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Vendors make claims, but do cloud application performance tools work?

Vendors make cloud application performance tool promises, but few cover all the bases, from reviewing network and server response to application design.

IT teams and management tool vendors are spending a lot of time these days tracking, characterizing and optimizing the "user experience" as part of hybrid cloud operations. User experience is closely related to cloud application performance, and without question it can be adversely affected by poor infrastructure performance. But there are many factors to consider in this equation, including the end device, the human operating that device, and the many hops and paths running in multiple public and private networks that connect end users to cloud-hosted apps or services. The bottom line? Managing the end-user cloud experience is a much more complex and frustratingly opaque situation than vendors are willing to admit -- and often they don't have the right cloud monitoring tools.

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But that doesn't stop vendors from promising they have the perfect solution. Recently, NetSocket announced its Cloud Experience Manager, a new product the company claims is the "first complete solution to ensure the quality of dynamic cloud services." While it's not unusual for vendors to make big claims, this one goes beyond acceptable puffery. First off, ideally it would be best for end users to never have a "cloud experience." The truth is, end users do not know or care about how services are delivered and whether any kind of cloud was used to do so -- they just want their apps to work.

We could chalk this slogan up to ambitious branding, but the product claims are too troubling to ignore. NetSocket states the solution supports voice, video and data. The reality is that NetSocket is doing some interesting and useful things in the area of VoIP monitoring, having built a solution that mixes VoIP protocol inspection, NetFlow and route analytics. The solution's ability to recognize and characterize specific call paths is really quite unique and valuable. In fact, NetSocket has chosen the "cloud" moniker specifically because it is trying to address the growing market for cloud-based VoIP services.

Where NetSocket gets into trouble is in its claims that the solution can effectively cover data and video services. Videoconferencing over IP, whether low-end desktop or high-end telepresence, is similar in many ways to VoIP, and the same assessment techniques can be used to judge audio quality. But image quality is an equally important part of the videoconferencing experience and there is no industry standard means of assessing this. Further, assessing user experience for data (think applications) is even more subtle and complex.

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Application experience requires monitoring of network and server response times at a minimum, but also it means examining human factors that are specific to the individual application design and function, as well as considering end device status, health and loads. Doing this requires a lot of hard work and usually a lot of tools to look at the issue from multiple angles.

Instead of lofty promises and hype, what operations professionals need are products that help them solve the problems they encounter when trying to troubleshoot cloud-based deployments. When cloud-based applications aren't responding fast enough to meet user expectations, meaning they are having the wrong type of "cloud experience," a good cloud monitoring solution can help narrow the source of the problem quickly through clear visibility, effective triage and suggested corrective actions.

NetSocket has a good story here, particularly for cloud-based VoIP monitoring, and the company needs to focus on this strength rather than trying to lasso the entire "cloud experience" moon.

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