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Application performance monitoring best practices

The significance of APM monitoring and observability cannot be overstated as technology continues to evolve and applications serve as the backbone of countless business operations. As organizations increasingly rely on digital solutions to drive their processes and engage with users, ensuring optimal performance and availability has become paramount. This goes beyond system uptime, delving into the intricate details of application behavior, response times, and resource utilization. A comprehensive approach is essential for identifying bottlenecks, optimizing user experiences, and proactively addressing issues before they impact end-users.

7 best practices for application performance monitoring and observability

Let's take a look at seven application performance monitoring (APM) best practices that will transform your monitoring strategy from reactive problem-solving to proactive performance optimization, ensuring your applications deliver the user experience and business results that matter most:

Application Performance Monitoring Best Practices - ManageEngine Applications Manager

1. Define your performance objectives

It's crucial to define the "why" of your efforts before diving into the technical intricacies of monitoring. Align your performance objectives with clear, measurable goals that resonate with your business needs and user expectations. Are you aiming to boost conversion rates by 20% through faster page load times? Are you looking to automate the existing manual tasks by 35%? Striving to meet 99.9% of your SLAs? By establishing these quantifiable targets, you will be able to ensure your monitoring strategy focuses on data points that directly impact tangible outcomes, not just vanity metrics. Next, you need to establish a baseline for application behavior, leveraging MELT (metrics, events, logs, traces) data. This involves comprehensively understanding the normal operational parameters of an application under typical conditions. By meticulously analyzing and documenting key performance metrics during periods of stable and expected activity, organizations can create a baseline that serves as a reference point for detecting anomalies.

2. Know what to monitor and why

When it comes to application performance monitoring, there are a wide variety of metrics you need to be aware of. Here are some of the most important metrics that you need to keep an eye on:

  • Application availability: Businesses rely on consistent application availability to achieve operational efficiency and meet compliance standards and service level agreements. Excessive or intermittent downtime can have a detrimental impact on your business.
  • Response time: Measuring response time allows you to understand how long the application takes to respond to requests. These requests may come from end-users or internal microservices. For example, one microservice calls another to fetch relevant data from a distributed database. Another related metric is page load time, which tracks how fast a webpage loads in a browser. This helps you spot issues that slow down the page, preventing page abandonment and lost business.
  • Error rate: No one wants to encounter errors - be it 404, 401 or 503 errors. In fact, sudden spikes or consistent high error rates are an indicator of underlying problems such as software bugs, integration issues, infrastructure challenges, and more. Tracking error rates allows for the early identification of potential issues within the application. Receiving notifications right when errors occur and being able to set thresholds would help you validate and prioritize them. For example, you can configure your APM tool to send an alert when the last five requests have resulted in 503 errors, signaling a potential service outage.
  • Transactions: Monitoring transactions is paramount for gaining granular insights into your requests as they traverse through the various components of an application. It enables organizations to identify bottlenecks, optimize performance, and ensure seamless user experiences. Without tracking transaction traces, challenges arise in diagnosing complex issues, as there is limited visibility into the flow of requests across different services. For instance, a slowdown in a specific microservice might go undetected, impacting the overall application performance. Additionally, troubleshooting becomes challenging without a detailed transaction trace, hindering the quick identification and resolution of performance bottlenecks.
  • Resource utilization: High and low resource utilization both can be a sign of performance problems. This includes CPU, memory, disk, and your network usage. For instance, if your CPU usage consistently surpasses 70% for more than 30% of your application's total runtime, there's a risk of running out of capacity. On the flip side, if your disk usage is consistently idling at 20%, you might be paying for unused storage. Also, crucial data could be crammed onto overloaded servers and affecting performance. It's crucial to set usage thresholds, analyze historical data, plan for current and future capacity needs, and project utilization trends to navigate these challenges. These practices ensure efficient resource management, avoiding both under utilization and overutilization for sustained optimal performance.

