Hewlett-Packard, known best as a top vendor of computer hardware and software, is returning to its roots as a test and measurement company to introduce software and consulting services to measure the performance of the computers of Internet service providers and corporations running Web-based applications. By offering guaranteed service levels and value-added services - such as Web hosting, virtual private network, electronic commerce and voice-over IP - ISPs could differentiate themselves from competitors, said Mark Andre, HP's Internet services manager in Asia Pacific. This is where HP says its Firehunter Pro can come in. It monitors and tests Web performance on users' computer systems, for example, how long it takes to connect, then send and receive e-mail, or read newsgroups. It also calculates a network's average speed. The unique nature of Firehunter Pro, which targets ISPs with 20,000 or more subscribers, was its ability to calculate automatically at what rate a system should perform, and to use that as a baseline for measurement, Mr Andre said. The software could show performance continually, unlike other offerings which reported only when a system was in trouble. The main difference between Firehunter Pro and previous versions is its support for service-level agreements (SLA). That means it measures and reports system performance according to specifications in agreements or contracts between ISPs and customers. Companies increasingly are signing SLAs with ISPs to guarantee they receive the availability and speed they pay for. This is crucial for Internet-based mission-critical applications. Firehunter Pro supports Windows NT and Unix, including Sun Solaris and HP's UX. A future upgrade, likely within six months, would support additional Unix platforms and 'self-management' to monitor its own operation, Mr Andre said. Japan's NTT is the only Firehunter user in the region, but HP has approached Hong Kong's three largest ISPs to buy Firehunter Pro. It also is targeting corporate users such as the Trade Development Council and Tradelink, which both have huge volumes of Web-based applications. The rise of the Internet and e-commerce would increase demand for SLA management devices, Mr Andre said. He expected a market of US$25 million in Asia Pacific for Firehunter products, despite the immaturity of the service concept in the region. Firehunter Pro is available at HK$100,000, although it will be offered together with consulting services, because it requires a lot of customisation. Total cost of the service will range from HK$130,000 to HK$500,000, or about HK$200,000 for a medium-size ISP. Deployment takes six weeks to three months.