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Exclusive Q&A with Vik Chaudhary, Keynote Systems VP

Cloud Computing Is Becoming Mission-Critical, Says VP of Product Management and Corporate Development for Keynote Systems

"The real-time aspects of performance monitoring and testing become more important as cloud applications evolve into mission-critical applications," notes Vik Chaudhary, VP of Product Management and Corporate Development for Keynote Systems, in this Exclusive Q&A with Jeremy Geelan, Conference Chair of SYS-CON's 2nd International Cloud Computing Conference & Expo being held in just two weeks' time in New York City (March 30-April 1, 2009).

Cloud Computing Journal: Keynote calls itself “The Mobile & Internet Performance Authority.” With the Internet having become synonymous with the Cloud and vice-versa, many of the applications people are monitoring for performance are now Cloud-based…what specific new challenges does the Cloud bring with it from an application performance standpoint?

Vik Chaudhary: Cloud applications are those apps served up by infrastructure not owned by the enterprise owning the app. Previously, enterprises owned their applications and associated infrastructure. Enterprises had first hand insight and visibility into their app performance, and controlled the performance testing and monitoring, and the management of the systems that contributed to the app’s uptime. The first challenge is organizational – when these apps are down, who takes responsibility for it? Is it the cloud provider, or the department that outsources to a cloud provider?

The other challenges are technical – cloud apps are hosted by providers that use multiple data centers, and the latency between data centers can lead to significant delays in serving up an application’s content, especially for users further away from these data centers. Finally, cloud apps, especially the ones being used by larger enterprises, will often integrate with other applications, some of them on-premise apps; the inter-app dependencies get exacerbated when one of these apps is hosted by a provider whose destiny you don’t control. Add to this increased customization rich web controls and other rich internet apps, and these cloud apps begin to start creaking at the seams!

Cloud Computing Journal: And these are all concerns that Keynote services and tools address?

Chaudhary: Most definitely! Keynote has the world’s largest and most accurate Web site monitoring and load testing infrastructure. For monitoring mobile and Web apps, our global network spans 2,600 PCs and mobile devices in 240 locations worldwide. Every day, our global network takes as many as 250 million measurements on the Internet, for almost 3,000 enterprises who have come to depend on Keynote for keeping watch on their connected applications.

We are most often called to work with an enterprise when trust needs to be established or restored – and this requires an independent organization to help resolve cross-department or cross-organizational issues. For example, the Apps and Ops teams in IT groups use Keynote data to establish benchmarks that are independent and accurate – and always taken from the perspective of the customer (whether an internal employee or partner using an app, or a visitor to your Web site on the Internet). Another example is when we work with enterprise IT teams and their outsourced IT vendors who build and operate their infrastructure.

I guess this is why we are known as the Mobile and Internet Performance Authority. The need for such an authority increases exponentially if you are experimenting with, or relying on the cloud. The prospect of a cloud application or service provider doing their own performance monitoring is like the fox guarding the hen-house. Examples of recent outages at Salesforce, Amazon and Google with their cloud services indicate that 3rd party monitoring and testing is even more important now that these networks are increasing in size and complexity. Keep in mind that these cloud application providers often report availability, but not slow performance, which can be just as damaging and costly.

Cloud Computing Journal: So is Keynote equally then The Cloud Performance Authority?

Chaudhary: We were one of the very first cloud companies having built our cloud network service with our founding in the mid-1990s. We understand cloud computing, the Internet and associated Web and mobile performance as that is integral to our products and who we are. Our lawyers tell me that they’re already on that one!

Cloud Computing Journal: In the current challenging economic climate, what most companies are after is to reduce their costs, improve the satisfaction of their customers, and of course if possible to increase their profitability. Does performance monitoring have anything to offer in these three crucial respects?

Chaudhary: You bet. If you are using a cloud application, then remember to negotiate service level agreements that combine availability (are their servers up 99.999% of the time?) and performance (response time of your specific applications). Add clauses for chargebacks if SLAs fall short of what you have asked for – and, let me guarantee you, you will save money because keeping the cloud in the sky is, well, a providential task. Performance monitoring ensures your application provider adheres to the SLA and if not provides you the visibility as to where and when they fall short.

Secondly, cloud applications can only deliver the profits if they can scale to your peak volumes. Downtime or poor performance correlates directly with lost revenues. Insist that your providers load-test their infrastructure, and again, your specific application, so that you can ensure that they scale to meet the volume of users you expect. If the app is fast, responsive to the touch, and smoothly interactive, your customers will be satisfied.

