When it comes to evaluating Web site profitability, a raw hit count might impress disinterested outsiders, but management, sales, IT and prospective advertisers need to know more. Detailed information about customer behaviour is what keeps things running smoothly and new business rolling in, and if you're running Linux, those details can be particularly hard to come by. The common solution - hacked scripts that produce simple reports from Web server log files - can take you only so far.
To resolve this, WebTrends has released the first version of its Enterprise Reporting Server (ERS) for Linux, an excellent Web traffic-analysis solution that brings a needed touch of business acumen to Linux electronic commerce. ERS provides the ammunition to prove that your Linux servers are earning their keep, and ERS' reports and statistics are presented in a polished, accessible, and concise manner.
ERS for Linux keeps constant watch over your Linux Web servers' log files, taking snapshots of each site's current log at user-defined intervals. It rolls through the log, record by record, picking out pertinent data, which is sorted and massaged, eventually becoming a collection of ordered statistics. From this, ERS generates reports and charts you can view via Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator.
I installed ERS for Linux on a Tyan sys- tem with dual 400MHz Pentium II processors and 192MB of RAM. I chose Red Hat 5.2 and upgraded it with the Linux 2.2.3 kernel. The program would not operate under the downloadable final release of Red Hat 6.0, a problem most likely caused by major changes in Linux libraries. Though my primary Linux system runs the Apache Web server, ERS for Linux doesn't care which server you run; it is concerned only with the log-file format, which it can sense automatically.
ERS for Linux first won my approval by including both the Unix "tar" format and the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) format on its CD-ROM. The RPM installs automatically, but the tar archive allows you to choose the installation directory and peruse the component files before you install them. After installation, you can execute a shell script to configure the ERS for Linux initial parameters. The script launches the ERS server, and from that point on, it runs continuously.
ERS' consistently excellent administrative interface, such as the report viewer, is entirely Web-based and the Web-based administrator precludes the need to dig around in text configuration files.
With ERS for Linux, you must associate log files with Web sites. Each association becomes a profile, and you can set up as many profiles as you need. To create a profile, all you need is your site's URL and the location of its log file. You determine how often ERS will make an analysis run of the log. A self-updating display gives you the real-time status of any selected profile. You'll always know when your next set of reports is due. The only drawback I found is the lack of an "analyse now" feature from the GUI, but you can get close to this by setting the reporting interval to five minutes.
ERS for Linux comes tuned to analyse multiple virtual sites running on one server, but doesn't coalesce statistics from multiple sites; each site profile gets its own set of reports. If you rely on multiple servers for load balancing, a ClusterTrends add-on will let you pull logs together into a single profile. I was able to spot analyse a log from a Windows NT Web server simply by using FTP to bring it over and creating a profile for it. Had I created a Samba file-sharing link to that server, ERS for Linux would have done a fine job of cranking out continuous reports.
ERS for Linux has a built-in HTTP server that handles both the administrative interface and the report viewer, which I strongly prefer to split client/server approaches. If you find something missing in a WebTrends ERS report, you're only a click or two away from a change to the appropriate profile.
Although you can change fonts, logos, and colours, the reports are all canned, but nevertheless fantastic. Daily, weekly, and monthly summaries are available, and charts include button bars that alter the current type, for example, from a line chart to a vertical bar chart. I'm already addicted to some: the Most Requested Pages chart displays the single pages that have the most hits, and the average time users spend reading those pages. The Top Paths Through Site report shows the top 10 paths taken by your users, from entry to exit. You can see how well your site links are received and for how long you retain users once they hit your site. Further, special ad-tracking features report on the number of clicks your site's banner ads are getting, which is useful for billing and for comparing those numbers with the numbers you might be deriving from other sources.
ERS for Linux is a complete Web traffic-analysis solution, one that is feature-rich and capable without being cumbersome or complex. I consider WebTrends ERS as necessary as RAM for any commercial Linux Web server.
The Bottom Line
Enterprise Reporting Server (ERS) for Linux 1.0Summary: WebTrends brings commercial-level Web usage reporting to Linux with ERS for Linux, an exemplary traffic-analysis solution for Linux. Its closest competitor, NetGenesis' NetAnalysis, is more expensive and doesn't yet run on Linux.
Business Case: This outstanding solution can help you determine how best to handle traffic, identify errors, and tune application flow. Plus, marketers will have the data they need to pitch the site to prospects.
Pros: Simple, scripted setup; responsive Web interface handles all operation and administration; smart parsing of various log-file types.
Cons: No instant analysis from GUI.
Platforms: Red Hat Linux 5.1 or later; Solaris/Sparc 2.51 or 2.6.
Price: Available on application from Web site.http://www.webtrends.com