Understanding Application Performance Monitoring for Beginners

For most of today’s digital organizations, their business is dependent on applications, especially those based on web applications. We can go so far as to say that applications are business instead of being the other way round.

Thus, it is essential that the companies keep a check on their application’s performance and constantly monitor application performance.

If not done properly, poor application maintenance can lead to significant hurdles in business growth and profitability and affect end users’ expectations.

Delivering a perfect and flawless application with a seamless real-time digital resolution to any problems they might experience is what people demand.

This is where Application Performance Monitoring tools (APM) enter the business paradigm.

What is Application Performance Monitoring (APM)?

In simple words, Application Performance Management implies monitoring or managing software applications and business transactions in terms of their performance and availability to detect problems in application performance so that it can be maintained at the expected level.

However, Application Performance Monitoring and Application Performance Management, both referred to by the abbreviation “APM,” should not be confused.

Application Performance Management refers to managing and strategizing to achieve excellence in performance whereas, monitoring is only a part of this.

But how do these Monitoring tools work?

Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solutions monitor the application by closely monitoring all business transactions made by the application in real-time by:

  1. Observing app behavior and checking for any abnormality.
  2. In case an abnormal behavior occurs, alerting the respective people and collecting data to help identify the root cause of the problem.
  3. Analyzing the data to identify any impact on the business.
  4. Adapting the application environment to ensure such problems are fixed before they occur by monitoring user experience.

The best Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solutions can help the IT teams connect the application performance and business transactions. APM solutions help identify and fix performance issues so that the Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR) can be reduced.

Since performance monitoring software provides the professionals with the information related to the “when,” “where,” and “why” related to bugs, businesses can monitor their IT environments and identify bugs and potential flaws using application performance monitoring tools and provide real-time and flawless solutions to customers experiencing application performance issues.

Why should you use Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solutions?

In the Application Performance Monitoring (APM) definition, we shed some light on the importance of performance issues and their solutions in our businesses, but now let’s explain the same with some contradictory approach.

Let us imagine a scenario where there is no Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solution.

How will we measure the application performance then?

We might use:

  1. Manual approach: You could use manual instrumentation as an approach to monitor your application’s performance. However, there are many challenges at the code-level when you add code to your application manually, such as –
  • How to know which line of code needs to be instrumented?
  • What additional performance metrics need to be added later?
  • How to maintain the application at the code-level?
  1. Customer approach: Normally, customers, call customer support alerting the organizations about the issue that their application has. However, with performance monitoring solutions, the businesses can be pre-informed about any possible bugs and resolve them in -the time before customer notices.
  2. Synthetic approach: It is important to determine how you would be alerted about new application issues. A few questions to ponder:
  • What would be your approach to determine the root cause of the problem quickly?
  • What if the slowdown is abnormal? How to differentiate it from normal slowdown?

Answering the above few questions can be cumbersome, and an Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solution can easily help you in all these aspects and many more.

A performance monitor highly reduces the manual work that an IT professional needs to do in building logs and synthetic monitors and performs manual searching whenever an error occurs.

Thus, a holistic APM solution is the need of the hour.

Metrics for Application Performance Monitoring (APM)

The job of Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solutions are to monitor and aggregate all the information related to an application and provide businesses with a single source of truth where they can view, analyze, and monitor all aspects of the application.

In this section, we will assess the various performance metrics that the monitoring solutions address:

Request Rates – Monitoring software measures the amount of traffic handled by your application and tracks any inactivity, concurrent end-users, or spikes.

Garbage Collection (GC) – Applications sometimes heavily use memory, which affects the application’s performance adversely. Applications build on Java or other programming languages having support for garbage collection need to be handled properly. Not doing so might lead to unwanted hidden problems in the application.

CPU Usage – It is the job of the Application performance monitoring (APM) solutions to monitor CPU performance and usage at the server level and monitor memory demands and speeds for reading and writing on disks. APM ensures that none of the processes hog up too much space and leads to performance problems in the application.

Customer Satisfaction – This is the most important aspect where a good monitoring tool can help you. APM is designed to enhance end user-experience by pre-delivering them the solution of any possible issue as soon as the system encounters it. Many tools have various scores and thresholds to measure customer satisfaction and tolerance rates concerning a pre-defined performance criterion.

Error Rates – Monitoring software keeps track of the number of times an application throws out an error message. It tracks the number of times an application’s performance degrades and monitors error rates.

Response Times – The amount of time taken by the application to respond to a user query is the response time. APM monitors whether the speed or time taken of the application’s response affects the performance in any way.

Application availability/uptime – Most enterprises need to check whether an application is online or not or is available or not. This software can help you provide that.

Number of Instances – For the cloud native-based applications, it is important to have a piece of information about the number of servers or application instances running at a given instant. APM software can cost-effectively scale the application and provide a better user experience.

