Written by Nagraj Seshadri, Director, Product Marketing, Application Performance Management (APM) Business Unit, Compuware
Monday, 01 October 2012 15:30
Studies have shown that poor performance of e-Commerce web sites can directly result in loss of revenue, poor customer satisfaction and damaged reputation. According to Forrester Research, users expect pages to load in under two seconds. 40% of users will abandon a site if page load time is more than three seconds. Researchers found that a one second delay in Microsoft Bing search results will cause a two% drop in revenue; a two second delay increases the loss to 4.3%.
Blame it on human genetics — people always seem to want the technology they interact with to work faster, and online retail applications are no exception. With the holidays coming up, consumers are apt to be even less tolerant of poorly performing applications. So why is achieving exceptional speed for online retail applications such a challenge?
Modern Web Complexity Impacts The User Experience And Application Performance
The answer lies in a set of diametrically opposed goals. Not only do consumers demand speed, but they also demand a rich experience with engaging and dynamic content, sophisticated graphics and animation, integration with social media services like Facebook and Twitter, and other third-party services such as payment processing. This has the effect of making web site content “heavier” (and therefore slower). Retailers are essentially expected to provide a superior experience for integrated services that are often beyond their control.
End users also expect their experiences to be delivered via diverse endpoint devices including smartphones and tablets which are playing an increasing role in e-Commerce. To better support the newly redesigned rich content applications, a lot of the application logic and processing has moved from the server to the endpoint, creating significant complexity at the edge of the Internet.
The combination of these needs and priorities compounds the overall complexity and negatively impacts the user experience, availability, stability and performance of revenue generating e-Commerce applications. Not long ago, retailers only cared about the availability of their e-Commerce applications. But today, getting new functionality to market quickly, scaling applications smoothly and optimizing the speed of the most important, frequently executed transactions are as important, if not more important, than availability alone.
Existing Monitoring Tools Unable To Keep Pace With Today’s Advanced Applications
While application performance “monitoring” tools have been available for many years, they have not kept pace with recent technological advancements in today’s e-Commerce applications as described earlier. These systems are focused on monitoring for problems at a course-grain level, providing e-Commerce operators with no pre-failure warning and no valuable information capture to help isolate code-level root-cause after a failure has occurred. For example, if a user experiences a product search failure it is important to quickly pinpoint and fix the cause. Using this level of instrumentation today applied to modern e-Commerce applications — with their rich, Web 2.0 functionality, multiple tiers, millions of users and dozens of web services — is like using WWII fighter instrumentation for a modern B787 airliner.
The New World Of APM — The End-User Experience Takes Center Stage
Because of the direct correlation between application performance and revenue, loyalty and reputation, it is vital to have full visibility into user experience and application behavior at all times to assure performance is proactively optimized and managed.
To truly understand web site, web application and mobile site performance, you must measure the performance that your real end users are experiencing out in the field, from their perspective. Testing on simulators in datacenters can help but visibility into the actual experiences of your real end users is indispensable. There are so many performance-impacting variables standing between your data center and your end-users, including the cloud, third-party services/integrations, CDNs, local ISPs, mobile browsers and devices. Measuring what real users experience is the only way to accurately assess performance across this vast complexity at the edge, and determine a baseline for performance improvements. In addition, measuring the performance that your real users experience allows you to report on application performance across key parameters such as all the geographies, devices and networks that your customers use.
New Requirements For E-Commerce Application Performance Management And Optimization
Retailers must also focus on improving customer satisfaction with proactive, lifecycle-based performance management. In today’s distributed application architectures, it is often impossible to determine in advance the path a transaction will take in production, and where and how a problem may manifest itself. Also, architecting an application for flexible transaction paths allows for better scalability — especially during peak shopping seasons. To be proactive in this dynamic environment, critical performance data for all transactions have to be continuously monitored and captured, 24x7, not just after an incident happens. And it requires the data to be accurate end-to-end, going beyond samples and averages to analyzing the actual transaction details.
The more modern an application and infrastructure are, the more e-Commerce leaders are turning to a DevOps or lifecycle approach to application performance management (APM), which calls for tight collaboration and information sharing between development, test and production teams. Transaction-based performance-related information has to be visible to all groups in a view that is relevant to them. When a potential problem is identified, smooth communication between the teams must be facilitated, and actionable information in a form required by application specialists provides the best chance for rapid problem diagnosis and resolution. This proactive, lifecycle approach not only reduces negative surprises in production — i.e., an application that worked well in test and failed to scale in production — but it can also accelerate time-to-market for new functionalities and services by bringing proactive performance management to development and test.
Finally, retailers need extensive performance management for new applications and services in mixed environments. With the increased use of third-party commerce frameworks and external services, the on-going end user demands for more functionality and the ever evolving technological innovations including cloud, big data and virtualization, the result is very complex heterogeneous application environments. To provide value in these environments, APM systems must easily integrate with pre-existing application architectures and management systems, and be highly extensible to adapt to future needs. Modern systems are much lighter-weight with ten times faster time-to-value, so reliance on professional services should be minimized. APM solutions should adopt an open, community-supported model that makes future extensions and integrations easier and considerably more cost-effective.
These days, e-Commerce success is all about understanding and optimizing the real end user’s experience — both from an absolute perspective and relative to the competition. As e-Commerce has become a more important revenue stream for many companies, and as competition for customers has increased, emphasis has shifted from back-end availability to front-end experience. This calls for full end-to-end visibility into e-Commerce application and transaction performance from the user’s endpoint all the way back to the database through all the services and tiers that comprise the complete, extended application. Moreover, retailers now demand to know the impact of user experience and application performance on key business metrics such as conversions, bookings and revenue. If there’s one important takeaway in this new world of APM, it’s to always gain full visibility into your applications proactively, from the true end-user perspective — and never leave performance to chance!
Nagraj Seshadri has been in IT for more than 15 years in roles including product design, management and marketing. Currently Director of Product Marketing for Compuware’s Application Performance Management (APM) Business Unit, Seshadri regularly educates the market on key business challenges in the retail industry. Additional areas of expertise include Internet technologies, application performance management, mobile, big data and cloud environments.
 “eCommerce Web Site Performance Today” study conducted by Forrester Research for Akamai Technologies, Inc.