3. Eliminate potential tool sprawls

Diverse teams, each with unique responsibilities, often employ a multitude of tools to cater to their specific needs. For instance, DevOps teams focus on streamlining and automating the development cycle. While site reliability engineers (SREs) concentrate on ensuring the reliability of applications, services in production environments, and optimal website performance. While each tool serves a purpose for individual teams, the proliferation of different tools hampers overall visibility and complicates issue resolution. In this context, interoperability becomes a non-negotiable capability in an APM tool. While it may be impractical to replace 50 tools in an organization at once, an effective APM solution should offer sufficient capabilities to replace at least a subset and seamlessly integrate with the others. Eliminating tool sprawl emerges as one of the application performance monitoring best practices, adding substantial value by consolidating insights, reducing complexities, and fostering a more streamlined and efficient monitoring process.

4. Automate remediation and incident response

When major incidents occur, manual troubleshooting can be counterproductive. This is exactly where automation comes in handy. It is crucial for organizations to identify specific scenarios and events that warrant automation, such as resource scaling during traffic spikes or restarting services upon failure. Defining these objectives will ensure that automation efforts align with organizational goals and priorities. To maximize the benefits of automation, you should follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Improve your detection capabilities: You need to be able to detect anomalies automatically, streamline the integration process to connect all data sources for alerts, events, and incidents, and validate alerts to reduce noise.
  • Step 2: Diagnose and understand issues: This involves gaining deeper insights into affected components, getting a broader context, and preventing problems from escalating.
  • Step 3: Resolve incidents and streamline response: You need to be able to automatically trigger remediation actions with as little human involvement. Additionally, issues need to be redirected to people who are best equipped to solve them.

5. Factor in the end-user experience

The end-user experience isn't just a bonus in application performance monitoring—it's a fundamental pillar. No matter how stellar your server response times or CPU utilization rates are, if users click away due to poor digital experience, all the technical stats means nothing. You need to be able to understand user behavior, preferences, and potential pain points in real time, track their journeys across geographies, and understand where the bottlenecks lie. Imagine your "Apdex" score dropping from a good 0.85 to a not-so-good 0.65 – that's a sign something's off. With a robust end-user experience strategy in place, you will be able to understand if this issue is because of a slow load time after deploying a new feature or concurrent user sessions. Here are three best practices you can follow:

  • Set up synthetic transaction monitoring to go beyond merely validating availability and loading times. This will help you simulate user interactions with applications and test out their possible behaviors.
  • Leverage real-user monitoring to track user journeys in real time and fix front-end issues.
  • Adopt an integrated approach to performance monitoring by contextually correlating your backend infrastructure metrics with your front-end performance. This will give you a holistic picture of what exactly is going on.

6. Embrace continuous improvement and optimization

Business applications, much like the businesses they support, must undergo constant evolution to navigate new challenges effectively and capitalize on emerging opportunities. Engaging in the continual upgrade and optimization of both applications and their underlying infrastructure and services becomes paramount to staying agile and responsive. Application monitoring is not a one-time task, but an ongoing process that demands adaptability and customization. Some of the best practices in application performance monitoring include:

  • Regularly review and update monitoring configurations to align with evolving business goals and user demands. Customization is key, as tailored monitoring solutions better address the specific needs of your applications.
  • Stay proactive by implementing automated alerts that notify teams of potential issues in real time, allowing for swift intervention.
  • Conduct regular performance assessments to identify areas for enhancement, enabling data-driven decision-making.

7. Invest in collaboration and ownership

Effective APM doesn't solely reside in the IT department. It is imperative to foster a culture of collaboration where developers, operations, and business stakeholders share responsibility for application performance management. Setting up unified dashboards will help you consolidate data from various sources providing a single, comprehensive view of application performance metrics. This not only enhances visibility but also streamlines issue resolution by enabling cross-functional teams to identify and address performance bottlenecks collectively.

Meet Applications Manager: The one-stop solution for all your application performance monitoring needs

ManageEngine Applications Manager provides deep application performance monitoring, infrastructure monitoring, and digital experience monitoring—all from a single console. With our comprehensive solution, you will be able to gain unparalleled insight into the performance of your applications, whether on-premise or in the cloud. Furthermore, you will be able to diagnose issues, drill down to their root cause, automate actions, and deliver flawless user experiences. Curious to know more? Schedule a personalized demo or take a 30-day free trial today!

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