Various Features of Application Performance Monitoring

Although there are many features related to APM, ideally, an APM should consist of the following aspects:

Deep-dive analysis of Application

There can be numerous issues in an application’s infrastructure. For example –

  • Garbage Collection frequently happening in JVM and .NET;
  • Connection pool exhausted in the server; 
  • Insufficient heap memory; or
  • Threads have a high wait period.

All of these can affect the application performance adversely.

Monitoring the Digital User Experience

User experience can be monitored in two ways:

  1. Synthetic simulation of user transaction – User interactions are synthetically simulated and tested proactively from different locations.
  2. Real users experience monitoring – Monitoring real-world users when interacting with the application in real-time.

In digital user experience monitoring, the slowness, downtime, and errors are monitored, and their occurrence instant monitored. 

Visibility of Infrastructure

To ensure that our application succeeds, it is of utmost importance that the application’s health and availability are monitored at all times.

Issues in applications often occur due to storage hotspots, server memory leaks, slow network connectivity, virtualization bottlenecks, etc. 

Ideally, infrastructure monitoring should be integrated with the APM solution as it should be in performance monitoring.

Code-level Diagnostics of Application

Mostly (approx..43% of the instances), it is due to its code when an application experiences performance issues.

Transaction tracing of the application can capture slowness in the application, which developers use to pinpoint the exact location where the code’s problem occurred.

The slowness in a transaction makes it possible for the developers to pinpoint the line of code, third-party call, or database query taking high processing time, thus rendering the application slow.

Profiling of Business Transaction

A business transaction can be traced using the tag-and-follow approach. It is possible to trace them starting from the front end all the way across middleware to the backend database.

To isolate the part of the application responsible for slowness, the application’s bytecode is instrumented during application runtime. Then the transactions in the application are analyzed through each tier of application architectures.

Tips

Now that you are well aware of most of the aspects related to Monitoring, the next question arises: “How to use an application monitoring solution to ensure the business’s success.

Here are a few tips to provide you a few best practices for selecting and using the Application Monitoring (APM) tool.

But first, you need to understand the three P:

  • Product (Which APM is the best?)
  • Processes (How to use APM?)
  • People (Who will use it?)

Let’s see the tips and answer the above questions one by one.

Choose the right tool

We cannot just point and say that “okay, for your applications, APM with these functionalities is the best.” It would be best if you chose the tool that suits the best of your business’s needs.

There are innumerable APM tools in the market with their own set of pros and cons. Make sure to select the one that provides you a wide and deep view of your application environment, and ease of use, and better end-user experience monitoring, all of which you can turn into actionable insights.

So, to sum, one needs an APM tool that:

  • Monitors performance of the application at the code-level
  • Connects performance of the application with business outcomes
  • Manages applications that are built in your language
  • Makes good use of artificial intelligence
  • Performs infrastructure monitoring of business stack and application

Create the right rule

Now that you have chosen the right tool for your business needs, it is appropriate for you to configure it to suit your business better.

You can make your APM software follow various rules to identify what qualifies as abnormal and what doesn’t.

Rules such as defining normal behavior, defining critical applications to the business, monitoring problems against specified thresholds, etc., should be well entered into the tool.

Setting these rules will help the application adapt, generate automatic alerts, and resolve them accordingly.

Train the right users

No matter how good, any application will only be efficient if the right hands operate it.

For this, it is your job to train or hire well-trained people who are experts in deploying APM tools. These are developers who can remedy the issues that might arise in the application and are thoroughly familiar with it.

If you wish to employ APM to measure performance across your entire organization, that is when the actual work starts, and magic happens.

In deploying APM in an entire organization, everyone in the company will have to understand the relationship between the performance of the application and their business transactions and then combine their IT skills and interdepartmental collaboration skills to support the end-user team.

Conclusion

Most businesses get so caught up in the inner windings of an application that they lose focus on how it affects their business, and by the time they get aware, it is probably too late.

It is important that businesses employ or adopt a converged infrastructure and application monitoring strategy so that they can automate the root cause diagnosis, the way they troubleshoot performance, and resolve performance problems.

Only after gaining insight into the business transactions, application performance, user experience, and infrastructure health can one understand the reason behind the question “Why is my application slow?”

This article brings to your attention the need for an APM tool to drive your business towards success and improve your end-user experience.

Believe us; you will be surprised how much this software can help strengthen your business and preserve your application.

Using APM tools is a breeze if you know the right way and we hope this article has helped you to understand APM a little better. Using APM you can ensure that your application has high performance and that you are giving  your customers the best that you can provide.

Now that you know enough about APM, it is time you try out this amazing technology and let your business succeed.

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