If you’ve ever browsed the internet, streamed music, or used social media, you’re likely familiar with applications.
Business applications are a critical part of any corporate infrastructure, and their use cases range from browsing the internet to making business decisions and customer transactions.
With a critical dependency on applications comes a need to ensure their performance standards never drop for the sake of unimpeded business. Companies are striving to make sure their apps provide an excellent user experience, lest they are downplayed and ignored in this competitive market.
Due to the critical nature of monitoring and managing applications, application performance management has created a noticeable market for itself, proving itself necessary no matter the size or nature of the business.
What is APM?
Application performance management (APM) is a software solution that ensures the peak performance of business applications and infrastructure. It aims to proactively monitor applications across a distributed infrastructure to understand and improve end-user experience.
APM, as a set of carefully curated software tools, helps organizations align their tech capabilities to meet business objectives by not letting them lose sight of critical metrics such as infrastructure health and server strength.
It assists organizations in building robust, high-performance applications, gives round-the-clock monitoring support, and helps in troubleshooting problematic applications and code. APM also takes care of the end-user metrics which provide useful insights on what’s working the best for their applications and what’s not.
Interestingly, APM is used interchangeably to define both application performance management and application performance monitoring. The difference is quite subtle. While application performance management provides an overall insight and resource utilization picture, application performance monitoring examines the performance problems and component utilization of each application.
With a predicted market share of $11.9 billion by 2027, the majority of businesses around the world have observed that application performance is critical to business performance, which is a strong statistic in favor of performance monitoring solutions.
Application performance monitoring tools monitor the application speed and performance and identify potential bottlenecks for an application’s optimal experience.
Now that we know what APM is, let’s check out details about APM tools and their major functionalities.
How does APM work?
APM tools ensure the optimal performance of each application by thorough infrastructure monitoring at each step and identifying the potential breakpoints that might cause an issue. Here’s a step-by-step approach to explain the working of any APM tool.
Monitor applications in their baseline working conditions
Baseline working conditions for an application are defined as the measurement of the performance of the application in normal conditions without any external factors, which is recorded to chart the graph of the application performance later on.
Mention any persistent and possible issue to IT team
APM software is responsible for detecting all ongoing and probable issues that can arise in a component that may later lead to a business impact. Teams are kept informed of such issues so that they are prepared to handle them as they come.
Identify the root cause for the issue
Detecting application issues is followed by identifying the root cause for them. Pinpointing the root cause allows developers to take preventive and corrective measures so that the issue doesn’t resurface again.
Analyze the business impact
For every defect that’s recognized in the system, APM needs to examine the business impact it’s going to have and decide the priority of getting it fixed accordingly. Some business impacts may not manifest immediately, which means they’ll need to be watched more closely.
Adopt measures to fix similar issues
APM is responsible for planning out contingencies for similar issues that may occur later. With the knowledge gained from debugging a particular issue, all future occurrences are avoidable or can be resolved sooner without any business impact.
Major functionalities of APM
Every APM software caters to some basic measures that uphold and maintain the health of the business applications. Let’s take a look at the major functionalities APM tools take care of.
End-user activity monitoring (EUAM)
End-user activity monitoring (EUAM) enables organizations to monitor business applications from a user perspective. It ensures the quality of IT services deployed across an organization and helps IT team gain visibility on the end-user satisfaction metrics.
Server monitoring helps collect data such as CPU utilization, memory usage, server metrics, and trends over time to facilitate the concerned team with valuable insights on web and application servers.
Service-level management is responsible for ensuring all operational-level agreements are following the service-level targets. In simpler words, it promises the operations to be carried out within an agreed-upon timeline, under predefined conditions. APM provides visibility into the possible bottlenecks in an application, thus enabling the proper channels to work with if a problem arises, and not lose precious support time.
APM tools are well equipped to troubleshoot application performance issues. They help provide performance insights from application logs in the form of integrated log analytics and can present the component health metrics in a single UI for a comprehensive view.
