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One of the most important ways to ensure the health of an application is application performance monitoring. Running an application without APM software is like driving a car without any gauges. You can do it, but you never know when something unfortunate is happening or about to happen. While this is a relatively simplistic view of APM, it highlights the basic principle behind the technology: It's all about the data it collects.
Why is APM important?
APM software collects metrics about every facet of an application's infrastructure, allowing you to identify problems before they happen and diagnose them afterwards. But beyond simply monitoring the health of your application infrastructure, APM tools provide a host of benefits to both the engineering and business side of an organization.
Like a Swiss army knife, APM software offers many features. While its overall goal is to provide insight into the architecture behind an application, it often provides additional tools to better identify where, when and why an application is performing the way it is. This capability can come in the form of automated alerting, multi-environment tracking, version control integration and even AI functionality. These additional features, while not the core product offering, can provide much-needed context and clarity to the metrics.
With extensive research into APM software, TechTarget editors have focused this series of articles on vendors that offer APM capabilities as a separate platform rather than as part of a larger system. Our research included Gartner, Forrester and TechTarget surveys.
When it comes to application performance, there's always room for improvement. While APM tools monitor the performance of a given application by definition, the direct benefits of that performance monitoring are insight into both production-level performance and application performance metrics in other environments. This insight makes identifying discrepancies across multiple application environments significantly easier. It also provides a mechanism for diagnosing performance issues without affecting production stability.
From an engineering perspective, there is nothing more stressful than diagnosing hard-to-find issues in a production environment. One wrong step can cause the system to go down for an entire customer base.
APM tools immediately mitigate these issues by providing direct insight into any errors that are happening. Rather than having to reproduce an error in a production environment, you can review the metrics that the platform collects to get a better understanding of the circumstances that caused the issue in the first place.
Compliance with service-level agreements (SLAs) is crucial. While there are targeted methods for keeping track of SLA compliance, you can use APM tools to generate reports that accurately demonstrate compliance in addition to the metrics and reports that they are already providing.
Rather than using a proprietary or overly specific tool set for generating SLA reports, using APM software ensures that the data you are using to report SLA compliance is the same data that other parts of the organization are using to conduct their own operations.
Customer experience monitoring
While APM often focuses on the technical side of performance, it is important to remember that the end user is the ultimate judge of performance. Optimizing performance without the user in mind is a mistake that can lead to a bad development strategy.
Luckily, APM tools can improve the customer experience. APM metrics can provide insight into the sales funnel, identify technical issues that may interfere with scalability and measure customer experience in a quantitative way.
Track business-relevant metrics
In addition to tracking customer-relevant metrics, APM tools can also track business-relevant metrics. With the right level of integration and customization, APM software can segregate metrics that are directly relevant to the business from those that are directly relevant to the engineering department. These tools don't always lend themselves to key performance indicator tracking, but data about the application infrastructure can provide nontechnical metrics that may be useful.
Making the decision
Not every project or organization requires an APM platform. For some, the number of features these tools provide is overkill. For others, it isn't targeted enough. When deciding if an APM tool would be beneficial to your organization, it's important to ask the right questions. Here are some of the questions that are worth asking.
Does my organization need the features an APM platform provides?
While APM platforms offer a large number of features, the core functionality can generally be broken down into two categories: monitoring and analysis. While monitoring is relatively straightforward, the analytical features that most APM tools offer might not be useful.
Let's say, for example, that your application infrastructure is incredibly lightweight. The high level of analysis provided by commercial APM tools might require too much overhead, especially when compared to feature-light alternatives. On the flip side, if your application infrastructure rivals that of a large-scale cloud provider, like Amazon or Google, the analysis that commercial APM tools provide might not be specific enough to properly serve your organization. Ultimately, the size of your application infrastructure will play a significant role in the type of APM you might want to use -- if at all. Heavily trafficked applications, for example, will find more value in APM software that offers user-focused monitoring and analysis features, while complex applications that smaller organizations can build will benefit from APM platforms that have significant root cause analysis features.
Would an APM platform be a cost-effective investment for my organization?
From an engineering perspective, there is nothing more valuable than data. And when something goes wrong, that data is doubly important. While an application can live without APM software, bug diagnosis is much more difficult without it.
APM tools aren't always cheap, but neither are engineers. If you provide tools that help your team focus more on building and maintaining a production-level application and less on diagnosing issues, the better off you will be.
The ROI of using an APM can be identified by measuring the change in user churn rate as optimizations to an application's speed and stability are made as a result of the analyses done by the platform. Identifying and deploying improvements to an application's latency and responsiveness will increase both the end-user satisfaction and the amount of time they actually spend using the application. While the data itself is more difficult to collect without an APM tool, identifying the financial impact on the use of one can be done early and often.
Despite their benefits, APM tools aren't a perfect fit for every project, so you should carefully weigh this buying decision. Beyond simply looking at the feature-specific benefits, it is also important to weigh the financial and temporal costs of adopting a platform.