The Fundamentals of Application Performance Management

Today there is an abundance of apps designed to fulfill almost any business process you can think of. Modern networks are increasingly reliant on applications to interact with customers and to run day-to-day operations. All of these applications need to be monitored and maintained to keep the end user experience high for customers. Application performance management has arisen as the answer to this challenge.

Application Performance Management (APM) is being used to monitor applications, cloud services, and virtualized services to ensure that the customer enjoys the best user experience possible. In this article, we’re going to look at what Application Performance Management is, and what the fundamentals of APM are.

What is Application Performance Management?

Application Performance Management is the name given to the practice of managing the performance and availability of software applications. There are many ways this can be done but most of the time this is done through an application performance monitor. Application performance monitors are used to monitor application performance, code processes, dependencies, and transaction times. Application Performance Management seeks to provide end users with the best experience possible. This is achieved by keeping a close eye on performance issues as they occur.

Popular application performance monitoring solution providers include SolarWinds, Paessler, AppDynamics and New Relic. These tools have established themselves as key application performance management solutions. Features offered by these tools include real-time user monitoring, root-time cause analysis and web performance monitoring to stay on top of performance concerns as they occur.

It is important to note that there is no universally-accepted definition of what Application Performance Management is. If you asked several administrators they would each have a slightly different answer. However, in principle, Application Performance Management comes down to performance monitoring to ensure the best end user experience for customers.

How does Application Performance Management Work?

As a practice, application performance management places more emphasis on response times than availability. In order to deliver a good experience to the end user, application response times need to be kept to an absolute minimum. To do this, Application Performance Management needs to have these three components:

  • Digital Experience Monitoring
  • Application Discovery Tracing and Diagnostics
  • Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations

Each of these comes together to provide a complete Application Performance Management strategy. Digital experience monitoring is a mixture of real user monitoring and transaction monitoring. Application discovery, tracing, and diagnostics combines application discovery and analysis of application transactions to find performance issues. Finally, artificial intelligence for IT operations is used for combined root cause analysis and alerts to respond to issues quickly.

Application Performance Management and Monitoring Solution Providers

SolarWinds SAM

SolarWinds are a company who is well-known for creating some of the leading network monitoring products and this is true in the realm of application performance management as well. SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor has been designed specifically to monitor application performance and conduct in-depth diagnostics.

SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor

Application performance can be managed through the program’s dashboard where you are shown a summary of connected applications and an overview of application health. The performance of applications is denoted as Up, Critical, Warning, Down, Unknown or Other. Each status is color-coded so that you can identify performance issues from a glance.

One particularly useful feature offered by SolarWinds Server & and Application Monitor is that of monitoring templates. There are preconfigured monitoring templates for popular applications like IIS, Active Directory, Java and Oracle. These templates help you to customize your performance monitoring approach according to the program that you are using.

On the whole SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor is a great option because it embraces an autodiscovery feature to locate connected applications. Using auto-discovering applications means that you don’t have to find them manually. In addition, the tool will also calculate baseline thresholds that determine when you will receive performance alerts. SolarWinds provide a 30-day free trial.

SolarWinds Server & Application MonitorDownload 30-day FREE Trial

See also: SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor Review

Paessler PRTG

Of the free and paid application monitoring experiences available to you, Paessler PRTG Network Monitor has to be one of the most comprehensive on the market. PRTG Network Monitor is a performance monitoring platform that can monitor applications whether they’re virtualized or hosted in the cloud.

PRTG Network Monitor screenshot

Paessler PRTG Network Monitor combines standard application management and individual web application management to provide you with an overview of every application being used within your network. The performance of all connected applications is shown to you through a color-coded dashboard view which shows you whether applications are up or down.

Some of the monitoring capabilities that PRTG Network Monitor offers the user include SQL Server monitoring, mail server monitoring, and web server monitoring. These provide small to medium-sized enterprises with everything needed to monitor application performance effectively.

Paessler PRTG Network Monitor is also a suitable solution for those who want to take more of a back seat approach to network monitoring. PRTG Network Monitor has an alerts system which notifies you when an application’s performance drops below a certain standard. This makes sure that you never miss out on any information that could help you to get an application back on track. Paessler has made the PRTG Network Monitor available on a 30-day free trial for evaluation.

Paessler PRTG Network MonitorDownload 30-day FREE Trial

See also: Paessler PRTG Network Monitor Review

AppDynamics

AppDynamics is a textbook application performance monitoring tool used for measuring application performance. Through one platform you can automatically discover applications and monitor applications right down to a single line of code. Every transaction and user interaction can be monitored and measured to provide the best service possible.

