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DevSecOps

What is Application Performance Monitoring (APM)? Guide by Wallarm

What is Application Performance Monitoring (APM)? Guide by Wallarm

In the wake of digitization, it’s inconceivable to imagine productivity and perfection across the ecosystem without having optimized applications. Applications that can automate menial tasks, support collaboration, help make sense of random data, and do real-time performance analysis are everywhere. 

However, owning applications is not enough. Businesses must make sure about their upright performance & delivery. APM tools show up as a rescuer here.

Keep reading to know more about this concept.

Learning Objectives

APM - Application Performance Monitoring

Organizations adopt APM to ensure that deployed enterprise solutions are working as they should be. The approach aims to club various tools and resources capable of real-time app behavior tracking and provide adequate updates. Usually, APM also tracks customers, employees, and partner applications for comprehensive report-creation.


The Importance of APMs

Buggy, sluggish, or poorly integrated apps are of not much use as they won’t meet the expected goals. The direct impact of this would be on app’s working, its output, and its user experience. Both will decline significantly causing huge immediate and long-term losses to the organization.

APM is very helpful in cost control, operations’ performance enhancement and brand reputation management. Let’s understand its role in each aspect.

  • Importance for organizational operations

Updated and well-maintained apps support continual collaboration within and outside the team. Detailed and periodical front-end app monitoring ensures hassle-free user-experience for the audience. They always have a seamless UX.  

With back-end monitoring, it’s easier to ensure the proper functionality of corresponding dependencies. For instance, databases. If one is extensively involved in back-end monitoring, any unseen database malfunction can lead to a breakdown any time.

Keeping a tab on a digital solution/app’s infrastructure is also a part of APM. It’s vital to check if a well-configured app infrastructure exists. Whether you use locally installed apps or cloud-based tools, infrastructure monitoring helps organizations to ensure around-the-clock app availability.

This holds great significance for cloud-based applications as availability with zero restrictions is the key claim of this app delivery model.

Cloud application performance monitoring can assist app owners in spotting defects at the app’s infancy stage and fix it before it causes any severe damage.

  • Importance of cost control

Every organization tries to do effective cost control so that the revenue generated and the cost invested to maintain the workflow remains balanced. Now consider a scenario when most of the apps you use or offer to customers are poorly integrated and lack sound infrastructure.

For such an app, businesses have to invest heavily in troubleshooting and maintenance. With APM, it’s easy to detect a problem at its early stage.

Prompt remediation and troubleshooting save huge operational costs in the long run.

  • Importance of brand reputation

Whether you’re offering an app as a service or using apps as a product, their reliability performance has a great impact on your brand value and market presence.

In the first scenario, you offer an app as a service, and APM ensures that the offered app is at users’ disposal in a fully functional manner.

Any downtime or performance dip will harm the users’ trust in you, the service provider. A high customer churn rate, dissatisfaction, negative word of mouth, and reviews likely to follow that is not good for a brand's reputation.

In the latter case, you using apps as products, and not using enough APM tools will lead to insufficient app performance. Apps that are supposed to improve your productivity will rather slow you down. Your team won’t be able to complete the projects according to the given deadlines. This will also harm the brand image.


What Is The Goal of APM?

APM exists to prevent the downfall that an organization might face with ill-performing applications/systems. The viable deployment of APM empowers an organization so much that it can connect all the used apps. Fix errors quickly, and improve the remedy deployment time.

It works at both the software and hardware level to attain this goal. At the hardware level, monitoring tools track the hosting platform performance, processor utilization, and disk read/write speeds. It even tracks CPU storage.

When it comes to software-level functionality, APM monitors the error rates and more likely an application tends to fall into an operational downfall. It also monitors the code execution processes that can lead to a problem in the future.

APM - Application Performance Monitoring

5 Main Components of APM

  1. Runtime application architecture

This component’s interest is every software and hardware element crucial for perfect app execution along with the path that apps use for internal and external communication.

