In today’s digital economy, an application isn’t just part of a business — in most cases, it is a company’s business.
That’s why performance problems create headaches for IT teams and significant obstacles to business growth and profitability. What’s more, outside of the enterprise, consumer expectations regarding application performance are changing. Today, people want flawless digital experiences on demand, and any problems they experience must be resolved in real-time.
Fortunately, today’s technology is evolving as quickly as consumer expectations, particularly in the application performance monitoring (APM) space. But understanding the breadth and depth of an APM solution can represent a bit of a challenge.
Let’s fix that with an overview of the nuts and bolts of application performance monitoring, and how it can help you optimize IT operations and grow your business.
What is application performance monitoring?
Using application performance monitoring (APM) solutions, businesses can monitor whether their IT environment meets performance standards, identify bugs and potential issues, and provide flawless user experiences via close monitoring of IT resources. The best APM solutions provide IT teams with the information they need to connect application performance to business outcomes, as well as identify and fix performance issues before they impact the end-user, and in theory, reducing mean time to resolution (MTTR).
Application performance monitoring shouldn’t be confused with a related concept, “application performance management” (also referred to interchangeably as “APM”). The latter refers to the broader strategy of managing performance excellence, of which monitoring is only part. In addition to detection of problems, comprehensive APM solutions tell you when and where in their journey users are affected and why the problem occurred — for faster and more proactive remediation in the future. This is where APM drives enormous value for IT teams.
What do APM solutions measure?
The key to supporting the user journey is understanding the health of every business transaction that runs through your app in real-time. In short, end-to-end application performance monitoring works by:
- Observing whether your apps are behaving normally
- If not, alerting to and collecting data on the source of the problem (be it the app, app dependencies, or supporting infrastructure)
- Analyzing the data in the context of the impact on the business
- Adapting your application environment to fix similar problems before they impact the business
APM tracks and aggregates information on almost anything that plays a role in app availability. But let’s run through a few of the most critical application performance monitoring metrics:
- CPU usage: At the server level, APM looks at CPU usage, memory demands, and disk read/write speeds to make sure usage doesn’t affect app performance.
- Error rates: At the software level, APM tracks how often app performance degrades or fails. For example, when web requests end in an error or during memory-intensive processes like searching a database.
- Response times: Average Response Time is the metric that shows whether speed is affecting app performance.
- Number of instances: For elastic, cloud-based applications, you need to know how many server or app instances you have running at any one time. APM solutions that support autoscaling can then cost-effectively scale your app to meet user demand.
- Request rates: This metric measures how much traffic your application receives — any spikes, inactivity, or numbers of concurrent users.
- Application availability/uptime: This metric, which monitors whether your app is online and available, is the one most enterprises use to check compliance with SLAs.
- Garbage collection (GC): If your app is written Java or another programming language that uses GC, you’ll be all too familiar with the problems that arise from its heavy use of memory. This is an often-hidden performance problem that’s worth paying attention to.
- Customer satisfaction: Arguably the most important measure is how users feel about their experience. At Appdynamics, we use a combination of Apdex scores and SLA thresholds to measure user “satisfaction” or “tolerance” against baseline performance.
By correlating data across monitoring silos into a single source of truth (the pièce de résistance of an application performance monitoring dashboard), APM saves IT professionals a ton of manual time searching through individual event logs or building synthetic monitors. But why else is APM so important?
Why use application performance monitoring?
Let’s step back a moment and consider the alternatives.
Without an APM solution, you might manage app performance using:
- Synthetic transactions. If this is how you plan to monitor application performance, you should determine how you’ll be alerted to new issues. How would you differentiate between normal and abnormal slowdowns or get to the root cause of problems quickly?
- Manual instrumentation. Challenges abound when adding performance monitoring code to your app. How do you know which code to instrument? How will you maintain it? What if you decide to monitor any additional metrics down the road?
- Customer feedback. You don’t want customers calling support to alert you to problems. But without an APM solution, it’s impossible to take a proactive approach to solving performance issues.
None of these options allow you to easily identify the why behind performance, and that’s critical to protecting your resources and your bottom line. For that you need a holistic approach to APM, and the best way to do that is with a proven solution.
Tips for APM success
Of course, there are a few ways to heighten your chances of success when optimizing user experiences. APM is only as good as the product, processes, and people behind it.
So that means:
Choosing the right tools
The APM market is loaded with solutions, each with their own set of performance monitoring tools. Be sure to choose APM tools with a strong focus on ease-of-use, end-user experiences, and turning data (from a wide and deep view of your environment) into actionable insights. At a fundamental level, you’ll need an APM solution that can:
- Manage apps built in your language
- Monitor your entire infrastructure stack
- Monitor performance at code-level
- Leverage artificial intelligence
- Connect the dots between app performance and business outcomes
Creating the right rules
APM works best when configured to your unique business challenges. You can create rules for things like: what you consider “normal” app behavior, or what deviates from an SLA; which apps are business-critical; or for monitoring problems in specific areas, or against certain thresholds. APM solutions can then adapt and automate alerts and remediation accordingly.
Training the right users
Last but not least, you need well-trained internal customers. Key players here are the people tasked with deploying APM, who should know your app inside out, and your developers, who are best positioned to remediate problems as they arise.
But the real magic happens when APM is adopted across the entire organization. Everyone needs to understand the close relationship between app performance and the business. Combine skilled IT, interdepartmental collaboration, and solid support from your vendor team, and you have a recipe for APM — and bottom-line — success.
One last thing to note: When caught up in the inner workings of their technology, it’s easy for enterprises to lose sight of the application’s true role: to serve the business. Make APM a driver of strong business operations, and you’d be surprised. The rest will follow.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You now know enough about APM to get started. Still, APM is always evolving and maturing, and best practices with it. We encourage you to follow along with performance management advancements from resources like Gartner, 451 Research, and other industry analysts.