AppDynamics screenshot application performance

To assist the process of Application Performance Management, AppDynamics has put in place machine learning to detect performance anomalies. AppDynamics can recognize the normal patterns of a well-performing device and identify when an application is being adversely affected. This means the moment that an application starts to experience poor response times the user is shown an alert and the machine learning solution will help to point out the source of the fault at the code level. Finding the piece of fault code is invaluable for pinning down what is behind the poor performance.

See also: The 10 Best Application Performance Management and Monitoring tools

The Difference Between Application Performance Management and Application Performance Monitoring

Application Performance Management and Application Performance Monitoring are two different concepts. Application Performance Monitoring is the process of using a software platform to monitor end user experience, application architecture modeling, transaction analysis, analytics, and application-driven monitoring. In Application Performance Monitoring the focus is on the end user experience of the application stack.

Application Performance Management takes a step back and places the main emphasis on resource utilization. The performance of applications and the end user is integral to this model. However, this mode is more about the bigger picture for the end user rather than the more targeted focus of Application Performance Monitoring. The latter of which is used to make incremental improvements to the user experience piece by piece.

The clearest way to see the difference is to think of Application Performance Management as looking at all applications in one go, whereas Application Performance Monitoring is monitoring the minutiae of an individual application. In many ways, the difference between the two of them can be thought of as scale.

What is the purpose of Application Performance Monitoring?

The purpose of Application Performance Monitoring is to maintain the performance of an application by diagnosing small problems. Tools like AppDynamics and Dynatrace have a deep dive approach to this that lets you view application performance right down to lines of code to deal with small issues that can have an adverse impact on the end user experience.

Metric wise, an Application Performance Monitoring solution will pull metrics and transaction data from an application in an attempt to solve performance issues. More specifically this information is used for root cause analysis so that small faults can be located and addressed. On a larger scale, application performance management takes care of managing larger metrics like CPU and memory usage. This can point to a root cause in its own right.

What is the End Goal of Application Performance Management and Application Performance Monitoring?

These two models also differ in their goals. Application Performance Management is preoccupied with concerns over endpoints and end users. The performance of every application must be taken into account to have a balanced perspective of the end user’s experience. After all, the user experience isn’t impacted by one application but multiple applications.

Application Performance Monitoring’s ultimate goal is to assess how one application is performing. If the performance of the application is satisfactory, then the goal is complete. However, if individual processes are slow then it is the job of this model to get to the bottom of what the problem is.

Application Performance Management Tools Characteristics

Application Performance Management tools come in many different shapes and sizes but there are a number of key characteristics that each has. These are as follows:

  • Application Discovery
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Alerts and Notifications
  • Code Level Performance Analysis
  • Custom Dashboards
  • Reporting
  • Application Support
  • Application Log Data

Application Discovery

Applications can be a tricky entity to pin down without an autodiscovery feature. Almost all Application Performance Management tools incorporate application discovery features to find connected applications and servers automatically. Once applications are discovered they are added to your monitoring environment so that you can keep track of their performance.

Autodiscovery is advantageous because it maps out your applications for you. This is true not only during the initial setup process but also for when you add new applications for your network. Having all of your applications added to your environment automatically allows you to focus on analyzing rather than configurations.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

It goes without saying that it is next to impossible to monitor the performance of applications if you don’t have the right metrics. Application Performance Management tools incorporate a range of KPIs that are used to measure the performance of an application. KPIs include CPU utilization, disk utilization, error states, requests per minute, and response times. These metrics are essential for seeing how well your applications are functioning.

Alerts and Notifications

One of the most important features of application performance management tools is that of alerts and notifications. No platform would be complete without the ability to notify you when application performance takes a nosedive. Many performance management tools allow you to configure your own alert thresholds so that you receive notifications to keep you up-to-speed with current developments.

This is the bare minimum present on most application performance management tools. However, to ensure that you don’t fall behind performance issues you need to be able to execute automated responses. For example, you could configure your platform to automatically restart a virtual machine when an alert is raised.

Code Level Performance Analysis

The only way to get a complete perspective of an application’s performance is by analyzing it at the code level. Performance analysis at the code level is a prerequisite for making sure that every application is functioning properly. When an application is buggy and slow, cutting down to the code level provides you with a way to get the insights you need to find a solution.

If the application is providing a poor user experience to the end user you will be able to point to the root of the problem. For instance, you’ll know the exact reason why a web request has failed. This will be invaluable for getting the application’s performance back on track for the user.

