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What is APM? - Application Performance Monitoring Basics

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What is Application Performance Monitoring (APM)?

Application Performance Monitoring (APM) is the process of using software tools and telemetry data to monitor the performance of business-critical applications. The goal is to maintain expected service levels and ensure customers have a positive application experience. APM tools provide real-time data and insights into application performance. This allows IT teams, DevOps, and site reliability engineers to quickly identify and troubleshoot application issues.

Why Is Application Performance Monitoring Important?

Effective application performance monitoring (APM) is integral to an enterprise’s success. It helps ensure that your digital services run smoothly with minimal downtime, and that your customers consistently receive positive experiences.

APM offers several benefits to businesses, including improved efficiency, faster problem resolution, and increased customer satisfaction.

Customer Satisfaction

Application Performance Management (APM) is an effective tool for pinpointing where issues occur across an application. It also highlights common problems in the digital customer journey. By identifying areas that deliver maximum value to your end users, you can improve the customer experience. APM is also effective in determining the effectiveness of changes. For example, if a business introduces a new customer service bot, APM metrics can measure how many customers had their queries solved by using the bot.

Rapid Diagnosis

Even a few minutes of downtime can result in financial losses and failed customer journeys. Application Performance Management (APM) can quickly diagnose performance issues and direct IT teams to the root cause of the problem. This swift diagnosis helps minimize downtime, allowing technology teams to spend more time developing new applications rather than fixing existing ones.

Reduced operating costs

APM tools enable IT teams to determine the necessary resources, infrastructure, and computing power to keep applications performing optimally. This ensures that operating costs are kept to a minimum.

Effective Product Development

Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools can be an integral part of a product’s development process. You can implement APM in a test or live environment and use APM tools to monitor and analyze synthetic traffic, uncover limitations, and identify errors. By tapping into actionable insights before an application goes live, development teams can fix bugs that would previously only have become evident after launch.

Business Collaboration

Sharing metrics and analysis across business units can improve communication, break down silos, engage employees, and increase productivity.

What Data does APM Collect?

  • Metrics: Quantified measures used to understand the status of a specific process. They are often compared to a defined baseline to analyze the status of the system or process. Changing metrics can indicate an underlying issue.
  • Traces: Show the complete processing of a request, illustrating the entire journey of a request as it travels through all the components and services of the network. Traces can contain hundreds of data points, which can be used to diagnose errors, detect security threats, and isolate network issues.
  • Log files: Automatically created by an application or operating system, logs contain information about user behavior and events that took place on the app. Log files can be used to perform root cause analysis, understand why a metric changed, and identify where an event began.

What Metrics Does Application Performance Monitoring Track?

Application performance monitoring (APM) tracks common metrics, such as:

CPU Usage

APM solutions can monitor CPU metrics, like CPU usage and memory demands. This ensures your application is getting the compute resources it requires to operate adequately.

Response Times

Response times are significant for enterprises, as users expect to access services without delay. APM solutions measure against an acceptable baseline performance for response times and alert you if they fall below the threshold.

Error Rates

APM software monitors applications to record and report error rates. An example of an error is when a web inquiry times out or a database query fails. APM delivers alerts when the error rate rises above predefined parameters. For example, if 5% of the last 50 requests resulted in an error, APM will send an alert.

Transaction Tracing

Transaction tracing in APM provides an accurate picture of single transactions carried out in an application. Information captured in transaction tracing includes available function calls, external calls, and database calls. It monitors the transaction request from start to finish.

Instances

An APM solution can monitor and report how many server or application instances your applications are running. It can alert you to scale up or down to meet user demand.

Requests

APM software monitors how many user requests your application receives. By monitoring the traffic, the software can send alerts if it detects any anomalies. For example, it can alert you to unexpected increases in requests, large numbers of requests from the same user, or unusually low requests.

Uptime

Uptime is critically important for enterprises that provide online services. Many service level agreements (SLAs) only allow a small percentage of downtime across predetermined periods. Application Performance Monitoring (APM) monitors application availability and compares levels to those agreed upon by the service provider and customer.

What are the use cases of Application Performance Monitoring?

There are several use cases of Application Performance Monitoring (APM), which we describe below.

Real User Monitoring

Real User Monitoring, or End-User Experience Monitoring, is the collection and analysis of user data to build an understanding of an application’s performance levels. By establishing a baseline for acceptable performance, you can accurately predict when an application will experience issues. For example, if the number of customers experiencing problems when trying to check out items is above the threshold, the APM sends an alert to the relevant teams.

