Monitoring versus Management

March 31 2010

Many people are confused by the terms “monitoring” and “management.”  This is because only application monitoring solutions have typically been available in the marketplace, so that’s what people are used to seeing.  If a solution comes along that calls itself “management,” buyers don’t necessarily know the difference.

AppDynamics has embraced the APM label, but we’re aware that people may consider us a monitoring solution. And that’s fine–if they’re looking for that, they’ll get that.  Plus the bonus package.

So what’s the difference?

A monitoring solution collects data points from hardware/software systems and displays it. If you’re monitoring 100 systems and each system has 1,000 metrics, the tool will collect and display those 100,000 metrics.  Then, it’s up to the user to look at the data manually, try to find if problems are occurring, and determine what might be the root cause.  It’s possible to set up alerts that send notifications when a certain metric crosses a threshold.

In short–you get a lot of data. But you have to piece together the data yourself, figure out what story it’s trying to tell, and then take your own action.  It’s useful–but only as much as getting a ride from a friend, who drops you off a mile from your destination and forces you to walk the rest of the way.

Tech blogger Lori MacVittie writes on the subject:

“For a very long time now APM (Application Performance Management) has been a misnomer. It’s always really been application performance monitoring, with very little management occurring outside of triggering manual processes requiring the attention of operators and developers…it has rarely been the case that APM solutions have really been about, well, managing application performance. Certainly they’ve attempted to provide the data necessary to manually manage applications and do an excellent job of correlation and even in some cases deep trouble-shooting of root-cause performance problems. But real-time, dynamic, on-demand performance management? Not so much.”

A performance management solution closes that gap.  It collects data points from hardware/software systems, analyzes them intelligently, and proactively identifies the problems before they impact business users.  It identifies the level and nature of the business impact, pinpoints the root cause of the problem for rapid resolution, and simplifies or even automates remediation.

For example, let’s say your application needs extra resources during peak loads.  A true APM solution will know your application’s historical performance, and it will know when to provision additional resources.  In this instance, the tool is acting on your behalf, helping manage the application without manual intervention.

But application management also works when it helps warn users ahead of time that something bad is about to happen, allowing proactive remediation.  For example, by knowing exactly when performance deviates from the standard baseline, it can alert the user when memory leaks threaten to bring down a machine. That allows the application owner to create a workflow that directs traffic away from the machine, re-starts the machine, and then brings traffic back to the machine.

Knowing where dangers lie ahead of time–and having a clear path to not only root cause analysis, but root cause problem resolution–is a far cry from a typical monitoring solution, which flashes an array of confusing alerts when it’s already too late to avoid hitting the iceberg.

There’s nothing wrong with monitoring.  But until it’s matched with true performance management, it’s going to offer extremely limited utility to the application owner.

Jyoti Bansal
Jyoti founded AppDynamics in early 2008 with the vision of defining the next-generation of application performance management (APM) solutions for distributed applications running in cloud, virtual, and physical environments. Before founding AppDynamics, Jyoti led the design and architecture for several products at Wily Technology. Jyoti received his BS in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He is the lead inventor on 14 US patent applications in the field of distributed applications management.

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