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Fixing Website Blind Spots to Increase e-Retail Conversions

January 14, 2014 No Comments

Featured Article by John Newsom, Vice President and General Manager, Application Performance Monitoring, Dell Software

Online retail sales in the US is expected to reach $370 billion by 2017. Today, as opposed to physically browsing in stores, consumers are demanding access to more services, from more devices, from any location. As a result, the online experience – and the need to make websites faster and more functional – has become paramount.

For the eCommerce professional, the website is the sole source of attack for business growth. Monitoring web browser performance is crucial to maintaining a positive user experience, which translates directly to increased conversion rates for retailers. To answer this need, Web 2.0 approaches like AJAX and JavaScript aim to increase the speed and efficiency of web applications, but they also present a challenge for IT administrators using traditional methods to monitor web retail applications.

Before the rise of Web 2.0, IT could track user activity by monitoring HTTP page requests and their associated responses passed between end user browsers and a web application via a network sniffing device placed in front of the web servers. Some HTTP requests received by the web servers result in code execution requests sent from the web servers to downstream application servers, where IT could monitor code execution performance and errors via application server instrumentation agents. In modern Web 2.0 applications, however, as much as 80 percent of the code execution now occurs within the browser itself, or through calls from within the browser to external third party services.

JavaScript is the most popular language used for this purpose, and has fast become one of the most popular programming languages on the web due to its speed, efficiency and ability to reduce network load by running locally on end-user hardware. The broader trend of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) programming additionally provides the ability for browsers to make asynchronous requests, eliminating the need to reload an entire page when portions of the page are updated. For example, when a user is on a checkout page and selects a shipping option, he or she can see the shipping cost appear without having to fully reload the entire page.

Since this in-browser activity often does not generate calls back to the organization’s network, IT administrators must monitor activity at that outer edge ─ from within the browser itself ─ to obtain a complete picture of application performance. Organizations that use only data center-based monitoring solutions will find themselves faced with substantial blind spots that will contribute to a slow-moving website. The good news is that by supplementing the existing monitoring strategy with new instrumentation techniques, you can deliver more insight than ever before.

Below are the most challenging blind spots that arise from the use of traditional monitoring solutions alone, followed by suggested updates to your APM strategy to overcome these challenges:

Blind spot: Inadequate code-level analysis: APM solutions traditionally focused on monitoring code execution by installing agents on data center servers, but now this only tells part of the story, which doesn’t cut it anymore. Additional browser-side instrumentation is necessary to monitor in-browser JavaScript code execution and errors.

Solution: Monitor code execution via both browser-side and data center server-side instrumentation. Your APM solution should be able to detect and alert on both server-side and browser-side code problems so you can move quickly to resolve them, and prevent lost revenue.

Blind spot: Incorrect page response times: It is no longer possible to obtain accurate page response times through monitoring of network traffic alone. With Web 2.0 many individual browser requests, such as calls to third-party web services, will not go back to the originating web site, and consequently cannot be monitored via network sniffers. To be fully inclusive of ads, maps, shopping carts, web analytics, social media modules, CDN and DNS response times, etc., page response times must be monitored from within the browser itself.

Solution: Use an APM solution with browser instrumentation that leverages the HTML 5 navigation timing feature available in newer Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome browsers.

Blind spot: Insufficient context: At best, network traffic monitoring can associate back-end calls with the page they came from. While this would provide sufficient context for troubleshooting a traditional application, this is no longer the case with AJAX, where there may be hundreds of calls from a single page. And, IT troubleshooters aren’t really able to ask their online customers, “where did you click and what were you trying to do when you encountered an issue?”

Solution: A solution that monitors keyboard input data and all mouse clicks by every end user, and replays user sessions, will help proactively identify and troubleshoot problems to get to quick forensics.

It is also critical to note that, while a fundamental requirement to effectively monitor modern web applications as described above, browser instrumentation based monitoring alone for user experience also leaves you with severe blind spots. This is because currently, the performance data available from inside the browser is limited to full page loads and does not provide timing information on individual page hits such as loading of graphics or images, CSS style sheets, or back-end calls to web servers or REST APIs. Network sniffers with web page analysis capability can time HTTP request and response for individual page objects, enabling troubleshooters to isolate issues related to specific page elements. So make sure your APM solution includes options for both browser instrumentation and network sniffing.

Finally, every online retailer knows that a fast, functional website is critical for business success. And, while today’s modern web technologies facilitate faster time-to-market for web applications, combined with accelerated performance and increased efficiency, the challenges they create for traditional application performance monitoring must be overcome if the organization’s website is to provide the exceptional user experience customers expect. To be able to monitor application performance both inside and outside of the browser, your APM solution should combine the best of traditional and modern approaches, and deliver a collaborative customer-centric approach to APM, providing IT and the business alike with answers, not just data.

john newsom Dell

About the author:

John Newsom, Vice President and General Manager, Application Performance Monitoring, Dell Software

John Newsom is vice president and general manager of Application Performance Monitoring at Dell Software. He has global responsibility for the business unit, including product management, R&D, marketing, sales, professional services and technical support. John drives both the vision/roadmap, as well as the execution toward that vision for Dell Software’s application performance monitoring solutions.



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