You can perform User Monitoring in two ways:

  • Synthetic Monitoring simulates user behavior to capture problems before application release to production.
  • Agentless Monitoring analyzes network traffic without the need to install software agents on monitored applications.

User-defined transaction profiling

APM solutions can be used to replicate common user interactions with applications, allowing for better understanding of the conditions under which issues occur with digital services. IT teams often use user-defined transaction profiling to troubleshoot applications and fix common user issues.

Component monitoring

Component monitoring, also known as application component deep-dive monitoring, comprehensively tracks an application’s entire IT infrastructure performance. Monitored resources include memory usage, servers, CPU utilization, and network components.

Infrastructure monitoring

APM tools can be used to collect data from IT infrastructure, such as servers (server monitoring), containers (container monitoring), databases (database monitoring), virtual machines (VM monitoring), and other backend systems, in order to detect performance problems and find the root cause of application errors.

Analytics

Effective APM provides data for analytics that enterprises can use to fix or improve their applications. Some APM tools use artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms to conduct predictive analysis, diagnose root causes of errors, and link complex application performance problems.

SLA Monitoring

Service level agreements (SLAs) are critical contracts between IT service providers and clients. They set out the required levels of service that both parties agree upon. Application performance monitoring (APM) can monitor the performance metrics in SLA frameworks, which helps providers ensure they are meeting expectations. It also highlights areas where providers are in danger of falling below the standards outlined in the SLA.

What is the difference between application performance monitoring and observability?

Modern applications with complex architecture require more than just application performance monitoring (APM) to troubleshoot issues. Observability brings together information from the entirety of an IT stack into a central platform where high-level business intelligence and insights can be acted upon. APM is a subset of observability. While APM gives an aggregate view of metrics, observability uses several other tools, like distributed tracing, to gain a comprehensive understanding of application behavior.

How do you choose the right application performance monitoring solution for your organization?

There are many factors to consider before integrating an application performance monitoring (APM) platform and its suite of tools into your IT environment.

Buy-in

Ensure that your teams understand the rationale and personal benefits behind introducing APM. Find a solution that fits in with existing systems and processes that your team is comfortable with.

Features

There are numerous APM tools available. Ensure that the APM platform you introduce has the right tools for your applications and that it supports your programming language.

Cost Requirements

Introducing APM can demand considerable compute resources, especially if you plan on monitoring several applications. Ensure that you have the necessary budget for computing resources along with the cost of the APM itself.

Ownership

Consider who will oversee and own your APM. Which teams will be responsible for maintenance and administration?

Business Solution

  • Best for holistic application diagnostics https://www.microfocus.com/en-us/solutions/application-performance-management
  • Best for extensive IT infrastructure insights $12/user/month https://checkmk.com/product/application-monitoring
  • Best for Java environment monitoring $15/user/month https://www.fusion-reactor.com/features/apm/
  • Best for network-centric APM $23/user/month https://www.whatsupgold.com/application-performance-monitoring
  • Best for code-level insights $50/user/month https://stackify.com/retrace-application-performance-monitoring/
  • Best for cloud-scale monitoring $15/user/month https://www.datadoghq.com/product/apm/
  • Best for error tracking and resolution $26/user/month https://sentry.io/lp/new-apm/
  • Best for AI-powered APM analytics $21/user/month https://www.dynatrace.com/monitoring/platform/application-performance-monitoring/
  • Best for comprehensive application health metrics $15/user/month https://newrelic.com/platform/application-monitoring
  • Best for enterprise observability https://www.ibm.com/products/instana
  • Best for Azure-based application insights https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/products/monitor/

Open Source Solution

  • SigNoz (16K star)
  • Graphite (5K star)
  • Pinpoint (13K star)
  • Javamelody, only support java
  • tagemonitor, archived
  • Scouter, only support Ruby, Python and PHP frameworks
  • Zipkin (16K star)
  • Jaeger, CNCF project (19K star)
  • Apache Skywalking (23K star)
  • Elastic APM
  • Sentry
  • Open Telemetry

Reference

  • https://www.dynatrace.com
  • https://www.techtarget.com/searchenterprisedesktop/definition/Application-monitoring-app-monitoring
  • https://aws.amazon.com/what-is/application-performance-monitoring/
  • https://www.softwaretestinghelp.com/top-10-application-performance-monitoring-tools/
  • https://newrelic.com/platform/application-monitoring
  • https://www.ibm.com/topics/application-performance-management
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