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Review: Gomez Active Streaming XF

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Gomez Active Streaming XF solution solves a niche need that was previously available from only dedicated streaming monitoring solutions and leverages the fact that Gomez has long been considered a leader in the website-performance-monitoring game. It needs refinement, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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Reviewing a reporting system is somewhat akin to herding cats, as it requires you to describe a system that changes multiple times each second. However, while this may be difficult, it is also necessary given the growth of streaming on the web and the desire to continually improve delivery of streaming content.

There are other streaming measurement systems on the market, but Gomez’s entry is noteworthy for the massive groundswell the company has in web application measurement. Gomez performs more than 4 billion measurements per year and uses more than 40,000 "internet experience measurement points" to test various static and dynamic pieces of content as part of what the company calls its ExperienceFirst (XF) Network.

For this review, we’re going to look at the new Gomez streaming tool, Active Streaming XF. This isn’t to be confused with Gomez’s first foray into the world of multimedia measurement, Actual Experience XF. That tool, which measured the experience that a web user encountered when using a browser to access streaming or progressive-download Flash content, used a series of ActionScripts that could be written into a Flash SWF that would report back quantitative data, regardless of the user’s location.

By contrast, Active Streaming XF measures content as it passes by a series of nodes. Gomez currently has nine nodes available across various content delivery networks (CDNs) in locations throughout the U.S. and in London. These nodes, which the company hopes to expand to about a dozen by year’s end and more by mid-2009, are designed to measure the performance of high-value streams and validate the performance claims of hardware vendors or CDNs.

Gomez positions Active Streaming XF as a way to judge the efficacy of a CDN prior to purchase. In some ways, the scenario is a Catch-22 for a CDN. Choosing not to use Active Streaming XF is, according to the company, akin to bypassing the BBB of the Better Business Bureau. Why, the logic goes, would any CDN not want to have their content measured unless they’ve got something to hide?

Tactics and positioning aside, a reporting system on streaming measurements may also let a customer objectively manage service level agreements, rather than constantly monitoring their own sites or hearing about outages from customers.

Another reason that both user-experience and quality/performance measurements are needed is because of the lack of Quality of Service (QoS)-enabled networks. With broadcast on cable or over the air (OTA), the system is designed to handle one type of media delivery. An Ethernet network and, indeed, many of the wide area network (WAN) delivery mechanisms are what are termed "best effort" networks that often give equal weight to various data types. So a short explanation of QoS is that of a technology to manage prioritization and routing. Because of this, QoS technology looks not only at bandwidth measurements but also network conditions (such as congestion or availability of bandwidth) so it can prioritize traffic accordingly. This is especially important for latency-sensitive packet routing for voice or video if the same network is also delivering FTP, database email, or other non-QoS-aware large-file transfers.

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