dissect encrypted sessions, which sometimes cause issues in real environments.

Basic monitoring

At its core, EUE monitors perform basic performance and availability monitoring. That is: “Is the transaction (application) up and running?”, and “How well is the transaction performing?”

The great thing about using an EUE tool for monitoring application health is that it is relatively quick to deploy and configure. They won’t provide the depth that a deeper monitor, such as an agent-based monitor would, but it’s enough to get you going.  Plus you can normally monitor many applications from one installed instance.

Advanced techniques achieved by using EUE tools

There are some other really cool uses for some of the EUE tools other than performance and availability monitoring. At a glance, here are these 5 other items:

  1. Isolation of a failing component

  2. Collection of additional diagnostic information

  3. Performing client-side actions

  4. Monitoring application users and usage

  5. Discover your service model


1. Isolation of a failing component
When a problem is detected, there may be a need to try to narrow things down before or shortly after a trouble ticket is opened.

The EUE tool that we would use for this is the active synthetic tool. There are two ways that the synthetic tool can be used for this. The first is method we will look at is triangulation. This would be for performance problems.  The idea is to have the same synthetic transaction definition deployed on multiple robots deployed at various geographic locations (normally, coinciding with remote offices). To gather isolation information, when an initial problem arose, you would trigger the other robot locations to execute the same transaction. You would then compare the results to see if they were all normal for their locations (don’t expect different locations to be the same, due to network speed differences). This would tell you if it is on the front end (between the server and the client), or the backend of the application.

2438.EUE

If you don’t have other robots at other locations, then you can run other transactions from the same robot and compare them against their normal metrics. Pick transactions that use different backend components, though.

Another way to isolate what is failing is to use something known as “ghost” transactions.  This works for both performance and availability problems. A ghost transaction monitors, not an end user transaction, but a transaction between components.  For example, assume your business (end user) transaction is web-based, in which the web server makes a call to the application server, which in turn calls the database server.  In this case you would have the end user transaction which performs ongoing monitoring of the end user, business transaction. If that ever fails, then ghost transactions can run transactions that would simulate the calls made from the web server to application server, or application server to database server.  Of course, your EUE tool needs to support the needed protocols such as SQL, etc. The other downside is that you have to have a good understanding of how your transactions operate, and you will need to build these ghost transactions, which may not be easy. But, once you get them to work, they are a tremendous help.

2. Collection of additional diagnostic information
Normally, this is functionality is reserved for synthetic monitors.  Similar to ghost transactions, diagnostic gathering transactions would be recordings of actions used at the time of a problem to gather additional data. The diagnostic transaction may be simply running other business transactions, but normally they would be used to gather information such as local client information, network routing information, etc. You may have diagnostic capabilities for certain applications that can be driven from an end user tool.

3. Performing client-side actions
There are, at times, situations where you wish that you could trigger something to go through a series of user interfaces to take actions at certain times. This is normally the type of thing reserved for true IT process automation (ITPA) tools. But most ITPA tools do not have an interface that will “walk” through user interfaces the way that EUE tools will; therefore they can work with an ITPA tool if needed. Say, for instance, that you have detected a problem, isolated it to the failing component and even diagnosed the cause. You may want kick off a transaction that logs into the SQL manager tool and make configuration changes to resolve or alleviate the problem.

4. Monitor application users and usage
One of the great things about a real user (passive) transaction monitoring tool is that you see real usage information. Information that can normally be easily gleaned from a passive tool is:

  • Which clients are using which transactions

  • How many clients are using which transactions per second, minute, etc.

  • Which servers, services, components, etc. are talking to and use which other servers, services, components


How does this information help? This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some common items:

  • Impact analysis.  For incident management (when a problem arises), you can quickly determine the impact which and how many users are impacted (and which ones, if that matters). Impact information is also good for change management scenarios; to determine risk factors.

  • Capacity planning. It helps know who, how many, which users are using your applications and at what times of day. You would also know where the users are geographically located


FYI, if you want to get real adventurous, you may even be able to look into the payload to determine more information about the transaction. Examples for an online retail transaction would be: what item the customer is buying, transaction price, and so on.

5. Discover your Service Model
Also by using the passive monitoring tool you can see which components are talking to the others. What good is this? Well, believe it or not, in large enterprises not everyone knows which systems are logically interconnected and where dependencies are. But by watching the network activities, you can determine a lot, such as:

  • Source and destination IP addresses of servers

  • Source and destination ports (which should tell you the applications or protocols)

  • The number of requests

  • When the requests take place

  • Who the asking for information and who is giving information (client / server)


Conclusions
It was not my goal to take you down a variety of technology paths to try and teach you what each one means. But it was my goal to get you to begin thinking about how end user experience tools can be used beyond the traditional early problem identification or service level management feed uses that we normally think of. Looking at things from an end users perspective and the abilities to take actions from that point opens up many doors; even beyond what I’ve mentioned here.  Actually, I’d be curious to hear of other uses you’ve seen.
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