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Start-up pitches round-the-clock site monitoring

A Silicon Valley start-up dubbed NOCpulse, founded by a handful of GlobalCenter and Excite expatriates, aims at putting to rest fears about broken Web sites.

At the heart of every online business's nightmares are fears that after spending millions to promote a Web site, the site won't work.

And this is not an uncommon story. Search tools go down, commerce sites reject credit cards or scramble orders.

A Silicon Valley start-up dubbed NOCpulse, founded by a handful of GlobalCenter and Excite expatriates, aims at putting these fears to rest. The company is painting itself as a kind of "NORAD (the federal agency that keeps constant watch over U.S. air space) of the Internet," offering round-the-clock monitoring and testing of a Web site's full range of services and applications.

The company is one of a growing number that are turning in-house Web technologies into services, hoping to make money by charging a subscription for use of its technology. Most of the features offered by NOCpulse can be found elsewhere or built in-house, but the company aims to be more reliable and cheaper than those options.

In much the same vein, companies such as Akamai Technologies and Speedera are offering network traffic-cop services similar to what can be bought from technology firms as an ongoing service. Loudcloud and a few other competitors are offering services that will set up a company's initial Web infrastructure from start to finish.

A few other firms are moving in the same direction. SiteROCK, which has been in business since late 1999, already supports Web sites for clients including Ask Jeeves and Commerce One. That company will announce a $30 million round of funding tomorrow, aimed at expanding its site-monitoring capabilities.

Though NOCpulse has yet to make the service commercially available, it's attracted a few blue chip customers that will work on early tests of the service. On the list so far are Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch, Bigfoot Interactive and e-commerce site Escalate, among others.

"They're addressing a very real problem," said Boogie Shafer, director of Internet operations at Escalate. "People getting all the information they can out of the environment is a very real need."

The company has also attracted the notice of venture backers, even in a notoriously tight-fisted market phase. The company will announce the close of a $12 million funding round tomorrow, led by North Bridge Venture Partners and Greylock.

Investors, like the company's founders, are looking at predictions that the market for complex Web hosting services like theirs will grow from about $80 million 1998 to $3.5 billion in 2002.

NOCpulse is taking off from the point where most traditional Web hosting companies stop, according to Paul Santinelli, president and founder of NOCpulse and former vice president of technology at Global Crossing's GlobalCenter hosting division.

Companies like Exodus Communications and GlobalCenter will make sure a site is visible to the world but do little to ensure that all of a site's applications are working around the clock, or to troubleshoot a site's architecture before problems begin. As such, NOCpulse is a management service provider, or MSP, a subsegment of the nascent but much-hyped application service provider (ASP) trend.

Individual companies often have staff to do these functions in-house. But that's an expensive operation to maintain around the clock. NOCpulse's model is built around persuading companies that it will be considerably cheaper to outsource these functions, allowing one company to distribute its investments in monitoring and Web applications testing expertise across many different online firms.

"The team at NOCpulse has years of experience in developing and deploying Web infrastructure. We've been down the road of integrating disparate systems management, monitoring and process controls with an unbelievable amount of pain," Santinelli said. "Our goal was to build a complete service that drops into a customer and requires no systems integration from the start."

The company's service will be commercially available in late third quarter, the company said.