IT experts deploy multiple problem identification and pattern recognition methods to spot unforeseen performance troubles, updates requirements, or more storage.

  1. Real user monitoring

Often referred to as end-user experience monitoring, real user component concerns collecting the user-side performance data. This data is useful to understand how the app will be behaving on the end-user side and make necessary changes to improve UX.

Generally, two techniques are used to track user-side app performance. The first technique is synthetic monitoring which involves using bots and probes to create a real-time end-user side environment and spot the issues before delivering the app.

The second approach is agentless monitoring and concerns using data probes to monitor the traffic traveling via switches and load balancers. The gathered details are made public across the app infrastructure and concerned clients.

  1. Business transactions

This APM element focuses on inspecting particular user interactions and reinventing them to find the cause of the problem. Due to its dependency on interactions with end-users, it’s often called user-defined transaction profiling. It mostly used complicated applications to decide the viable troubleshooting solutions.

  1. Component monitoring (or Deep Dive)

As clear from its name, the deep dive is concerned with IT infrastructure component tracking. The key actions taken in this approach are server analysis, OS monitoring, network component observation, and middleware supervision.

  1. Analytics and Reporting

As the name suggests, this APM aspect is concerned with the data collected from all the above-mentioned APM components and carefully analyzing it. The data is then used for:  

  • Explaining the basic app performance overview  
  • Recognizing the key performance improvement areas by closing and analyzing the corresponding infrastructural changes
  • Forecasting the prospective future failure by closely inspecting the actionable understandings

With all these actions, this APM component ensures that the APM strategy and applications are bringing better ROI.

How Does APM Work?

The core functionality of APM tools is based upon close examination of the software/solution in real-time and spotting any wrong behavior. Any ill app behavior will lead to automatic data collection of the root cause. The collected data is then investigated deeply to find out its immediate and distant impact on the businesses.  

Based on the anticipated impact, a remedial solution is devised and implemented. This is a crisp overview of APM functionality. If you’re interested in configuring an APM platform, emphasize on the below-mentioned data categories in particular:

  • Application performance monitoring metrics

Basically a quantified measure, a metric is useful to comprehend the relative position of a particular process. When closely compared with the standard baseline, metrics help IT professionals to define the process/system’s status. Frequent change in the value of the metrics is a sign of an unnoticed problem.

  • Traces

A trace, when analyzed carefully, allows one to understand the entire request journey.

Wherever a request travels, the trace can track it and also feature the data points signaling certain errors, network issues, and unseen security threats.

  • Log files

Log files are auto-generated files featuring data related to events and behavior happening across the app. Either OS or the app itself creates log data/files. As far as their utility in APM is concerned. They are crucial for root cause analysis and finding the main cause for sudden metric modification.

As mentioned above, APM is a sub-category of app management only. So, the data locked away from monitoring due to restrictions won’t make much difference.

Detailed performance management generally asks for combining data monitoring with orchestration and automation so that certainly, considerable automation over problem fixation can be achieved.  


What Does APM Monitor?

  • Prioritization of operations/features
  • Virtual servers
  • How Apps are doing in the hybrid cloud
  • Network communication


APM Metrics

There are multiple APM metrics for defining that application/system performance. These metrics tend to vary according to the goals an organization wishes to attain with APM.

For instance, an IoT-based application will give more weightage to response-time. On contrary, web application performance monitoring will keep the web behavior metric of the app at the pivot. However, there are a handful of API metrics that are often considered in all cases, such as:

  • Web performance monitoring metric calculates the average time taken by an app in answering a user-side interaction. Basically, it indicates the speed at which an app is responding to the user's request.
  • Next, we have response time metrics that refer to the total time taken by an app to revert a user-side query or request.  
  • Resource usage is a key API metric that IT professionals use to track the consumed CPU usage by all apps. Additionally, the disk read/write speed is also analyzed to figure out whether excessive CPU usage has a negative impact on the app.
  • App availability metrics track uptime of the app and its repeated usage following the SLA in real time.
  • Request rates API metric records the traffic received by your app in a given time. Any increase or decrease in the request rate indicates the application engagement level.
  • A very crucial metric, customer satisfaction denotes the customers’ reviews or feedback about the app.
  • Error rate API metrics measure the extent to which an app degrades when software aspects are concerned. Its several instances – especially during the cloud APM – help IT professionals to track the app instances or servers' availability at a given time.



