What is application performance monitoring (APM)?
Application performance monitoring (APM) is the process of using software tools and telemetry data to monitor the performance of business-critical applications. Businesses want to ensure that they maintain expected service levels and that customers receive a positive application experience. They use APM tools to deliver real-time data and insights into the performance of applications. Then, IT teams, DevOps, and site reliability engineers can quickly pinpoint and troubleshoot application issues.
Why is application performance monitoring important?
Effective application performance monitoring (APM) is integral to an enterprise's success. It helps ensure your digital services run smoothly, with minimal downtime, and that your customers consistently receive positive experiences.
Application performance monitoring offers businesses several benefits.
APM is an effective tool for pinpointing where issues occur across an application. It also highlights common problems in the digital customer journey. So, you can improve the customer experience by identifying areas that deliver maximum value to your end users. APM is also effective in determining if changes are beneficial. For example, if a business introduces a new customer service bot, APM metrics can measure how many customers had their query solved by using the bot.
Just a few minutes of downtime can cause financial losses and result in failed customer journeys. APM can rapidly diagnose application performance issues and point IT teams directly to the problem. This rapid diagnosis keeps downtime to a minimum. Technology teams have more time to develop new applications rather than fix existing ones.
Reduced operating costs
IT teams use APM tools to determine how much resource, infrastructure, and computing power is necessary to keep applications performing optimally. This keeps operating costs to a minimum.
Effective product development
Application performance monitoring tools can be part of a product's development process. You can implement APM in a test or as-live environment and use APM tools to monitor and analyze synthetic traffic, uncover limitations, and identify errors. Development teams can tap into actionable insights before an application goes live and fix bugs that would previously only have become evident after launch.
You can share metrics and analysis across business units, which leads to improved communication, the breakdown of silos, better-engaged employees, and increased productivity.
What metrics does application performance monitoring track?
Application performance monitoring (APM) tracks common metrics, like the following.
APM solutions can monitor CPU metrics like CPU usage and memory demands. This ensures your application is getting the compute resources it requires to operate adequately.
Response times are significant for enterprises, as your users expect to be able to access services without delay. APM solutions measure against an acceptable baseline performance for response times and alert you if response times fall below the threshold.
APM software monitors applications to record and report error rates. An example of an error would be when a web inquiry times out or a database query fails. APM will deliver alerts when the error rate rises above predefined parameters—for example, when 5% of the last 50 requests have resulted in an error.
Transaction tracing in APM gives you an accurate picture of single transactions carried out in an application. Information captured in transaction tracing includes available function calls, external calls, and database calls. It monitors the transaction request from start to finish.
An APM solution can monitor and report how many server or application instances your applications are running. It can alert you to scale up or down to meet user demand.
APM software monitors how many user requests your application receives. By monitoring the traffic, the software can send alerts if it spots any anomalies. For example, it can alert you to unexpected increases in requests, large numbers of requests from the same user, or unusually low requests.
Uptime is critically important for enterprises providing online services. Many service level agreements (SLAs) only allow a percentage point of downtime across predetermined periods. APM monitors application availability and compares levels to those agreed upon by the service provider and customer.
What are the use cases of application performance monitoring?
We give some use cases of application performance monitoring (APM) below.
Real user monitoring
Real user monitoring, or end-user experience monitoring, is the collection and analysis of user data to build an understanding of an application's performance levels. By establishing a baseline for acceptable performance, you can accurately predict when an application will experience issues. For example, if the number of customers experiencing problems when trying to check out items is above the threshold, the APM sends an alert to the relevant teams.
You can perform user monitoring in two ways:
- Synthetic monitoring simulates user behavior to capture problems before application release to production
- Agentless monitoring analyzes network traffic without the need to install software agents on monitored applications
User-defined transaction profiling
You can use APM solutions to recreate common user interactions with applications. By doing so, you can better understand the conditions under which issues occur with your digital services. IT teams commonly use user-defined transaction profiling to troubleshoot applications and fix common user issues.
Component monitoring, or application component deep-dive monitoring, comprehensively tracks the entirety of IT infrastructure. An application's complete performance is monitored and analyzed. Monitored resources include memory usage, servers, CPU utilization, and network components.
You can use APM tools to collect data from IT infrastructure, such as servers (server monitoring), containers (container monitoring), databases (database monitoring), virtual machines (VM monitoring), and other backend systems. It is done to detect performance problems and find the root cause of application errors.
Read about infrastructure as a service (IaaS) »
Effective APM provides data for analytics that enterprises can use to fix or improve their applications. Some APM tools use artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms to conduct predictive analysis, diagnose root causes of errors, and link complex application performance problems.
Read about machine learning on AWS »
Service level agreements (SLAs) are critical to a contract between an IT services provider and a client. They set out the required levels of service that are agreed upon by both parties. APM can monitor the performance metrics in SLA frameworks, which helps providers ensure they are meeting expectations. It also highlights areas where providers are in danger of falling below the standards outlined in the SLA.
What is the difference between application performance monitoring and observability?
Modern applications with complex architecture require more than application performance monitoring (APM) to troubleshoot issues. Observability brings together information from the entirety of an IT stack into a central platform where high-level business intelligence and insights can be acted upon. APM is a subset of observability. While APM gives an aggregate view of metrics, observability uses several other tools, like distributed tracing, to get a comprehensive understanding of application behavior.
How do you choose the right application performance monitoring solution for your organization?
There are many factors to consider before you integrate an application performance monitoring (APM) platform and its suite of tools into your IT environment.
Ensure your teams understand the rationale and personal benefits behind introducing APM. You need to find a solution that fits in with existing systems and processes your team is comfortable with.
There are numerous APM tools available. Ensure that the APM platform you introduce has the right tools for your applications and that it supports your programming language.
Introducing APM can demand considerable compute resources, especially if you plan on monitoring several applications. Ensure you have the necessary budget for computing resources along with the cost of the APM itself.
Consider who will oversee and own your APM. Which teams will be responsible for maintenance and administration?
How can AWS help with your application performance monitoring?
Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and observability service that allows you to continuously track the digital experiences of your end users. It also tracks your applications that run on AWS—on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), containers, and serverless—and on premises. CloudWatch collects data at every layer of the performance stack, from your frontend to your infrastructure.
You can use Amazon CloudWatch ServiceLens to identify performance bottlenecks in your applications and isolate them using the correlated metrics, logs, and traces. CloudWatch ServiceLens integrates CloudWatch with AWS X-Ray to provide an comprehensive view of your application. With this, you can pinpoint performance bottlenecks and identify impacted users more efficiently.
Here are examples of what you can do with CloudWatch:
- Set up alerts for service level agreement (SLA) and service level objective (SLO) endpoints and UI workflow monitoring
- Collect client-side data on application performance in near real time
- Experiment with features across the entire application stack, measure against performance and business metrics, and launch features safely
Get started with application performance monitoring (APM) on AWS by creating a free AWS account today.
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