A Newbie Guide to APM

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Today’s blog post is headed back to the basics. I’ve been using and talking about APM tools for so many years sometimes it’s hard to remember that feeling of not knowing the associated terms and concepts. So for anyone who is looking to learn about APM, this blog is for you.

What does the term APM stand for?

APM is an acronym for Application Performance Management. You’ll also hear the term Application Performance Monitoring used interchangeably and that is just fine. Some will debate the details of monitoring versus management and in reality there is an important difference but from a terminology perspective it’s a bit nit-picky.

What’s the difference between monitoring and management?

Monitoring is a term used when you are collecting data and presenting it to the end user. Management is when you have the ability to take action on your monitored systems. Management tasks can include restarting components, making configuration changes, collecting more information through the execution of scripts, etc… If you want to read more about the management functionality in APM tools click here.

What is APM?

There is a lot of confusion about the term APM. Most of this confusion is caused by software vendors trying to convince people that their software is useful for monitoring applications. In an effort to create a standard definition for grouping software products, Gartner introduced a definition that we will review here.

Gartner lists five key dimensions of APM in their terms glossary found here… http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/application-performance-monitoring-apm

End user experience monitoringEUM and EUEM are the common acronyms for this dimension of monitoring. This type of monitoring provides information about the response times and errors end users are seeing on their device (mobile, browser, etc…). This information is very useful for identifying compatibility issues (website doesn’t work properly with IE8), regional issues (users in northern California are seeing slow response times), and issues with certain pages and functions (the Javascript is throwing an error on the search page).

Newbie-EUM1

EUM dashboard showing regional issues.

Newbie-EUM2

EUM list of page views, AJAX Request and iFrames.

 

Runtime application architecture discovery modeling and display – This is a graphical representation of the components in an application or group of applications that communicate with each other to deliver business functionality. APM tools should automatically discover these relationships and update the graphical representation as soon as anything changes. This graphical view is a great starting point for understanding how applications have been deployed and for identifying and troubleshooting problems.

Newbie-FlowMap

Graphical representation of application components and interactions.

User-defined transaction profiling – This is functionality that tracks the user activity within your applications across all of the components that service those transactions. A common term associated with transaction profiling is business transactions (BT’s). A BT is very different from a web page. Here’s an example… As a user of a website I go to the login page, type in my username and password, then hit the submit button. As soon as I hit submit a BT is started on the application servers. The app servers may communicate with many different components (LDAP, Database, message queue, etc…) in order to authenticate my credentials. All of this activity is tracked and measured and associated with a single “login” BT. This is a very important concept in APM and is shown in the screenshots below.

Newbie-BTList

List of all business transactions, response times, errors, and classification.

Newbie-TxnFlowMap

Graphical representation of a single business transaction within an application.

Component deep-dive monitoring in application context - Deep dive monitoring is when you record and measure the internal workings of application components. For application servers, this would entail recording the call stack of code execution and the timing associated with each method. For a database server this would entail recording all of the SQL queries, stored procedure executions, and database statistics. This information is used to troubleshoot complex code issues that are responsible for poor performance or errors.

Newbie-CallStack

Application server deep dive call stack showing methods, timing, and next hop.

Newbie-DB

Database deep dive showing all sql activity and timing.

Analytics – This term leaves a lot to be desired since it can be and often is very liberally interpreted. To me, analytics (in the context of APM) means baselining, and correlating data to provide actionable information. To others analytics can be as basic as providing reporting capabilities that simply format the raw data in a more consumable manner. I think analytics should help identify and solve problems and be more than just reporting but that is my personal opinion.

Newbie-Scorecard

Transaction scorecard based upon baselines and deviation from normal behavior.

Newbie-MetricBaseline

Chart showing average response time of transactions with baseline data as dotted line.

Do I need APM?

APM tools have many use cases. If you provide support for application components or the infrastructure components that service the applications then APM is an invaluable tool for your job. If you are a developer the absolutely yes, APM fits right in with the entire software development lifecycle. If your company is adopting a DevOps philosophy, APM is a tool that is collaborative at it’s core and enables developers and operations staff to work more effectively. Companies that are using APM tools consider them a competitive advantage because they resolve problems faster, solve more issues over time, and provide meaningful business insight.

How can I get started with APM?

First off you need an application to monitor. Assuming you have access to one, you can try AppDynamics for free for 30 days by clicking here. If you want to understand more about the process used in most companies to purchase APM tools you can read about it by clicking here.

Hopefully this introduction has provided you with a foundation for starting an APM journey. If there are more related topics that you want me to write about please let me know in the comments section below.

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