Because application performance management (APM) is a complex area influenced by a multitude of factors, trying to sum it up in a page or two is difficult. Rather than trying to cover it all, here we provide brief overviews of both traditional methods and newer approaches such as software-as-a-service options in order to give the user some guidelines on the selection process.
We do not attempt to detail all the vendors and their technologies. Instead, we offer a sampling from different categories, as well as links to where you can learn more about vendor choices.
Why is APM important? Aruna Ravichandran, vice president, APM and DevOps at CA Technologies, notes the huge priority today’s businesses give to their applications in terms of achieving competitive advantage.
"Enterprises are putting the responsibility of their brands in the hands of IT, raising the importance of application performance management," said Ravichandran. "Application issues simply cannot be tolerated by users in the business or by end customers, as switching costs have been reduced to near zero in many cases."
Application Performance Management Frameworks
A logical place to start among the toolsets is with the traditional APM products available from the likes of BMC, CA, HP Enterprise Software and IBM Tivoli. They represent the philosophy of "one tool to guide them all." These frameworks have evolved over the past 20 years to take on more and more management and monitoring duties. Everything from storage to operations to service desk -- and of course applications -- falls under the framework umbrella.
CA APM came closest to making it into the leaders' quadrant in the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for Application Performance Management, though HP is also knocking on the door. CA APM by CA Technologies is said to help users diagnose performance problems in productivity and revenue-generating applications while ensuring the end-user experience.
According to Ravichandran, it provides a 360-degree view by linking transactions to the underlying infrastructure across physical, virtual, cloud and mainframe environments. Built-in application behavior analytics jump-start troubleshooting by scanning performance metrics for potential problems. Pricing starts at $13,000 (this includes CA Introscope, CA Customer Experience Manager and CA Application Behavior Analytics for up to 19 processors.)
CA APM Cloud Monitor, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, provides insight into application performance and availability and complements on-premise CA APM. The pricing for CA APM Cloud Monitor starts at $1,800 per month (price includes up to 75 monitors, and is inclusive of Office 365 Solution for up to 30 contacts).
"CA APM is modular, spans across all APM components and provides flexibility to extend application awareness from mobile-to-mainframe, either on-premise or SaaS," said Ravichandran.
Large enterprises that need to monitor tier 1 or mission-critical applications are a strong segment for CA, Ravichandran said. The company boasts more than 1,000 large enterprise customers around the world, including seven of the top 10 financial institutions, seven of the top 10 telcos and seven of the top 10 healthcare organizations. But its SaaS offering is gaining some traction among smaller organizations.
Choice of application performance management is not a decision IT departments should take lightly, Ravichandran said, noting that users are sometimes quick to move to another choice when the experience isn’t what they expected.
"Make sure the solution includes all APM components so that you can pinpoint the culprit and fix it," said Ravichandran. “End user experience gives you what went wrong, network awareness provides network visibility and latency, and root cause analysis provides the info on why it happened.
New Relic APM
Among the alternative to framework vendors is New Relic APM, which is located in the leaders' portion of the Gartner Magic Quadrant.
New Relic APM is said to give app developers, devops teams and IT operations staff with deep visibility into the real-time performance management of six computing languages for modern software, from the end user experience, through the servers, across distributed applications, and down to the line of code. It is also said to offer visibility from nearly any component of the application stack, including database, caching, networking, queuing, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and cloud services, monitoring metrics that can streamline and automate their workflows.
The lite version of Web App Performance is free, while its standard version goes for $149 a month per host. There is also an enterprise version. Pricing for Mobile App Performance is free for lite and $29 a month with annual commitment for at least 50,000 users for xtandard.
"New Relic’s SaaS-based APM solution is fast to deploy and provides immediate visibility into the health of the app in only five minutes with no ongoing infrastructure, support or configuration," said Bill Hodak, the company's senior director of Product Marketing.
He added that New Relic monitors live production data by inserting its own agents directly inside code, gathering event-driven metrics that record how customers are interacting with applications. By collecting data from the source, he said users are better equipped to understand the performance, health and user experiences of their applications, and derive business value.
New Relic includes more than 50 plug-ins, including Amazon Web Services, MySQL and Rackspace Hosting, as well as its own to customize the monitoring of their evolving app environments.
Hodak's advice to users is to try out lots of different application performance management tools. Most of the newer SaaS APM tools have free-to-try versions. He also drew attention to scalability.
"The best APM platform will support multiple computing languages, plug-ins and programming languages, and be agile enough to grow along with the users’ business," he said.
Riverbed is another leader named in the Gartner MQ. Its APM solution is comprised of two main products: AppInternals and AppResponse. A Web portal known as Dashboards is continuously updated with data from AppInternals and AppResponse.
"We are the only vendor that provides end-to-end visibility into application performance from the user, network and the application perspective," said Nik Koutsoukos, senior director of Marketing at Riverbed. "Our overall app performance management solution provides both a view from within the application itself and a network-based view of the application, and its delivery.
AppInternals resides within the application to understand how each transaction is performing, and diagnose where delays are, down to the line of code at the class/method/SQL call level. Developers can use it to test and debug code in pre-production environments. Operations and support teams, on the other hand, might use it for health checks on the application. The AppInternals Collector costs $3,195 per OS instance, while AppInternals Management Server costs $27,995, with one license needed per 100 collectors.
AppResponse allows you to monitor application response times for each user-request and diagnose delays across the various layers of an application. It sits passively on the network (as a physical or virtual appliance) and collects cross-tier performance metrics. An AppResponse Appliance ranges from $11,795 to $26,695 for a virtual appliance and $10,490 to $229,000 for a physical appliance. In addition, AppResponse Analysis Modules are priced at anywhere from $4,999 to $267,495. These include modules for NetShark, Citrix, VoIP and database.
Another APM Approach
TeamQuest Performance Software takes a different tack compared to all the others. Dave Wagner, director of Market Development at TeamQuest, said the company takes data from other application performance management tools such as CA, HP and BMC.
"APM tools provide data on how you are performing against SLAs," said Wagner. "We apply advanced analytics to find out why. We can also help ensure all the necessary resources that underlie that app are right sized for optimum performance."
In other words, traditional APM tools tend to measure and manage the end-user experience in terms of performance via metrics like response time (i.e. an Amazon.com order’s response time is so many milliseconds). TeamQuest strives to determine if there are one or more bottlenecks in the system (network, server, storage, the app code itself) and how to resolve them to ensure the end-user is satisfied with the service. Wagner added that you can measure the success of TeamQuest's recommended actions by checking it out using the APM tool.
"We can model using analytics to establish tight relationships between the end-user experience and the resources that support it," he said.
Application Performance Management: Try Before Buying
There are many different directions companies can go when it comes to application performance management. Users are advised to choose carefully. This is an area of IT that is evolving rapidly. While some of the new kids on the block may be ahead of the game, don’t count out the established powers. As Hodak said, try them out before you buy and see what works best for you.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in Florida, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).