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Web management tools short of market demand

The market is dominated by small startups that offer products targeting a specific need rather than the entire range of functions companies want.

Every time an e-commerce site crashes, systems and network management software companies see dollar signs.

They see a hot market for Internet tools that help businesses manage their Web sites and corporate layouts, and are scurrying to build software programs that not only monitor and secure these sites but also alert companies of potential problems before outages occur.

But with a few exceptions, notably Computer Associates, the management tools market has thus far been dominated by small startups which offer products targeting a specific need, such as Web traffic analysis, rather than the entire range of functions companies want. In other words, businesses are forced to use a mix of Internet management tools for their needs.

"No one company can provide every aspect," according to B.V. Jagadeesh, chief technology officer of Exodus Communications, which hosts Web sites for companies. The Santa Clara, California, company is using a variety of tools from CA, startups, and its own proprietary software, he said.

"It's pretty fragmented at the moment," added D.H. Brown Associates analyst Jasmine Noel.

"A slew of small and medium-sized startups are offering little pieces of the puzzle," she said. "Larger players are trying to develop their strategies and are waiting to figure out some definite trends."

Most information technology organizations realize the need for Internet-site analysis tools to understand what Web surfers are going through--such as broken links or download or e-commerce transaction time--but have yet to add the Internet management tools they need into their budgets, said Dataquest analyst Stephen Elliot said.

"If the Web site is up 87 percent of the time, what does that mean to the other 4 million people who were expected to hit the Web site? What does that cost in revenue?" Elliot asked rhetorically.

"An e-commerce site wants to make sure their Web applications are responding, but if there's a bottleneck, they want to understand where it's occurring, whether it's a Web server, routers or switches."

Eventually, they will want to integrate Internet-specific management tools with existing management tools to get an overall snapshot of their network and pinpoint exact locations of problem areas, Elliott said. Accordingly, larger management software firms "have one eye on it and are timing their attack."

While the market is still young and evolving, analysts say management software companies--small and large--have big plans this year to roll out Web-based tools.

Hurwitz Group analyst Richard Ptak said software that ties in the Internet with existing management software will be a hot niche through the year. Startups and smaller companies, including Empirical Software, are Web-enabling their "service-level management" software, which collects data from management software throughout the network, generates performance reports, and predicts potential problems, he said.

Dave Malcolm, Tivoli's vice president of Internet Business Solutions, said its upcoming Cross-Site technology offers similar features. If there's a problem, the software can view performance data from a company's network as well as its business partners to see where the problem originated from, he said. The product will also offer intrusion detection and the ability to share management applications with business partners.

In the meantime, vendors offer niche market products. For example, smaller companies such as Surfwatch and Sequel Technology offer content filtering software, which ensures that content downloaded from a browser is proper and business-related. Others, like Bright Tiger, offer load balancing, a feature that evenly distributes Web surfer requests to make sure servers are not overloaded.

Of the larger vendors besides CA, Hewlett-Packard and BMC have also shipped some Web management tools.

As a result, businesses often rely on a blend of technology. Exodus uses CA's high-end Unicenter TNG for monitoring its system (including tasks like memory usage and database monitoring) and off-the-shelf products like IPnetWATCHER from Avesta Technologies for checking Web sites to ensure they are working properly. The company has also integrated those products with its own Java-based software to generate bandwidth and congestion reports.

"Users with a browser can see the complete health of his systems: the operating system, database, the applications, pretty much everything," Jagadeesh said.

But Jagadeesh can't wait for real-time, service-level management features that can scan the entire network. "You should be able to monitor a thorough transaction and tell if [everything] is happening as part of expectations," he said.

Tivoli's Malcolm said other future Internet management features include centrally managed, policy-based bandwidth and access control--meaning the software can allocate who gets priority to bandwidth and also who gets access to data from an internal network. "If I have a database where I keep sensitive information and my partners are supplying me goods and those suppliers are competitors, I must guarantee that those accessing my database can't see each other's information," he said.

Some of these tools will begin to seep out this year, heralding an increasingly Internet-centric era to what at one time was viewed as a market dominated by monolithic suites of management software. "This next year, we'll see some real exciting advancements...and Web technology will really be used," Ptak said. "Everyone's watching the Tivoli's, CA's, and HP's, but there's going to be a big move from the smaller companies."