So, what exactly is APM?
Traditionally, the acronym APM has been used to refer to the term application performance management. However, in recent years, it also refers, perhaps more correctly, to application performance monitoring. In Wikipedia terms, “APM strives to detect and diagnose complex application performance problems to maintain an expected level of service.”
Let us take a detailed look at what an Application Performance Management – APM software really is:
In definition, Application Performance Monitoring (APM monitoring software) enables organizations to monitor the performance metrics of their business critical applications, receive timely alerts in case of performance issues, and generate reports for periodic performance analysis.
As per software analyst firm Gartner, an Application Performance Management-APM monitoring-suite should meet three main functional dimensions:
- Digital experience monitoring (DEM)
- Application discovery, tracing and diagnostics (ADTD)
- Artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) for applications
Let’s take a brief look at each of these APM monitoring tool requirements:
Digital experience monitoring (DEM):
Focuses on end user experience based on availability and performance of business applications/ services. Comprises of real user monitoring and synthetic transaction monitoring, typically using digital agents that interact with business applications to collect transactional information.
Application discovery, tracing and diagnostics (ADTD):
The primary and inevitable part of an Application Performance Management system. Comprises of application discovery and dependency mapping, monitoring of key metrics, and in depth analysis of application transactions to pinpoint application errors. Most IT teams evaluate the capabilities in this segment before making a purchase decision.
Artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) for applications:
AI in APM solutions is not a primary requirement for most organizations today. However, a major part of this segment deals with Application Analytics (AA) which is important. It comprises of performance alerting and root cause analysis. Also includes tracking performance anomalies for HTTP/S transactions supported by Java and .NET application servers.
Gartner encapsulates an Application Performance Management (APM) software with these dimensions. However, one must realize that digital application monitoring needs vary hugely between organizations and thus application management requirements are defined differently in different contexts. While some organizations make do with a combination of multiple tools for monitoring, alerting and reporting, an ideal application performance management system presents a unified console for all monitoring requirements. Before making a choice of Application Performance Management solutions, IT and DevOps professionals in the APM sphere should thoroughly analyse the specific capabilities given below for the right application performance results.
Key features of Application Performance Management tools
Wide range of supported apps
Your application performance management software might be able to monitor a variety of applications and frameworks but what’s more important is to evaluate the tool in terms of individual organizational business needs. For e.g. Your application performance management tool might help you monitor your web server and the underlying database performance stats; however, what about your in-house custom built web application performance management? An ideal application performance management tool should be flexible and support all the necessary monitorable touch points in an IT setup.
Single console for all round monitoring
As mentioned earlier, ideal application performance management solutions should pack the essentials i.e. all round monitoring, alerting and comprehensive reporting, eliminating the hassle of having to deal with multiple tools to measure and optimize application performance.
This is an interesting feature and an inevitable one. ADDM expands to Application Discovery and Dependency mapping. This essentially means one simple thing. Your application performance management tool should not just automatically discover all applications and servers in your network, it should also be able to categorize them (DBs, VMs, Servers, etc.) and and provide the user the ability to visualize application interdependencies. This feature in particular helps save time that is usually wasted trying to pinpoint a bottleneck in a horde of apps.
Key performance indicators
When we say KPIs, we are talking about metrics such as response times, requests per minute, thread and session details, CPU utilization, disk and memory utilization, error states, etc. This includes the first set of essential application and infrastructure metrics you check in order to measure the efficiency of your apps. Your application performance management system should be able to present this data accurately at regular periodic intervals.
Alerting and automated actions
Alerting is among one of the primary requirements in APM tools. The thresholds for these alerts should be configurable for individual metrics as well as the application as a whole. These alerts facilitate faster identification of application performance issues. However, these alerts should also be able to execute pre-configured actions for faster troubleshooting. Notifications (SMS, Email), Restart a VM, Execute an MBean operation, generate heap dump/ thread dump/ Garbage collection, etc. can be a few examples of automated actions.
Code level insights and transaction tracing
Most network application performance management tools provide visibility all the way till the level of code to help discover problems that might otherwise go unnoticed until after an end user reports it. Your network application performance management solution should be able to take snapshots of individual transaction traces and allow you to drill down to the SQL queries to detect slow running queries. Your DevOps team should probably be able to tell how valuable these type of insights could be in the application development phase.
End user experience monitoring and synthetic transaction monitoring
Think about these questions for a moment.
- How much time does it take for your web page/app to load?
- How much time does it take to execute the checkout transaction?
- How much time does it take to send an email via your mail server etc?
- What is the time taken to do an LDAP Search request?
- How much time does it take to download a 1 MB attachment via the ftp site?
If your network application performance management software answers these questions adequately, you will have fewer complaints from customers about service delivery. With the help of synthetic transactions that simulate user behavior across your webpage/app, you should be able to locate any discrepancies in their performance (page load time, 404 errors, etc.) before deploying your apps. This also ensures that the performance of your apps once deployed when accessed from different locations of the globe deliver the same consistent performance.
It is incredibly exhaustive to manage all applications with the same level of attention. Imagine having several hundred servers/apps added to your monitoring tool; with an organized dashboard that presents statistics like recent critical alerts, busy servers, current availability of servers, etc. You will clearly know which server needs your attention first. Of course, the most meaningful statistics from a point of business value might vary between organizations, which is why the dashboard should offer the flexibility of customization.
Reports are an important means of periodically analyzing and sharing insights about the performance of your applications. This analysis can help identify under and over utilized severs, understand application performance trends, predict future trends based on historical data and thereby plan resource reallocation and infrastructure upgrades. Small, medium or enterprise application performance management, without the right application analytics, any APM instance is incomplete.
Cost and scalability
One of the most important factors in choosing application performance management solutions, almost as important (or more?) as the capabilities of it, is the price at which they come. Typically with any vendor, the price for monitoring a small network of a few hundred servers might not seem too much. However, one has to keep in mind the eventual costs that will add up once the organizations decides to increase their infrastructure capacity. Will the price of scaling take a toll on your budget and hinder digital transformation? That’s worth pondering.
While most enterprise application performance management tools cover several of the aspects discussed in this blog, the solution that best suits your organizational needs is one that you have evaluated yourself in your custom monitoring environment. Having said that, ManageEngine Applications Manager is one such good APM solution, with all the monitoring capabilities (monitoring, alerting, reports, dashboards, etc.) at an unbelievably affordable price.