A Seattle-based start-up ExtraHop Networks is set to launch software that it claimed would identify application performance problems across distributed networks.

The ExtraHop Application Delivery Assurance system is software packaged as an appliance that connects to a span or network tap. It passively autodiscovers servers and devices connected to the network and inspects network traffic. The product is able to reassemble the path, or hops, an application takes across the distributed network. Such information helps when trying to determine where application performance started to degrade or failed outright. The product serves up performance, protocol and other data via a web-based user interface, which allows network and applications teams to drill down by application, device, protocol or even errors to learn more about the problem.

Poor application performance challenges network teams to find the root cause of the slowdown before being able to fix the issue. In some cases, the network is to blame and in others the application could be flawed, but determining what needs to be fixed typically requires network managers to use several tools and consume too much staff time. That's why Jesse Rothstein, ExtraHop CEO, co-founded the company with fellow F5 Networks alumnus and ExtraHop president Raja Mukerji: to develop technology that quickly identifies the source of the problem, ultimately reducing troubleshooting time and freeing up network staff for more important projects.

"The tools available today either provide a fire hose of data or only a small portion of targeted information," Rothstein said. "We wanted to help network and applications teams find the right haystack and then narrow down the search to find the needle causing the problem using one tool."

"We perform full-stream reassembly down to transaction-level details that can tell network managers, for instance, that a database an application is using has too many connections and is causing performance to slow down," Mukerji explained. The product can also identify misconfigured switches, common application-tuning problem and problematic stored procedures on databases. "The appliance really focuses in on Layer 4 through 7 with some Layer 2 and 3 information, and it offers recommended fixes and application-tuning options," he said.

ExtraHop, founded in January 2007, officially launched the product and company in the midst of great economic uncertainty and during a time when many IT executives are looking to cut costs.

"The biggest challenge the company faces will be trying to prove the value of what they offer in a down market," said Jim Frey, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

The company also faces much competition from existing network performance management vendors such as Fluke Networks, Opnet, NetQoS, NetScout and Network Instruments as well as application-specific products available from Compuware, CA's Wily Technology and IBM Tivoli software. But industry watchers say there could be a case made for investing in a product that reduces the number of tools and the amount of time it takes to solve application performance problems - especially when financial and labor resources are tight in many IT shops.

"IT departments have budget money, but they are being extremely careful about how they spend it. One of the advantages that ExtraHop offers is multiple features, generally available in different tools, in one tightly integrated product that is easy to install and maintain," Frey said. "They are taking on a problem that exists in every company and taking a unique approach by combining packet-level monitoring, application-aware analysis and time-sensitive analytics to understand what is happening with complex applications in distributed networks."

Available now, pricing for the ExtraHop Application Delivery Assurance Appliance starts at US$50,000(£30,000) to monitor 300 devices.