October 17, 2023 By IBM Instana Team 7 min read

It is vital for organizations to understand how their applications operate to ensure that applications meet expectations for performance, availability and overall end-user experience. This is achieved through application monitoring, and the use of application monitoring software.

Broadly speaking, application monitoring software measures application performance, security and compliance, sends alerts when performance baselines are not met, provides insight into the root causes of performance issues and uses automation to resolve detected issues before they impact the end-user experience. A strong application monitoring tool—and the insight it provides—will help your teams meet SLAs and make more informed decisions for your business.

Increasingly, the application monitoring field is evolving. Many solutions now move beyond traditional application performance monitoring (APM) tools toward observability—“performance data collection and analysis technology better suited to the complexity of modern, distributed cloud-native applications.” 

Application monitoring strategies vary based on an organization’s needs, and there are specific types of application monitoring—some will fit your organization better than others—that can be used to help improve application performance, health, dependencies, security gaps and more. Let’s look at some different types of application monitoring.

Types of application monitoring

Choosing the appropriate application monitoring solution is crucial for successful application monitoring and management, particularly with the increasing number of applications in today’s IT environments. Modern IT architectures are often complex, and it’s important to choose a monitoring tool capable of operating across various deployment models—public and private cloud, hybrid and multicloud, for instance—that also supports a wide range of integrations.

There are various types of application monitoring and each serves a different purpose. Understanding how each type works and the purpose served is the first step to identifying the software solution and strategy that best meets your organization’s needs. (The following section includes information from the IBM Application Performance Management page.)

  1. Digital experience monitoring gathers performance metrics—such as load time, response time, uptime and downtime—from the user interface on the end-user device. It is useful in gaining an understanding of user behavior that enables the prompt troubleshooting and resolution of frontend issues. (This used to be called end-user experience monitoring, but was broadened to acknowledge that non-human entities, such as robots or other software components, also interact with the application and have performance expectations of their own). Digital experience monitoring usually supports real-user monitoring, which monitors the experience of an actual user on the system, and synthetic monitoring, for performance testing in production and non-production environments.
  2. Application monitoring includes monitoring of the entire application stack—application framework (e.g., Java or .NET), operating system, database, APIs, middleware, web application server, UI—as well as IT infrastructure monitoring that samples factors such as CPU utilization, disk space and network performance. Stack monitoring typically includes code-level tracing, which can help spot portions of code that might be causing a performance bottleneck.
  3. Database monitoring samples performance of SQL queries or procedures, in addition to the dataset monitoring provided by application monitoring agents.
  4. Availability monitoring monitors the actual availability of application and hardware components (because applications can generate performance data even when they aren’t accessible to the end user).
  5. Performance monitoring measures response time and real-time application data to gauge application performance and identify issues, such as slow database queries, increased network latency and central processor unit (CPU) spikes, in a proactive manner.
  6. Resource monitoring can be considered more of a granular approach to application monitoring since it tracks resource usage, such as CPU, memory and storage. By monitoring resource utilization, an organization can optimize the use of application resources and ensure applications have the necessary resources to run efficiently and effectively. Resource monitoring is a key component of cloud cost optimization, which the IBM® Turbonomic® platform is specifically designed to do.
  7. Security monitoring is used to detect security vulnerabilities and threats, such as phishing and malware scams or other unauthorized access attempts. It enables organizations to protect their sensitive data and comply with industry regulations.

What to look for in APM tools

Finding a solution that allows you to move beyond the capabilities of traditional APM tools is key to achieving optimal application performance in a modern application stack. As you compare pricing and other variables, here are some features to look for in APM solutions:

  • Full-stack observability: Looking at just one piece of the puzzle won’t cut it—you need to be able to view your entire environment and all dependencies through intuitive (and, ideally, customizable) dashboards to understand how and why your IT environment functions as it does. This comprehensive understanding will help you make more informed decisions when it comes to application performance and resourcing. Such visibility not only allows your teams to understand the full impact of proposed decisions and move forward with confidence, but it democratizes the monitoring and management process, allowing more teams to directly access the information they need.
  • Automation: These days, automation is the name of the game. Trying to keep up with all aspects of your IT environment manually is near impossible—at the very least it will cost you a ton and run your teams ragged. You will want a tool that leverages automation, with features like automated alerts, automated report generation or automated incident remediation, to reduce the manual workload that falls to your IT and DevOps teams.
  • Scalability: Rather than having to upgrade your APM tools as your business grow, you’ll want a solution that can scale seamlessly with your business. Seek out a tool that can collect, aggregate, store and analyze data from across your environment—including both mobile and desktop—even as your environment grows more complex, and one that can deliver insights that assist in strategic decision-making.
  • Root cause analysis and remediation: Look for a tool that automatically detects changes, issues and incidents and provides the information in context. This helps drastically decrease the time required to investigate and address the root cause of issues impacting your applications. A solution with threshold-based smart alerts, automatic detection and correlation of events, issues and service incidents, and automatic identification of each incident’s likely root cause will result in the fastest mean time to resolution (MTTR).
  • Integration capabilities: You will likely employ many different tools in the management of your IT environment, and the better they work together, the more efficient your workflows will be. For instance, IBM® Instana® Observability integrates with other monitoring tools, such as log management and network monitoring tools like Turbonomic to provide a comprehensive view of application performance across the entire IT infrastructure with no plug-ins or application restarts. Also, find out what deployment options are offered. Some APM software offer on-premises and cloud-based deployment options, giving companies more choices for install.

