What Is Application Performance Monitoring?

Application performance monitoring (APM) allows businesses to identify potential issues, ensure optimal use, and provide a seamless user experience online.

In today's digital world, applications are no longer an add-on -- they're often the lifeblood of the business itself. Users no longer wonder if something will work -- they expect it. That’s why when business transactions are interrupted by outages, slowdowns, or hiccups in the digital experience, it can result in the loss of not only a sale, but also brand reputation and trust. Application performance monitoring tools allow for real-time monitoring and root cause analysis of performance issues which can help maintain application uptime.

APM solutions can optimize IT operations by alerting your IT team about potential obstacles to business growth and profitability, and ultimately providing end-users with a flawless user experience.

Why is application monitoring important?

The world of technology is constantly evolving, and software applications are more complex, dynamic, and widely distributed than ever before. Basic application architecture has also changed formats over time, from standalone to client-server, then to mobile devices and cloud services.

Regardless of how complex application environments become, customers still expect the apps they use to work at any time, on any device, from anywhere in the world. This makes monitoring the performance of business-critical applications crucial to running a thriving and competitive business.

What are the core tenets of an APM strategy?

The ever-changing nature of IT Ops requires agility to stay current as the industry evolves. Effective APM requires a well-defined strategy, which includes the following core tenets:

Proximity counts

The performance of applications and websites can suffer depending on the distance of a user from your data center. Consequently, the most reliable way to monitor application performance involves being as geographically close to your user base as possible. If your data center is located in North America, users in areas like India or China are exposed to additional elements that can affect the transaction, such as CDNs, ISPs, and caching services.

Predict, don't react

Instead of simply detecting existing problems, performance monitoring capabilities have expanded to allow IT teams to predict potential issues, as well. The current climate of the digital world no longer allows a reactive response without the ill-effect of unhappy customers. An evolved APM strategy requires a proactive approach, using historical data and advanced metrics to identify vulnerabilities, trouble areas, and root causes before they become significant issues.

Manage moving parts

Third-party services are a necessary component of most online businesses. APM tools allow you to monitor third-party applications to ensure that service level agreements (SLAs) are being met. The ability to deep dive into advanced analytics to identify when a third-party service is the cause of a performance issue allows for a faster response time in modifying or removing problematic assets.

Understand user experience

Synthetic monitoring utilizes behavioral scripts to simulate user behavior, and is helpful for the development and testing process prior to deployment or while making changes to a digital asset. However, its effectiveness is dependent on your ability to predict all paths of user behavior, which is increasingly difficult as web applications become more complex.

Real-user monitoring helps provide data that allows insight regarding common landing pages and conversation paths, but fails to provide the most accurate view of web page and application response time. As a result, a combination of both is the most comprehensive performance monitoring method for identifying areas in need of optimization.

What does APM measure?

Application performance monitoring involves observing the behavior of apps, alerting and collecting data on the sources of any issues, analyzing data to assess the impact on business, and adapting the application to address similar problems before they impact the end user experience.

The most business-critical application monitoring metrics include:

CPU usage

APM monitors your web server for data related to CPU usage, memory demands, and disk read/write speeds to make sure usage doesn't negatively affect performance.

Error rates

APM tracks how often app performance experiences degradation, and helps identify issues like web requests ending in an error or failing during a memory-intensive process.

Response time or mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR)

Measuring average response time or MTTR helps determine whether speed is having an impact on app performance.

Number of instances

Knowing how many server or app instances you have running at one time is an important metric for cloud-based applications. APM solutions can cost effectively autoscale your app to meet user demand.

Request rates

Evaluating how much traffic your application receives and collecting data on spikes, inactivity, or number of active users can help identify areas in need of optimization or pinpoint the source of problems.

Application availability

Monitoring the uptime of your application is the easiest and most effective method available to check compliance with SLAs.

Garbage collection (GC)

If your app is written in a programming language that uses GC, like Java, you're likely to experience problems associated with its heavy use of memory, making it necessary to monitor for performance degradation.

User experience

Undoubtedly, the most important element of an application with users involves how customers feel about their experience. AppDynamics uses a combination of Apdex scores and SLA thresholds to measure user satisfaction or tolerance against baseline performance.

Compiling data across monitoring platforms into a solitary source of information increases the productivity of your IT environment by reducing time spent manually searching through event logs or building synthetic monitors.

APM best practices

Even the most effective monitoring methods require foundational knowledge to increase the likelihood of success. APM is no different. Keep the following in mind when developing your app and infrastructure monitoring strategy.

Choose the right solution

There are many options available in the APM market, and each has their own set of features for monitoring performance. Focus on a solution that will allow you to get a total picture of the IT environment while connecting key business transactions to business outcomes. Cover the basics with an APM solution that:

  • Monitors the entire infrastructure stack

  • Monitors performance down to the code-level

  • Provides real-time analysis of your IT environment

  • Leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning

  • Creates a correlation between app performance and business outcome

Use a combination of monitoring methods

The most effective monitoring strategies involve a variety of methods, including APM.

The drawbacks inherent in alternative forms of traditional monitoring methods can be mitigated when APM is incorporated into a comprehensive monitoring plan. For example:

Synthetic transactions

Deciding how you'll be alerted to new issues is a consideration if you monitor application performance solely via synthetic transactions. How will you discern the difference between normal and anomalous slowdowns, or identify the root cause of performance-related problems?

Manual instrumentation

Adding performance monitoring code to your app can be challenging for many reasons. How do you choose which code to use? How will you maintain the code? How will you monitor additional metrics in the future? These are all important considerations as you think about application performance monitoring.

Customer feedback

If you’re letting your end users function as your quality assurance mechanism, you’re going to run into a wide range of problems, from customer dissatisfaction to high mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR). Taking a proactive approach to performance issues can save you time and money in the future.

The ability to monitor availability, response time, error rates, code-level errors, and downtime gives you an inside look at a user's experience throughout the customer lifecycle along with an increased ability to evaluate the quality of service your business is providing.

APM allows you to assess application health on an ongoing basis and in an automated way, without inconveniencing end users.

Implement effective rules

The best performing APM solutions are configured to address the unique challenges and obstacles faced by your business. Create rules regarding normal app behavior or what deviates from an SLA, prioritizing business-critical applications, or for monitoring problems in specific areas or against certain benchmarks.

Train the right team

The key players involved with deploying APM should know your app from end to end, and should be able to identify and mitigate problems efficiently and effectively. End-user experience monitoring is a core component of future growth and success. A well-trained team who understands the nuanced IT environment and the importance of performance monitoring is one of the most valuable investments your business can make.

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