Rise of .NET enterprise apps drives need for performance management

As .NET gains more traction in the enterprise, there is a growing need for application performance management tools.

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As more organizations embrace .NET technology for mission-critical applications, it is becoming a critical mission to manage the performance of those applications. This is particularly true for custom applications built around platforms such as SharePoint and Exchange.

"It's so easy to develop on .NET, but somebody has to manage all those applications, and organizations are looking for tools," said Victor Mushkatin, CTO and founder of Baltimore, Md.-based AVIcode Inc., provider of Intercept Studio, a real-time monitor for .NET applications. Indeed, the market for application performance management (APM) products for .NET has changed considerably, added AVIcode CEO Mike Curreri. A few years ago, it was a challenge "simply finding enough mission-critical .NET applications that companies wanted to spend money on to manage. That's no longer the issue," Curreri said.

In terms of SharePoint, for example, "Microsoft is really pushing the technology. The problem we see is that SharePoint was never meant to do what it's doing now," said Andreas Grabner, senior performance architect at Waltham, Mass.-based DynaTrace Software Inc., provider of the dynaTrace lifecycle APM product for .NET and Java applications.

"Originally [SharePoint] was a nice collaboration web page on traditional ASP, then it merged to ASP.NET, but some components are old and don't scale very well," Grabner said. "Also, the problem is it's very generic; you can do cool things easily but it's not optimized for your needs, so there are major performance problems with SharePoint applications. The other thing is, SharePoint is easy to expand, but we've seen that many customers are not aware of what's going on in the background when they use the SharePoint library, for example. It's a great framework, but it has downsides; it was never meant to handle this load."

"In the last decade Java been the main platform for enterprise applications," said Michael Azoff, senior research analyst at the U.K.-based Butler Group. ".NET has steadily grown into that, but a lot of Micrsoft applications are still linked to areas like Exchange, and now the interest in SharePoint."

Both AVIcode and DynaTrace recently rolled out support for SharePoint. AVIcode's AVIcode SharePoint 2007 Application Management Pack extends Operations Manager 2007 to detect problems and provides root cause information for custom SharePoint applications. Earlier in the year, AVIcode rolled out a similar managment pack for BizTalk 2006.

And DynaTrace extended its product to SharePoint Server 2007 sites running inside Microsoft's Internet Information Services (IIS), enabling performance diagnosis during development, testing and production operations of SharePoint applications.

APM products like AVIcode's and DynaTrace's are designed to monitor and manage the health and response time of applications, closing the "gap in the information flow from production back to the developer," Mushkatin said. And while the heaviest use of APM products tends to be in the production environment, both AVIcode and DynaTrace said the trend is moving toward utilizing APM earlier in the lifecycle.

"We target all different stages of the lifecycle," Grabner said. "We see a need where developers are aware of performance [problems] as soon as possible in the lifecycle. That's why we push APM in development; we want developers to know what's going on in their code."

Added Curreri, "We're useful through the whole lifecycle. For developers in preproduction we're useful as a deep-dive diagnostic tool. In QA where you're trying to emulate a production environment we start to have unique usefulness because of the ability to perform well in production. We give both sides of the house [apps and ops] the information they need in the terms they need."

Responding to another trend in APM, AVIcode recently announced an upcoming Client Side Monitoring (CSM) add-on for Intercept Studio for browser-based applications. According to Azoff, "Some users may put up with a lack of performance and not inform the help desk, so the problem is brewing but nobody in ops is aware of it. A number of [APM] vendors seen that as a great opportunity."

Just as a number of APM vendors are recognizing the opportunity on the .NET side. "In the APM market, historically a lot vendors focused on Java, but then we're seeing more provide .NET coverage because of the heterogeneous aspect [of today's environment]," Azoff said.

Precise Software Solutions Inc., recently spun out of Symantec, which had previously acquired the Redwood Shores, Calif., APM company, has offerings for both Java and .NET. According to CEO Mark Kremer, "We're trying to bring the .NET solution to the level of sophistication offered with the J2EE solutions. A lot was learned with the J2EE space. We want to bring the same power of .NET to customers that has proven effective in larger J2EE environments."

And Macro 4, an APM player on the Java side, also plans to jump on the .NET bandwagon. ".NET support is a part of the roadmap for our Application Performance Portal solution and will be delivered as an integral part of the existing product," said Chris Limberger, marketing manager for application availability/application performance at the U.K.-based company.

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