Java Apps Put on Right Path

Path Communications' behavior management tool detects code-level problems.

Path Communications Inc. will recast itself this week as an application behavior management specialist when it unveils its flagship tool designed to learn how Java applications behave and detect code-level abnormalities.

But while the former consultancy may enjoy first-mover status in the ABM realm, its PAM (Path Application Manager) tool likely wont remain unique for long.

PAM, which uses agents that monitor the internal workings of custom Java applications and alert operators to potential problems, will soon face competition from large enterprise system management vendors working on their own "byte-code-level instrumentation," said Reggie Penn, vice president of Web and application management solutions at Computer Associates International Inc., in Islandia, N.Y.

CA is adding that instrumentation in the next releases of its Unicenter Management for WebLogic and Unicenter Management for WebSphere tools, which are expected to enter beta testing by early next year.

"Were adding something very similar at the byte code level to plug in at the application server [to] monitor the application ... understanding the call path between different methods to complete a transaction," Penn said.

Paths PAM software works by learning how Java applications behave as they execute functions, then watching for deviations from normal behavior. The agent, embedded in the custom application, collects and analyzes internal performance data.

For example, the agent can recognize changing patterns that could indicate a potential memory leak or runaway threads and then automatically reboot an application server to head off the problem, according to early user Debra Domeyer, chief technology officer at Inc., in Culver City, Calif.

"It will show us if we have any memory leaks, where exactly in the application it was happening and what the pattern of traffic was up to that point. It also recovers the server itself," Domeyer said. has had "minimal downtime" since implementing the tool, she said.

The need for such tools is on the rise as applications become more loosely coupled and the tools used to aid development of distributed applications hide an applications complexity and the potential errors that come with it.

"What used to be caught by a compiler now has to be caught in run-time," said Oded Noy, CTO and co-founder of Path, in Marina del Rey, Calif.

The tool can take the finger pointing out of the process of finding the source of application problems and help developers to focus on the fix, Noy said. "We can show the problem, it happened at that time of day, heres the area of code, heres the surrounding influences," he said.

The tool acts as the "eyes and ears" into the behavior of sophisticated e-business applications, said CarsDirect.coms Domeyer. "If we see something beginning to affect our site, we have a lot of time pressure. A tool like this lets you see much better. Sometimes, its code changes you have to make; other times, its parameter changes or [adding] more hardware," she said.

The tool is made up of PAM Agent, which uses less than 1 percent overhead; PAM Central Server, a Java application that runs on Unix or Microsoft Corp.s Windows NT; and PAM Examiners, which determine which measurements to take at what time. It is available now and priced at $5,000 per CPU.

Despite CAs assertion that the major enterprise system management providers are moving into the ABM arena, Paths Noy said his companys software offers a better complement to management frameworks from IBMs Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard Co.s OpenView and CAs Unicenter.