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The Evolution of Application Performance & End User Engagement

Throughout my 25 years in technology, I’ve seen continuous iterations of a singular lesson: solve for the end user and your business will be successful.

Of course, successful end-user engagement has always been easier said than done. That’s one of the major reasons why I chose to lead Yottaa as CEO in September. Yottaa’s technology allows businesses to easily manage, optimize and secure end-user experience, on any device, anywhere in the world.

End users today have short attention spans and are increasingly mobile. Solving the engagement puzzle is the competitive advantage online businesses need to win over users and drive revenue. To understand how Yottaa’s technology delivers this advantage, it is important to trace this story to the very beginning.

I view the development of online performance technology in 5 basic stages, starting with the earliest online applications and tracing the trajectory of technology development to the present day.


Stage 1: “The Beginning” Application Monitoring

In the early ’90s, the Internet was new and application development became mainstream. The client-server model of application development defined this early era, with companies like Tivoli, HP, CA, and BMC leading the way.

Early applications were simple:

  • Basic static documents, delivered to the client
  • Interactive experiences consisting of site mapping links to other apps

At this time, everything was infrastructure-heavy. A simple change to an application required very heavy lifting. Thus, updates and new releases were infrequent and the application landscape was relatively stable.

Applications quickly became critical tools for business success, and client-side IT departments saw immense value in technology that could monitor servers and report if an application was running or not running. The market adapted accordingly and the first application-monitoring tools emerged, sparking major growth for infrastructure companies like IBM, DELL, HP, Juniper, Cisco, and many others.

Application monitoring was a major success, but only a small first step. Remember, the technology had only one basic function – indicate if an application was up or down.

Stage 2: The Rise of Content Delivery Networks & User Experience Monitoring

By the mid-nineties, Internet traffic was steadily on the rise, as was the number of applications in the marketplace. Here, the concept of the “Web” first materialized and it was apparent that application architectures were going to need to adapt dramatically.

Two major developments furthered complex web growth:

1. Adoption of the browser expanded Internet usage dramatically

2. Universal programming languages furthered application development

Notably, JavaScript (Netscape) & Flash (Macromedia) enabled programmers to add dynamic elements to client-side user interfaces. Applications now had many more features.

These developments reshaped application architectures significantly. The basic client-server model dissipated, as a wider user base accessed newer, more dynamic applications. Similarly, early server-based application monitoring tools were unable to provide insight into application performance or, more importantly, basic end-user experience.

A solution arrived with the birth of content delivery networks (CDN). CDN technology allowed data to be moved effectively through the web’s chaotic “middle mile”, so it arrived at the end user faster. The ability of the CDN to deliver faster and more consistent experiences to the end user was highly-valued as users were more engaged with faster apps.

In conjunction with CDN technology, a new crop of solutions arose to offer greater insight into performance. The new breed of application performance monitoring (APM) solutions focused on tracking end-user experience (EUE), in addition to the more traditional means of monitoring discrete pieces of hardware and their interactions. EUE monitoring tools provided insight into how human users actually perceived application performance.

Stage 3: Application Performance Monitoring

Towards the late 90s and early 2000s, new development architectures like J2EE, .NET, Middleware, and later Ajax, enabled programmers to create significantly more complicated and multi-faceted application stacks. Larger, more powerful applications moved far beyond their predecessors in terms of capabilities, but complicated apps also presented performance challenges.

When overall performance lagged within a multi-faceted application stack, it was difficult to pinpoint the exact section that caused the problem. Naturally, the next technology developments were application performance management tools. These tools gave detailed insight into the mechanisms of complicated apps and their components, and helped identify latency causes to steer application developers to boost performance.

Stage 4: App Functionality and Content Optimization Networks

In 2011, HTML5 ushered in a new era for the application development world. HTML5 brought enhanced multimedia capabilities, cross-platform compatibility, browser independence, and a new focus on mobile. In short, this technology gave easy means to create incredibly rich and sophisticated applications – the type of content users love.

However, this increase in application complexity and content sophistication raised new issues with content delivery. Heavy apps put tremendous strain on delivery mechanisms, especially mobile networks. With mobile user numbers exploding and businesses still using traditional content delivery methods like CDNs, application delivery across the middle and last miles became increasingly complex and slow.

To solve the slowing performance associated with complex apps, content optimization networks sought to modernize and optimize heavy and rich content for application delivery. There still lacked a method to deliver applications using a user-centric “outside-in” approach that maximizes apps for end-user engagement and provides optimal experiences, until now. This brings us to our final and current stage.

Stage 5: A New Focus on User Experience

Looking at these stages of development we see a pattern: a distinct cause-and-effect relationship at work. New technology emerges to create better, faster, more powerful applications. That advancement is then paired later with a means to bring app technology closer to the end user – cause and effect. The focus has been technology first, never on the end user, until now. This history lesson helps us understand why end-user engagement is critical to modern businesses. In the final stage, we see how the inside-out delivery model has flipped to a user-centric, outside-in approach. For the first time, the context of a unique user is leveraged to cue specific technology needed to deliver an optimized experience.

Yottaa’s technology recognizes end user location, device type, browser, OS, screen size, and network connection speed, and leverages that information to serve application content in a particular sequence. As a result, every user that visits a Yottaa customer’s app experiences a unique set of optimizations according to their individual needs. Yottaa’s customers are successfully engaging and optimizing the end user’s experience through situational context and personalization, driving the business impact of their applications. The content of my next post will detail how Yottaa dynamically optimizes end-user context using real-time transformation and a closed-loop architecture – stay tuned!

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