Connecting the dots is lots of fun. But what if someone brought you a picture that was already "dotted" and asked you to "disconnect" them - to figure out what dot got connected to which other dot in what order?
Huh? Why in the world would anyone want to do that?
Disconnecting dots in a picture surely is not something we'd bother wasting time on (unless a reward was being offered). But being able to successfully disconnect computer "transactions" - actions that takes place in on a hard drive, over a network, or across the Internet - is sometimes an activity upon which thousands of people depend for the resolution of a thorny computer problem, or on which the fate of millions of dollars sometimes rests. And that process, as it happens, has a lot in common with dot-disconnecting!
The thing is, disconnecting those transactions is a lot like trying to figure out which dot connects to its mate, and in which order. For example, it turns out that when you have thousands of people using a Web site at the same time, it's almost impossible to know which click on a Web site by what user is associated with a specific entry in a database. And while you wouldn't necessarily care which piece of data came from what click, having the ability to figure it out might come in handy; for example, in a situation where a single user was using an automated bot program to push through hundreds of requests for services at the same time, choking the system and essentially running a denial-of-service attack!
That's exactly what a customer discovered using Correlsense's business-transaction management system, says Lanir Shacham, CTO of the Israeli startup. Without SharePath, that customer, a large online banking site, would not have been able to trace the cause of a Web site overload that was making life difficult for all of the site's other customers several times a day - to the extent that customers were threatening to leave.
"We installed SharePath in a matter of hours, and by the next day we had the culprit: a trader in New York who was running a bot to take advantages of favorable market conditions for his trades," he says. "When we figured out who he was and what was going on, we confronted him - and of course blocked his account."
While it almost sounds impossible, Shacham says, there would have been almost no foolproof way of discovering what had happened so quickly before this past January, when Correlsense started deploying SharePath.
"There was really no system for analyzing which transaction was connected to what result, unless there is specific identifying information, like a password," he says. "But for run-of-the-mill transaction requests - such as adding information to a database, accessing an application server, or one of the other many and varied actions that result from the click of a mouse or the press of a key - the existing tools, like network sniffers, were inadequate. SharePath is the only system that can zone in on a transaction and decipher it, showing each user action and its consequences, throughout the computer, server, or database."
SharePath is so unique, Shacham says, that Correlsense has three patents on the technology. "It took us several years to build SharePath; we had to dig deep into the guts of computers and networks, both online and offline, to figure out a way to make these connections," he says. "And as a result, we are able to analyze 100 percent of the traffic in a computer or network, or on a Web site, and determine exactly what is causing certain behaviors."
It's not necessarily the customer's fault, either: a glitch in the system could be the fault of a bug in a piece of middleware that no one noticed (SharePath figured that one out), or due to a faulty deployment as a production system of what was still supposed to be in testing (ditto).
"You can have 10,000 incoming calls and 40,000 outgoing ones, and each one looks the same," Shacham says. "We go inside the server or network, analyzing the low-level-action calls in the dark places no one has gone before, and figure out where the dots connect."
Amazingly, such sophisticated tools to figure out how things interplay in a computer environment just weren't there before SharePath. But they are now, Shacham says, and in just the 10 months the product has been on the market, Correlsense can count on its customer list the largest bank in Israel, one of the largest insurance companies in the US, a slew of online banks and, soon, one of the largest Web-transaction companies in the world.
Shacham, a former IBM executive, teamed up in 2005 with his partner, Correlsense CEO Oren Elias, to develop what would eventually become SharePath after they both found themselves frustrated by unexplained bugs and issues they just couldn't get to the bottom of.
"It took us time to even figure out how to approach this," Shacham says. "But now that SharePath is here, we hope to be able to help companies of all kinds overcome their unexplained glitches."