It’s largely useful in swift monitoring of all applications at once. APM also provides details about the lifecycle of business transactions which are helpful in case particular transaction counters or causes any issues in the system.
APM provides extra visibility into database performance through metrics such as transaction monitoring which can identify sources of latency, SQL syntax error, and server-level errors.
It’s quite obvious that APM is used for quite a broad range of monitoring services. Each APM tool specializes in monitoring a specific set of metrics and provides insights based on them.
Types of APM monitoring tools
APM covers a wide range of application monitoring software solutions, and each of the APM tools uses different metrics to judge and analyze application performance. Here are the three most widely used metrics to distinguish between APM tools.
App metrics based tools
Application performance can be measured by app load time or the number of requests your application can process. Such metrics can be identified through these APM tools.
Code performance based tools
Code performance-based APM tools analyze the complexity of the code using code profiling and track the lifecycle of business transactions to find the root cause of any issue. They then provide developers with an option to fix performance issues without touching the entire code.
Network based tools
Network-based APM tools use metrics such as traffic and uptime to measure the performance of an application.
Must-have APM features
A good APM software solution needs to provide timely, actionable insights to developers for them to identify application performance issues and work toward their resolution. Let’s take a look at the must-have features for every APM tool.
Web request performance tracking
APM tools should be able to track the performance of each web application request that comes into the organizational server. This includes their frequency, speed, and the reason for any performance anomalies. If a web request comes in for processing, APM should store and process their usage metrics to give developers an idea about their potential performance.
Code level performance segregation
Getting down to the code level is an optimized way for APM tools to understand the performance of any application. Code-level performance segregation helps in gaining insights on the parts of the code throwing errors, dependencies that are slowing down the requests, and the methods in the application that are slow performers.
Performance and usage tracking of application dependencies
APM tools need to track the usage and performance of application dependencies like databases, web services, and caching to know the target problematic area when an issue arises. Segregating the problematic areas and the potential areas where issues happen helps developers to catch if something goes wrong earlier on.
Detailed info on individual transactions
Transaction traces like as web request URLs, logging statements, key methods in your code, user profile, and application errors can help find the root cause of an issue faster and how it might affect the end-user experience. For instance, if it’s a case of a wrong input type in a request, the issue can be identified quickly owing to the information provided by the APM.
Basic server metrics monitoring
Server metrics such as CPU utilization and memory need to be monitored by APM tools to avoid any app anomalies due to server overload issues. Define a baseline for each metric to detect the surges and unusual activity.
Application framework metrics
APM tools need to be able to monitor metrics such as page load times, transaction volumes, request queueing, and others for better insights on application performance. These metrics are useful in determining the efficiency of an application framework and helps the app developers to modify and optimize them.
Custom application metrics
Developers have custom application performance metrics that need to be measured by the respective APM tools for generating more value and better application insights. These metrics have to be incorporated into the APM monitored metrics each time there is a new addition needed.
Logs are detailed descriptions of everything that has gone wrong inside an application. APM tools need to provide developers with access to the log files because it’s often the easiest way for them to figure out what went wrong at which transaction step.
APM solutions need to provide optimum error tracking, reporting, and alerting services for each application. Better implementation includes setting up alerts for new errors and proactive monitoring of error rates.
Real user monitoring
Real user monitoring (RUM) is used to gauge real-time application metrics such as load time and transaction paths. APM tools supporting RUM ensure quality insights on the application performance on the server-side.
Now we know what an ideal APM software should look like. But does your business really need one? What makes APM a must-have in the present business scenario? Let’s find out.
Why your business needs an APM tool
Many organizations have distributed teams. Take Facebook, for example. Graph API is responsible for reading data in and out from Facebook’s social graph. It interacts with all of the APIs and products is a wonderful way to demonstrate the business criticality of well-designed applications.