Application monitoring best practices

With an understanding of the different types of application monitoring, it’s easier to implement best practices that help achieve performance goals and maintain the health of your IT environment. Keep these key practices in mind as you setup or overhaul your application monitoring system:

Establish clear performance goals

Set clear performance goals that can be measured against quantifiable metrics and KPIs. Once goals have been set, there should be a plan to reach those goals, one that includes regular monitoring and analyzation of performance data to gauge progress.

If you are still working on defining your performance goals, you may want to consider industry standards, say for resource utilization or downtime, as well as end-user expectations, to help determine what constitutes poor, acceptable or outstanding performance in the context of your business.

Monitor the appropriate metrics

The amount of data available can be overwhelming and deciding which metrics to track can be confusing. Knowing which metrics are most germane to your goals will help you focus in on the most valuable information and block out much of the noise. Common metrics critical to identifying performance issues include:

  • CPU usage
  • Error rates
  • Response times
  • Request rates
  • User experience data/feedback

Set up customized alerts and notifications

Setting customized alerts and notifications based on the performance thresholds established for your organization and your SLAs is critical. Generally, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and you will want to consider factors like user traffic, response times and error rates as they pertain to your business.

With customized alerts and notifications, when an issue arises, a relevant team member is notified who can examine and address the issue before it impacts the end-user experience. Many platforms also enable automated remediation.  The key here is that you establish a system that is tailored to your needs specifically, one that can alert your teams in near real time to prevent issues from compounding. You’ll want to keep a few things in mind as you set up your system to ensure it functions effectively:

  • Avoid alert fatigue: It’s important that teams are swiftly notified of any potential issues, but too many alerts will cause alert fatigue and for the important alerts to get lost in a sea of noise. Carefully define what situations are critical enough to warrant an alert and consider grouping related alerts into a single notification when possible. Make sure alerts are accompanied by contextual information that will help teams quickly resolve the issue.
  • Define a process: Make sure that there is a clear and concise process for the swift and appropriate escalation of critical issues, and that this process is communicated to all relevant parties.
  • Streamline notifications: It’s likely your employees are already working across a number of platforms—email, Slack, project management software, etc. Explore the possibility of users receiving notifications where they already work; is it possible to integrate alerts into collaborative channels currently in use, and prevent your teams from having to adopt another platform?
  • Review and refine: SLAs and technologies change, and your business is ever-evolving. It’s important to review alert systems on a basis appropriate for your business, and to adjust your methods and incorporate new features as needed.

Build with security and compliance in mind

Maintaining the security of your software applications and making sure that you adhere to relevant compliance requirements, should be a top priority within your monitoring strategy. When planning your strategy, consider the requirements of your business and what tools, like encryption or network/user access controls, you will need to meet these requirements.

Some industries have strict regulatory and compliance standards, and a properly configured monitoring system is an efficient way to demonstrate to auditors that your business has a consistent process for maintaining compliance along with the documentation to prove it.

Because data breaches can have huge financial and reputational repercussions, you will want to make sure that your monitoring solution not only tracks performance, but also focuses on security. In addition to establishing security systems, like firewalls and robust access controls, you’ll want to make sure that your monitoring software tracks things like network traffic, user activity and system logs. Such monitoring allows you to identify anomalies and potential security incidents and mitigate the impact of a security breach. 

Leverage automation

Modern environments are often too complex to efficiently monitor manually. To remain competitive, look to take advantage of APM tools that leverage automation. For instance, an application monitoring solution that can automatically analyze logs, automatically perform root cause analysis and provide suggestions for remediation when raising alerts, or automatically adjust resource allocation to adjust for dips or spikes in demand can help you save both time and money.

Because of the volume and breadth of information that can be analyzed through automated processes, and the depth of insight that can be provided, using automation in your application monitoring can help you gain a stronger, more comprehensive understanding of your environment and help speed up innovation.

Application monitoring solutions

Both IBM Instana Observability and IBM Turbonomic can help optimize your application monitoring and performance.

Instana’s fully automated real-time observability platform goes beyond traditional application performance monitoring solutions and puts performance data in context to deliver rapid identification to help prevent and remediate issues. Instana automatically delivers continuous high-fidelity data at 1-second granularity and end-to-end traces with the context of logical and physical dependencies across mobile, web, applications and infrastructure.

The IBM® Turbonomic® hybrid cloud cost optimization platform is designed to help you get the most out of your application resourcing spend by automatically providing your applications with exactly what they need to perform. (No more overprovisioning!)

Turbonomic allows you to eliminate resourcing guesswork with solutions that save time and optimize costs. You can continuously automate critical actions in real time—and without human intervention—that proactively deliver the most efficient use of compute, storage and network resources to your apps at every layer of the stack. 

Learn more about Instana Observability
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