Cloud Computing Journal: How important is the real-time aspect of what Keynote offers? Does that aspect become more important in a Cloud-oriented architecture or just the same?

Chaudhary: Real-time monitoring, interactive testing, and reporting and alarms have to be real-time to be most relevant. To get customers started we have a free product KITE that I have to plug (download KITE from http://kite.keynote.com) that allows users to conduct instant performance tests on their applications from 5 world-wide locations for instantaneous performance results. You can immediately see the performance variations in your application and its component elements, from both your desktop, a machine in your internal lab, or cities all over the world. Since you ask about real-time, remember that we take 250 million Internet measurements every single day – that’s not just real-time, it’s all the time!

The real-time aspects of performance monitoring and testing have always been there. However, we are seeing real-time become more important as cloud applications evolve into mission-critical applications.

Cloud Computing Journal: So, is the main need for more granular reporting in real time?

Chaudhary: Yes, with the increasing trend towards Web 2.0 and RIA applications there are more Web page objects and therefore Web performance monitoring granularity is a requirement. You have to be able to not only report on which site is having a performance problem, but which Web page, and on that page, which inline JavaScript code snippet, which ASP call, which image, or which Flash object. And then, for each one of those objects, you have to report on whether it’s the DNS lookup for the Flash object or the image that’s slowing the site down, or if it’s the time it takes to download the entire object. That’s how granular you have to be. All this, by the way, can only be done if the performance measurements are taken with a real browser, one which is instrumented so every single event, such as “the page began drawing on the screen” to “the page completed loading” can be monitored, viewed, and reported on.

Our products, by the way, use a natively instrumented Internet Explorer 7 browser, a browser with a 70% market share, and that provides the granular accuracy that’s needed. We have one small competitor in the Web site measurement space and they do not use a real Internet Explorer browser to make their measurements. Understanding why and how using a real Internet Explorer browser for site measurement and monitoring truly matters is a fundamentally core concept to grasp. It is a key differentiator for why Keynote’s data is more accurate and representative of end user experience when compared to Gomez’s metrics.

Cloud Computing Journal: And why is this next level of diagnostics and insights so important? Are you saying that right now IT doesn’t necessarily know whether it is their application or the cloud, when performance problems arise?

Chaudhary: With Rich Internet Applications (the ones that use AJAX, or Flash) there is server and client-side processing. As the Web browser performs the client processing it is important that a real production browser is used as opposed to an imitation browser (one that is custom built by the performance monitoring vendor). As Microsoft Internet Explorer has 70% of the browser market, Keynote believes this is clearly the right browser to use for Web performance monitoring. Here’s something we see all the time – IT developers use Firefox when building a Web application, and when testing it on their desktops. Then those apps go into production, where 70-90% of the users are using Internet Explorer, and the app doesn’t perform too well.

Cloud Computing Journal: So is a company that has no access to this kind of monitoring is basically just ‘flying blind’?

Chaudhary: Yes, without external performance monitoring – from your customer’s perspective, without scalability testing of applications, and without real IE browser accuracy a company is “flying blind.” Fortunately, if I can say so myself, we can help them see further – to that glorious pile of profits that comes from thousands of satisfied customers on the Internet, or on their mobile phones.

Cloud Computing Journal: How about the mobile dimension – how big a proportion of what Keynote does is now connected in some way with the mobile sector?

Chaudhary: Mobile testing and monitoring is a significant part of Keynote’s current business and strategic future. Keynote’s mobile business continues to grow at a rapid rate in spite of the worsening economy. With the booming popularity of today’s latest smart phones (iPhone, BlackBerry, Samsung, LG, etc) we’re seeing unprecedented use of popular applications and traffic to the mobile Web. Mobile being the logical extension of the PC in the US, and a complete replacement for the PC in China and India, companies are starting to test and measure the user experience of mobile content, application and services in the same way they have measured PC Web experience. Currently, approximately one third of Keynote’s revenues come from our mobile test and measurement business.

Cloud Computing Journal: What about streaming media – how has its increasing importance affected what Keynote offers to its customers?