APM vs. Observability

As both terms are related to monitoring app components, many use them interchangeably. But, they are not the same. As explained earlier, APM is all about using log files, metrics, and traces to determine the real-time app performance and spot any operational failure.

Observability does the same task but in a little different manner. It explains the actual state/condition of the concerning system. To make this happen, this approach analyzes the data concerning the system.

Honestly speaking, these are hard to separate in a non-exhaustive application featuring restricted segments. But, in a complex system/software, it has far-flung reach. Often, it penetrates more deeply than APM.

The core difference exists in data collection, processing, and interpretation. For instance, APM is related to a software or web solution only. On the other hand, observability has a wide scope and can be easily used to observe the whole IT ecosystem of an organization.

APM collects mostly performance-related data while observability deals more with technical data. As technical components are extensive, the data that observability collects is generally huge.  

In short, you can consider observability as an approach to determine the overall health of an IT system while APM is one of the many actions that are required to achieve this goal. They both are required to construct a viable API security strategy as the data gathered. By both these approaches, provide deeper insights into application/system performance and help in improving the overall IT ecosystem.

APM vs. Infrastructure Monitoring

Applications and IT infrastructure are two crucial components that an organization uses to maintain workflow continuity and productivity. Hence, their perfect operations are essential to avoid any impediments.

APM and infrastructure monitoring are practices that allow IT professionals to gain deeper insights into the problem-causing entities. Fix them, and prevent future occurrences. But, are they both the same? No, they are not.

We have already explained what APM is. So, let’s focus on infrastructure monitoring for now. It refers to the practice of automating the data collection and review process for all the key components. That are useful to determine how the computing ecosystem of an organization is performing.

It often goes deeper, as compared to APM, and pays due diligence on the networking resources.

APM tools gather the data related to sources responsible for sluggish performance while infrastructure monitoring tools collect the data about the root cause.  

For instance, APM will help you find out that the response rate of an app is slow but infrastructure monitoring will help you find the reason behind this. Is it the overloaded server or some bug that is forcing an application to reply slowly?


APM vs. Container Monitoring

A few APM tools work fine with container-based apps. They work with the same ease and perfection. Container monitoring includes almost everything related to performance monitoring and beyond that. This way, it’s not erroneous that all the container monitoring tools are APM tools with a few additional features.

Container monitoring tools are enough for APM-based monitoring but the reverse is not true. It’s not possible to do detailed container monitoring with APM tools. Container-based applications are more complex as compared to non-containerized apps/systems. Hence, they need specific tools.


Advantages And Disadvantages of APM

APM is perhaps the most preferred way to ensure the praiseworthy performance of an app/system. Be it cost optimization or UX, it improves tons of things better for businesses. Its implementation is likely to deliver lucrative benefits that we’ve curated below.

  • APM, by providing real-time and quick insights on the system/application health, allows the organization to trim down the incidences of SLO breaches & service-related degradations. All the application-related errors can be spotted at an early stage and corresponding harms can be controlled.
  • Reduced operational expenses are possible with APM. Erroneous and degraded applications ask for expensive troubleshooting that exceeds the overheads.
  • Severe damage can make an application available for a long time that harms revenue generation. APM helps organizations control the damage in the early stage. This way, not much investment is asked.
  • When constant performance updates are offered, an app tends to deliver more output. It became more competitive.
  • Apps with zero or minor performance issues are going to win over the hearts of customers. Their UX will improve in every possible sense.
  • When UX is better, customer loyalty and satisfaction tend to increase automatically.

That’s just a crisp overview of some key benefits of APM. Its effective utilization and usage are going to improve brand image, app performance, customer experience, and service delivery on various fronts.