An APM tool provides an organization a master key to pinpoint all ongoing and potential issues with the business-critical applications. Here are the benefits APM tools have to offer.
Better revenue and cost-efficiency
APM tools ensure better operational capabilities for apps with thorough monitoring. They indirectly contribute to solid business results. Operational costs are brought down by using APM tools by leveraging the preventive measure features, minimizing poor performances, and sorting out hidden inefficiencies.
This projects a positive financial impact on the company revenue overall by helping the organization retain customers with quality service.
Optimized application performance means lesser business downtime and faster problem isolation. Less downtime leads to a lower impact on business transactions and ensures that the service-level agreement (SLA) for operational deadlines is honored.
Improving the end-user experience
APM keeps you one step ahead of your competitors by identifying potential threats to your application performance such as data vulnerability, suboptimal SQL queries, and isolated network issues. For a customer using the end-product, effectively identifying threats will lead to faster response times, improving your overall experience with the application.
APM tools provide insights that help in reducing man-hours spent on redundant and repetitive troubleshooting for known issues. These insights range anywhere from recognizing potential problem areas to identifying market trends for better performance. This leads to higher productivity and business effectiveness.
Reduced dependency on experts
APM tools provide end-to-end visibility on the entire application infrastructure meaning the dependency on app experts is reduced. Multiple employees can learn how to handle known application failures. Lower dependency on SMEs and app experts is a useful thing for any company trying to scale up in the market without having to rely on a specific set of people to carry all the burden.
Better application insights mean better data analytics and faster business decisions. APM tools ease the collaboration between teams by providing them a common ground to drive innovation.
With such promising and profitable aspects for your business, choosing to adopt an APM probably seems like a good idea now. But how do you decide on how to choose one? Let’s find out.
How to get started with APM
Organizations ready to leap into the APM arena need to find a meta strategy that can optimize the use of APM for their business. Here are a few tips to get started.
Look at the big picture
An optimized APM strategy will take technology metrics into account along with the on-premises IT infrastructure. Metrics from both server and infrastructure sides such as tracking exceptions in programs, log analysis, and tracking poor transactions that don’t yield the optimal results, should be included in the monitoring process.
Define your crucial metrics
It’s imperative while creating an APM strategy that we include monitoring the basic metrics such as code speed, memory consumption, and CPU utilization while keeping in mind that your business may also require custom metrics monitored. For example, a social media-based business may need to monitor the usage timing metrics of their application along with metrics pertaining to performance.
Allocate resources effectively
Consider real-time usage metrics for effective resource allocation; they help minimize the impact of application performance issues and make necessary changes. For example, if a component’s metrics indicate that it’s under or overutilized, the APM solution can allocate any required resources.
Setup actionable alerts
APM solutions can help you automate and plan an elaborate system of alerts designed to catch the slightest anomaly before they impact your users. Each alert can carry a priority, which can make the action plans easier to create.
Make monitoring mainstream
Integrating monitoring as a part of each project’s software development life cycle is a good habit to follow to weed out potential errors in the production environment. APM solutions can aid testing environments, thus eliminating obvious errors that come with any code change or additions.
Precisely document the setup
The whole APM onboarding and the setup process should be extensively documented after every iteration so that there is a reference point for any team who would like to use the monitoring system. Documentation also makes it easier for newly onboarded teammates to understand the monitoring strategy before they start using and developing the apps.
Onboarding an APM strategy takes a lot of brainstorming before choosing the best APM tool for your organization. While there are many key players in the APM arena, let’s focus on the key players in the marketplace today.
Top 5 APM tools
APM tools help organizations monitor, track, and analyze the performance of business-critical applications. They provide valuable insights for predefined server, network, and component metrics.
To qualify for inclusion as a top APM solution, a software must:
- Monitor, track, and analyze the performance of software applications
- Alert concerned team when any performance anomaly occurs
- Provide data visualization for better insight delivery to business
- Help in resolving underlying issues with performance
*Below are the five leading Application Performance Monitoring solution providers from G2’s Winter 2021 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.