Custom Dashboards

The effectiveness of the application monitoring experience rests on how much visibility you have over your network infrastructure. A dashboard that displays all the core metrics and performance data is the only way to put all of this information into a format that the user can easily understand. This is particularly true for organizations attempting to manage hundreds of different apps.

Application performance management dashboards will provide you with data on server availability, infrastructure status, alerts, and graphs. The dashboard should provide you with a broad view which allows you to narrow down smaller problematic issues which you can address to improve the end user experience.

Reporting

Dashboards are great for catching the general trends, but there are many occasions where you’ll need to take a more prolonged look at long-term trends. Generating reports periodically is the only way to do this. Most Application Performance Management solutions allow users to create reports to check up at how performance is maintained over the long-term.

Many tools can use past usage data to predict the future performance of your applications. Many tools allow you to check server utilization over time. This is useful because it allows you to plan for your future needs and ensure that infrastructure is upgraded before you run into any issues.

Application Support

One of the key characteristics of Application Performance Management solutions is their wide-ranging support for a variety of different applications. Depending on your organization, you’re likely to be using a custom application to manage your network infrastructure. As a result, is always a good idea to use an Application Performance Management solution that has the ability to monitor your custom application. Most Application Performance Management solutions provide you with the opportunity to do this.

Application Log Data

Every Application Performance Management solution worth its salt allows the user to access application log data. Application log data is one of the most valuable resources available to developers when addressing performance issues. Being able to access log data through one platform provides you with much more control over the end performance of your devices.

Application Performance Management Challenges

Given the variety of applications in use within modern networks, it is important to recognize that Application Performance Management is no simple task. Performance issues can rear their ugly heads in hundreds of different ways. In this section, we’re going to take a look at some of the main challenges that Application Performance Management brings to the table.

Overemphasizing Troubleshooting

One of the biggest pitfalls that organizations run into with Application Performance Management tools is that they place too much emphasis on troubleshooting. Focusing on troubleshooting puts an enterprise into a reactive state. The user is merely responding to performance issues as they occur rather than taking the steps to address potential issues down the line.

The key to Application Performance Management is to be proactive and to anticipate your performance needs over time. Using predictive features and reports can help to navigate this challenge by providing you with an idea of what is happening over the long term. Failure to do so can place you into a state where you’re constantly playing catch up to fulfill the needs of your applications.

Alert Timeframe

Although almost every Application Performance Management solution uses alerts in one form or another, there is a big difference in the effectiveness depending on how fast alerts respond. In the world of applications, a lot can change in a few minutes. As such, platforms that take over five minutes to send an alert to your team can leave you significantly behind performance problems.

This is compounded by the fact that the end user and customers are going to be finding out these issues before you’ve even had a chance to register the problem. The lower the alert time frame the more quickly you can take steps to get your application back to peak performance. The earlier you discover performance problems the sooner you can provide your end users with the services they require.

Chasing Errors and Not Root Causes

Though many solutions have root cause detection solutions it is still very easy to fall into the trap of chasing errors rather than the root cause of errors. For instance, you may be able to identify that a bottleneck is causing poor performance within the application. However, you now need to be able to delve much deeper to find out why this is.

Analyzing at the code level can help to address this challenge because it allows you to take a look at the minutiae of the performance. Tools like AppDynamics have their own root cause detection features which allow you to pinpoint the segment of code that is causing the problem.

Using Application Performance Management Analytics

The secret to staying on top of future developments is to make use of Application Performance Management analytics. Analytics can analyze the performance of applications and automatically detect performance anomalies. This makes sure that the platform recognizes performance concerns before they take root.

Application Performance Management analytics can be a problem for many organizations because they don’t have these in place. Without analytics, you’re forced to rely on less battle-tested means to detect performance anomalies. Inevitably this allows some performance issues to slip through the net.

Application Performance Management and the Future

The more organizations incorporate applications into their network, the more need there is to adopt Application Performance Management to provide the best possible performance of applications. As the real-time experience of end users continues to be important Application Performance Management as a practice will be here to stay.

However, there appears to be a push towards User Experience Management (UXM). UXM has a slightly different emphasis than Application Performance Management and focuses on trying to maximize the end user experience of customers. Application Performance Management is increasingly moving towards preemptively managing user experience concerns.

Meticulously monitoring application performance allows you to make sure that you can spot performance issues and get to the root cause to minimize disruption to the end user. In many cases, you may even be able to use these tools to intercede before the end user even notices.

While User Experience Management seems similar to Application Performance Management, the two are apart in terms of standards. User Experience Management has much higher expectations of application performance and isn’t just seeking to ensure that performance issues are dealt with but also to optimize performance.