When Wells Fargo finished the biggest integration of bank operations in U.S. history on Oct. 17, having rationalized systems from its $12.7 billion Dec. 31, 2008 acquisition of Wachovia, the bank doubled its active online banking customers to 19.7 million. By this February, the bank counted 21 million such users.

To maintain consistent Web performance amid that bigger traffic, Wells is monitoring systems with multiple tools that audit the performance of online banking applications. In combination with other systems, Wells uses in-house application performance monitoring (APM) from Hewlett Packard's Business Availability Center (formerly Mercury Interactive's Topaz), and taps Compuware's Gomez and Keynote's application monitoring services to try to glean a complete picture of the bank's website performance. The tools do that by auditing networks to understand customer experiences by simulating and monitoring them.

The systems alert users to any network or application anomalies via reports, so staff can seek to keep website performance times as fast as possible, and work to curb problems that could otherwise cause lengthy site loading or other prolonged execution.

Byron Ackerman, Wells Fargo's senior vice president of Internet services, says the systems are helping enable Wells to maintain 8-second and under round-trip times for Web site usage, during which a customer could complete the process of logging in, view their account and log out.

"We're at about 6.5 seconds," Ackerman says. "But as we add features and functions, we want to keep it under 8 seconds, so for about 90 percent of our customers, they get the same 6- to 8-second response time 90 percent of the time. The goal is a consistent experience when they come to Wells Fargo online."

Wells' triple-play approach, applying three different APM systems to the same overall task of Web time measurement to maintain consistency of Web experience, is something experts recommend. APM systems, like most tech tools, differ in what they excel at and in what they lack.

Gartner analysts Will Cappelli and Jonah Kowall emphasize in a September report on APM tools the need for stop-gap functionality: "...especially when users accessed applications over a variably performing Internet, monitoring could be supplemented by technologies from vendors such as Candle or service providers such as Keynote that supported the launch of stereotyped synthetic transaction scripts from strategically placed software robots standing in for typical end-users."

The Gomez tool measures and reports performance metrics from across multiple different distribution points in the U.S. from cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Seattle, through various ISPs like AT&T, Level 3 and Verizon. "This is done holistically from outside the bank," Ackerman explains. "But it gives us a better picture of what our online customers are really experiencing, because there might be a hiccup in somebody's network that impacts our customers."

Wells staff runs HP's APM in-house to test transit times en route to the ISP and back against various applications, browsers or Web programming languages. "We're constantly testing all of our applications like we were a customer at Wells," Ackerman says. "This is to make sure all of the different aspects of our applications work - from brokerage to bill-pay to online banking to transferring money. There are 20 robotic tests going every minute, so we usually know before our customer does that there's a problem."

Gartner's Cappelli and Kowall listed Compuware and HP, along with CA Technologies, IBM, Quest, OpTier and Opnet Technologies among vendors they consider "leaders" in the APM space.

No monitoring solutions are foolproof or silver bullets, even when used together. And all banks will have tech problems from time to time. Wells in fact had some bill-pay glitches late last year. And earlier this year, the bank's Money Map and Spending Report section on the Web site was down. But the bank applies APM to minimize adverse impacts of such issues.

"When you get out in the real world with millions of customers online every day, you've got to look for the bottlenecks," Ackerman says. "So we use these tools to make sure that if we do different drop-down boxes, Flash objects, banners or applications, we're sure that the pages are loaded quickly and everything's working correctly for customers."