Software

Why you need to learn about application performance monitoring

Application performance monitoring isn't new, but APM will get bigger soon, and your end users will thank you for that.

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Image: metamorworks, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Application performance monitoring (APM) has existed for a while, but Gartner said last spring that APM suites are only used for about 5% of business software. The research firm said it expects that figure to reach 20% by 2021, so now is a good time to learn about it.

Cisco Systems bet big on that market with its $3.7 billion acquisition of AppDynamics in 2017. Mostly they compete against CA Technologies, Dynatrace, and New Relic, according to Gartner. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Riverbed Technology are worthy challengers, while BMC, HPE, and a bevy of smaller companies are niche players, they said. (You can find the report for free on many vendors' websites.)

SEE: Software usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

Professional baseball managers will be implored by front offices to ignore their gut feelings and follow analytics as the postseason unfolds this month, but with application performance monitoring the opposite is largely true. Matt Chotin, technical evangelist for AppDynamics, emphasized that the top thing you need to know when shopping for or using APM software is to focus on end user experiences, not hardware numbers.

The experience-centric approach is happening at least partially because hardware is already insanely fast. The recent shift away from hard drives and toward flash drives, the current trend of all-flash arrays, and the upcoming move toward system backplanes designed for non-volatile methods all underpin this.

"I think about Moore's Law... that doesn't mean our experience of software has gotten measurably faster. Developers will always take advantage of and abuse the hardware underneath," Chotin noted. "Yes, your data access gets faster, yes, it is cheaper to store more, but that doesn't eliminate the class of problems you're going to run into like resource contention. In fact it may make it even harder to track down."

"I think the biggest misconception in operations is that application performance is system performance," such as CPU speed, disk utilization, and network I/O speed, Chotin continued, "but those are not the true indicators of what your user is experiencing."

Gartner called this "digital experience monitoring." Their report also cited other functions such as "application discovery, tracing, and diagnostics" along with artificial intelligence as the three major aspects of application performance monitoring.

SEE: Solving outages with application performance monitoring (ZDNet)

Business applications usually only have a couple of dozen main tasks that users can do, Chotin said. He agreed with the AI part of Gartner's assessment that APM software will evolve in the next few years to include machine learning and to make better use of itself when it's not busy doing anything else, just like backup software.

Unfortunately for buyers, there aren't any APM industry standards. There have been some efforts in the open-source community but nothing to pervade mainstream commercial applications, Chotin said. Shoppers must compare feature lists and ease-of-use, he said.

Chotin spoke mostly from an industry perspective, but what about inside AppDynamics itself? Its future, as expected, is deeper integration with Cisco networking products. That will enable the software to better understand how applications perform when the code resides in microservices, on virtual servers, or across public/private clouds. Look for an announcement in the next few months, Chotin said.

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About Evan Koblentz

Evan became a technology reporter during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. He published a book, "Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers" in 2015 and is executive director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 501(c)3 non-p...

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