Dynatrace is an all-in-one platform to measure the performance of the applications. It enables users to collaborate over existing infrastructure and provides observational insights that are valuable for the business.
What users like:
“We have been using Dynatrace to monitor numerous services and databases in the company. It has a great dashboard to directly monitor in real-time. Automatic diagnostic tools of Dynatrace saved us a lot of time since we didn’t spend time setting alarm criteria.”
– Dynatrace Review, Himanshu V.
What users dislike:
“Sometimes the alerts can be a bit too much and will need some learning and adjustment to suit individual organization needs as there is no one size fits all. Lack of experience using the product may prove to be a stumbling block without an expert to guide. At times, the integration doesn’t go smoothly and will require additional learning and research to move forward.”
– Dynatrace Review, Joseph C.
2. New Relic One
New Relic One works with real-time applications and provides dynamic server monitoring. It also provides application standardization protocols for organizations.
What users like:
“The system is remarkably reliable and resilient and offers plenty of options to allow us to integrate it into our communications workflows. The “intelligence” of the monitoring is impressive, as is the visualization of the status data.”
– New Relic One Review, Steve S.
What users dislike:
“No feature to share the graph/traces over an email. We have to keep taking screenshots for our operational performance reviews.”
– New Relic One Review, Rajan P.
AppDynamics by Cisco provides monitoring services for cloud-native applications and provides useful user experience data to businesses.
What users like:
“Transaction snapshot drill down gives a very detailed insight of the transaction that was slow or had an error, the call graphs provide the quickest view of a transaction path with the time taken at each node and time taken between nodes. The upsides are baseline comparison against daily/weekly/monthly trends. Custom dashboards cater to the needs of all the teams across every level in our organization.”
– AppDynamics Review, Keynes A.
What users dislike:
“When configuring for multiple regions running identical software products, AppDynamics is time-consuming to configure all applications the same. This applies to dashboards, as well.”
– AppDynamics Review, William B.
4. Splunk Enterprise
Splunk Enterprise helps organizations control and monitor IT infrastructure and applications. It provides real-time operational intelligence.
What users like:
“The best part of this tool is that it supports log monitoring on the multiple OS platforms and provides the alerting based on the log information which helps an organization to check multiple anomalies happening in the systems.
Also, this tool greatly supports the next-generation tool and cloud concept. It’s really impressive to continue monitoring the authentication and many more aspects.”
– Splunk Enterprise Review, Swapnil T.
What users dislike:
“Splunk can be complicated to navigate and use for identifying a particular transaction. I often had to ask someone for assistance when attempting to search for something in particular or to understand fully what I was reading. There’s an overload of data and you can get lost looking for one or a few transactions.”
– Splunk Enterprise Review, Maya P.
5. SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor
SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor provides deep insights into the business application performance issues by correlating the underlying infrastructure and virtual server architecture.
What users like:
“Using SolarWinds we monitor our servers (CPU, Memory, Disk, Network) now we can be proactive. Easy to generate reports and install agents.”
– SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor Review, Eduin Z.
What users dislike:
“This software offers a great workflow but its GUI is always outdated, its architecture seems to be complex, and its pricing is very high compared to other similar solutions. It has some glitches that need to be fixed but overall this software delivers what it says. And I don’t see something else bad about SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor.”
Ramp up your business with APM
In a SaaS-based world, APM solutions are a no-brainer for businesses trying to make a mark with optimized application performance. APM is a collaborative software that helps organizations scale with faster resolution times, better solutions, and meaningful business insights.
With multicloud adoption on the rise, cloud environments being accepted each day, and a more distributed organizational pattern becoming the norm, APM solutions can ease the pain of being a growing business along with helping the business create a clean brand image for hassle-free services.