PathFinder uses server agents to create a "map" of all the components used by a Web application, such as Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs) and Java servlets. It then figures out relationships between those components and the paths among them that transactions must take to be completed.
Graphical tools help administrators make sense of that data and relate component malfunctions to specific applications. The tools look at the data as it relates to other parts of an infrastructure, including databases and Web servers, and can highlight component problems likely to have the greatest impact on an organisation's business, according to Dave Wilby, vice-president of product management at Dirig.
The goal of products like Pathfinder is to pinpoint the root cause of a transaction failure. The job becomes difficult when applications are modified or added and records are not updated concerning the components affected. New applications sometimes make use of existing EJBs already being used by other applications.
"People don't keep track of how they put things together, so problems happen and no one knows what's going on," said Bill Gassman, a research director with Gartner. "At the same time, the [operations] people need to be able to go in and see what's going on."
On the other hand, Gartner's Gassman said, the tagging approach tends to require more involvement on the part of developers.
"One of Dirig's goals is to make it easier for the operations people to resolve the problem" without needing to involve application developers, he said.
As with any small company with a new product, scepticism may be the biggest hurdle Dirig has to overcome, Gassman said. "They have a reasonable track record and they've generally been conservative about their claims in the past," he added.
The first version of PathFinder works only with Dirig's other performance management products. The company will initially use PathFinder in a bid to drive sales of its other products, Wilby said.
Over the next year the company plans to integrate PathFinder with third party-tools from the likes of BMC and IBM's Tivoli division.
Pathfinder is available for IBM WebSphere, versions 3.5, 4.x and 5.x, and BEA Systems' WebLogic, versions 6.1 and 7.0.
Dirig plans to offer a version for Microsoft's .net platform next year, Wilby said. Pathfinder is priced at $40,000 (£25,540) to map six applications, and a further $10,000 for the next 12 applications.
The new management products from Dirig and other vendors are in part a reflection of Java's flexibility and transparency as a programming language, Gassman said.
"Java is a lot more manageable. In the past your applications were like bricks: You couldn't manage them, they were a lot more opaque. You prodded around to find the secret entrances and [application program interfaces]. But now, with Java, because it's a lot more transparent, you're seeing all this innovation happening."