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February 13, 2019

Understanding the Basics of Application Performance Management Tools

Application performance management (APM (News - Alert)), in perhaps the simplest APM definition, is the process of the monitoring and management of the performance of applications in a wide range of computing platforms. Among information technology (IT) and web developers, however, APM refers mainly to tools that automate, simplify and increase the efficiency of monitoring backend application architecture. APMs likewise helps identify potential issues and bottlenecks that can affect application performance. These tools can either automatically resolve the issues or highlight potential problem areas that are delicate to alert the developers where they need to take immediate action. An APM may be a single tool or a suite of interconnected tools that a company website needs to run efficiently.

For a simple and small website, management and monitoring are rather simple. An APM can start by checking if the database is running, then verify if the web server is also running. Finally, check if both the database and web server can communicate freely. Should there be anything amiss, the APM either can fix it or encourage the developer to do something about it.

This method of monitoring and management, however, gets exponentially more complex in distributed systems where a large number of processes run intertwined on different machines that can be physical, virtual or a combination of both. For distributed systems, the APMs need to keep track of several communication pathways at the same time, evaluate their performance metrics and diagnose issues as they arise to ensure that the processes are running at an optimum level. An efficient and well-structured APM should not only perform these functions in a timely manner, but it should also minimize the need for human intervention unless it deems it necessary.

APM Capabilities

The technology analytics firm Gartner (News - Alert) identifies three primary functions that APMs should be able to provide. These are digital experience monitoring (DEM); application discovery, tracing and diagnostics (ADTD); and application analytics. A well-structured APM suite should have all these capabilities, working seamlessly alongside multiple system processes to ensure that the application meets its performance requirements. 

As the term suggests, DEM focuses on the end-user experience in interacting with the application. As an example, the DEM monitors and logs a website’s customer behavior within its pages and their interaction with the website’s applications. The DEM can highlight patterns as well as trends that the business can draw upon in tweaking their website to improve its end-user experience.

ADTD, on the other hand, is a function that behaves much like a scanner that sweeps through multiple servers as it maps transactions. Its ultimate objective, however, is seeking out problems and, if possible, resolving them. This APM capability is essential for a vast majority of web applications, which is why it usually seals the deal on most APM vendor sales.

Monitoring and logging performance metrics are one thing, analyzing the loads of information that come from the servers is completely another matter. Application analytics is an APM capability that supplies the “why” behind the metrics. This capability becomes all the more important in instances where there is an anomaly in an application’s performance as it gives developers better insight of the issue and allowing them to take proper measures to prevent the anomaly from recurring.

APM Key Features

For a product to be considered as an APM tool, it needs to have a set of important features. These include time-series metrics tracker, infrastructure metrics logging, distributed tracing, intelligent alerting and a feature that lets you customize your tool’s graphical user interface or dashboard.

Time-series metrics tracker specifically monitors application performance along with end-user behavior such as the frequency of requests, response times and errors. Monitoring infrastructure means how the application performs in a computing environment. It measures the number of computing resources the application uses up like from the central processing unit (CPU), memory and the data transfer speeds between the CPU and the network peripherals.

Distributed tracing is a feature that focuses on the application’s response time. This feature is most helpful when end-user metrics suggest a sluggish web application interaction. It affords developers the luxury of being able to observe every component in the application that contributes to its response time and thus pinpoint where and what exactly is slowing it down.

Intelligent alerting is capable of identifying anomalies through statistical analysis. However, it still needs to be configurable to help it identify problems before it triggers an alert. The last thing that you want is for this feature to drown your notification with a flood of needless alerts.

Most APMs come with visualizations that are beautiful and are, therefore, fun to work with. The more important thing, though, is that you should be able to customize such visualizations that best reflect and suit your business processes.

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