Chaudhary: New media content, such as streaming video, archived video, live events and voice-driven content are appearing on our customers’ Web sites and applications. Streaming Perspective® is a product that measures the quality and reliability of streaming media the way your users experience it. Just like our Web monitoring products, Streaming Perspective offers operational monitoring, performance trending, and competitive benchmarking of new media sites. Our Internet portal and media customers need reliable performance data to deliver an excellent user experience every time. Operations teams get details like connect times and rebuffer events, giving them a true picture of their audio and video stream delivery.

Cloud Computing Journal: What is the overall tally of corporate IT departments that use your offerings?

Chaudhary: Keynote has over 2,800 customers. Our services are used by IT Operations, IT Development, and Marketing departments at these companies, and 100% of those companies’ IT departments use our test and measurement products.

Cloud Computing Journal: And what types of companies are these, are they Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 companies, what?

Chaudhary:
We provide our on demand test and measurement services to some of the world's largest and most successful companies doing business on the Web. Companies of all size - from the largest enterprises to SMB businesses use us – our services start at $50/mo. These companies, large or small, are in industries such as retail, banking, finance, computer technology, networking, publishing, manufacturing and services.

Cloud Computing Journal: And what about individual subscribers, do you have those too?

Chaudhary: Keynote has a broad product portfolio, which is something that sets us apart in the Internet and mobile test and measurement business. Many of those products are popular with individual subscribers. For example, recently we released Keynote Internet Testing Environment (KITE) which tests and analyzes the performance of web applications from your desktop and locations around the world. The free software download (http://kite.keynote.com) has been downloaded by thousands of developers over the past couple of months.

Cloud Computing Journal: Keynote is headquartered in San Mateo, tell us more about the company. How long’s it been going now?

Chaudhary: We’re coming up to 14 years since we started. Keynote is a public company today, with 300 of the world’s best technologists under our roof – these are the employees that make us successful every day. Our revenues are approximately $80M, and we have offices in the US and in Europe, with its headquarters north of Silicon Valley in San Mateo, California. We are the worldwide leader in mobile and Web performance measurement and management services that improve the quality of e-business, with four test and measurement businesses: Web Performance, Mobile Quality, VoIP and Streaming, and Customer Experience/UX.

Cloud Computing Journal: One ingredient of the successful growth in recent years has been through acquisition. How closely have you personally been involved with that side of things?

Chaudhary: So closely that I have dreams about them! The story about how I joined Keynote is interesting – back in the dot-com days, I was the CEO of an e-commerce monitoring startup, and a partner of Keynote’s. In 2002, it became clear that the high-tech recession was going to lead to consolidation. Umang Gupta, Keynote’s CEO, painted an intriguing vision of Keynote as a test and measurement company for all connected companies, and I joined on to formally lead Keynote’s corporate development. To date, we have completed 16 acquisitions, 13 of them since 2002 – we now have a mobile test and measurement business that brings in one-third of Keynote’s revenues; much of this through acquisition and subsequent integration with Keynote’s core business.

Cloud Computing Journal: What kinds of technologies might in the future still be added to the mix? Are there still companies out there that Keynote is keeping an eye on from an M&A point of view?

Chaudhary: Just like it was in 2002, I believe that we are once again entering a phase of massive consolidation in many industries. Take the Roche and Genentech, or the Merck and Schering-Plough acquisitions; the same thing will happen, on both large and small scales, in the high-tech industry over the next 3 years. This is the time for us to be looking at opportunities in a number of different areas that leverage what we are really excellent at – we are a successful Software-as-a-Service business, with a vast geographically distributed infrastructure of PCs and mobile phones, and we collect and rapidly analyze huge amounts of data (250 million Internet measurements every single day. And that’s not a slip of the tongue – in 4 days we have a billion new measurements!). Are there other companies this resonates with? We’re keen to meet them and see how we can help their business.

Cloud Computing Journal: Your chairman and CEO is Umang Gupta; what attracted him about this very highly targeted market sector from the get-go, do you think?

Chaudhary: Umang was Oracle’s 17th employee and wrote their first business plan for the PC business. He left Oracle to pioneer client-server enterprise computing, started a company Gupta Technologies, which I joined, and which later became public. But in the mid-1990’s, Umang became a reformed software guy, and decided that software was too complex for most enterprises. He set out to launch Keynote as a SaaS company, and successfully took us to the public market in 1999. He was often quoted as saying that the e-business industry would one day be a trillion-dollar industry, and that we need a billion-dollar company keeping an eye on those companies, ensuring that the connected experience for their customers is always excellent. That’s Keynote’s vision for you – packaged as neatly as a packet on the Internet!

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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