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The Anatomy of APM

Four foundational elements to a successful strategy

By embracing End-User-Experience (EUE) measurements as a key vehicle for demonstrating productivity, you build trust with your constituents in a very tangible way.  The translation of IT metrics into business meaning (value) is what APM is all about.

The goal here is to simplify a complicated technology space by walking through a high-level view within each core element.  I'm suggesting that the success factors in APM adoption center around the EUE and the integration touch points with the ITIL / ITSM processes.

When looking at APM at 20,000 feet, four foundational elements come into view:

  • Top Down Monitoring
  • Bottom Up Monitoring
  • ITIL / ITSM Processes
  • Reporting & Analytics

Top Down Monitoring
This is also referred to as Real-time Application monitoring that focuses on the End-User-Experience.  It has two has two components, Passive and Active.  Passive monitoring is often an agentless appliance leveraging network port mirroring, but can also be accomplished by non-intrusive software agents installed directly on application hosts.  This provides a very high value within APM in terms of application visibility for the business as they understand the relationships between system components.

Active monitoring, on the other hand, consists of synthetic probes and web robots which are predefined to report on system availability and business transactions. This is a good complement when used with passive monitoring that together will help provide visibility on application health during off peak hours when transaction volume is low.

Bottom Up Monitoring
This is also referred to as Infrastructure monitoring which usually ties into an operations manager tool and becomes the central collection point where event correlation happens.  Minimally, at this level up/down monitoring should be in place for all nodes/servers within the environment.  System automation is the key component to the timeliness and accuracy of incidents being created through the Trouble Ticket Interface.  Taking it to the next level, tying incident metrics to the insights provided by Top Down Monitoring - specifically in terms of trend analytics at the time of an event - offer the context needed to make Bottom Up Monitoring actionable.

ITIL / ITSM (Processes)
The Incident Management Process as defined in ITIL is a foundational pillar to support Application Performance Management (APM).  In our situation, Incident Management, Problem Management, and Change Management processes were already established in the culture for a year prior to us beginning to implement the APM strategies.

A look into ITIL's Continual Service Improvement (CSI) model and the benefits of Application Performance Management indicates they are both focused on improvement, with APM defining toolsets that tie together specific processes in Service Design, Service Transition, and Service Operation.

Reporting Metrics
Capturing the raw data for analysis is essential for an APM strategy to be successful.  It is important to arrive at a common set of metrics that you will collect and then standardize on a common view on how to present the real-time performance data.

Your best bet: Alert on the Averages and Profile with Percentiles. Use 5 minute averages for real-time performance alerting, and percentiles for overall application profiling and Service Level Management.

Conclusion
As you go deeper in your exploration of APM and begin sifting through the technical dogma, (e.g. transaction tagging, script injection, application profiling, etc.), for key decision points, take a step back and ask yourself why you're doing this in the first place: To translate IT metrics into an End-User-Experience that provides value back to the business.

More Stories By Larry Dragich

Larry Dragich is actively involved with industry leaders, sharing knowledge of Application Performance Management (APM) technologies, from best practices and technical workflows, to resource allocation and approaches for implementation. He has been working in the APM space since 2006 where he built the Enterprise Systems Management team which is now the focal point for IT performance monitoring and capacity planning activities.