However, this isn’t always a great deal. It can become a bane from a boon in no time if a few mistakes are made. For instance:

  • If you’re not tracking the right metrics, none of your efforts will bring desired results.
  • As it’s not a fully automated process, organizations have to invest heavy efforts to bring it into action.
  • The right kind of all should be collected and analyzed in the right manner.
  • Its implementation in modern-day and complex application ecosystems is very tough. It’s only possible by the skilled hands that are aware of the application ecosystems and APM methods.


Best Practices

As mentioned above, the key here is the effective and optimized implementation of APM, which is only possible with the help of best APM practices. The following points are part of it.

  • Try to use appropriate tools  

APM tools are going to do a lot of jobs for you. Hence, you must make the right choice on this front. While choosing the application performance monitoring tools, you must keep the monitoring goals and technical competencies of the team into consideration.

There is no point in having tools that can help in getting the desired job done or are too complex to handle. In both situations, hired APM tools will be of no greater use.

  • Be attentive while collecting the metrics

APM is all about the metrics collected and analyzed. So, invest enough time to select the metrics to track and data to collect.

  • Create a standard process

Your APM implementation should be standardized from beginning to end. There should be clarity on what to do when an issue arises, how a remedial solution should be contrived, who should be part of the process, and so.

  • Test and verify

Never bank upon the APM tools blindly. Make sure that the collected data is valid and verify it before using it. Also, keep checking the utility of an APM at regular intervals of time. One-time implementation isn’t going to bring sound results every time. Update the tools with evolving requirements.


Top Application Performance Monitoring Tools

APM is not fully automated. However, businesses can easily reduce manual handling with the use of some viable monitoring tools. The market is filled with some highly workable APM tools that assist greatly in the job. Have a look at the best tools available for your use:

  • Azure Application Insights is perfect for live web application monitoring.
  • DX APM tool is preferred for the performance of the monitoring of the microservices, API, and various other back-end application components.
  • Datadog, for monitoring databases, servers, SaaS services, and other cloud-scalable applications.
  • Dynatrace is best known for offering a seamless and automated infrastructure monitoring facility that is easily applicable to VMs, events, and networks.

Other than these, you can try Grafana, Nagios, New Relic, Opsview, and Google Cloud Console for monitoring your app’s performance.

Before you plan to buy an APM tool, you must pay attention to certain aspects:

  • Real-time performance-tracking at the code level
  • Application management in the preferred language
  • Ability to monitor the complete infrastructure stack of an application
  • Use of AI wherever and however it’s required

Additionally, specific requirements, if any, must be taken into consideration while buying an APM tool.

Application Performance Monitoring Tools

Deploying APM To The Business - How To Choose The Right One?

Multiple APM solutions exist. But, not every APM solution will bring desired results. You need to be extra attentive and pick a solution whose offerings align the most with your APM goals.

Below mentioned are a few expert-recommended tips to follow while choosing an APM:

  • Gauge your requirements first. Try to find out which kind of application infrastructure you follow. Is it a single VM or microservices? Also, you need to have clarity on the software development methodologies. How real-time should your data be? Try to solve all these dilemmas first.
  • Certain features define the utility of an APM. If your APM solution doesn’t have these features then it will be only half good. Those essential features are centralized reporting, code-level visibility, end-to-end deployment, a wide range of metrics, real user monitoring, and AI embedded in APM.
  • Consider the ease of using the APM solution. You must have the ability to upgrade or downgrade the metrics easily. All your team members should be able to use the tool with the same ease, and it should be easy to scale.


Conclusion

APM is on an upward trend and is not likely to see any downfall shortly. Organizations offering customer-facing applications can’t afford to have an application that has poor performance. This impacts service delivery, customer satisfaction, brand image, and everything related.

With APM, organizations can track the real-time application performance, spot the problem-causing factors, and contrive a remedial solution before it’s too late. Adopt this approach at the coding level and have an application development strategy that brings benefits on various fronts.

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