Next-gen APM tools: Getting the whole IT team involved with APM

IT organizations need non-siloed APM tools that can evolve and scale along with their networks.

Application performance management (APM) has always been a nebulous concept for many IT teams. No one agrees on what APM should be monitoring and what tools are best for the job. Developing the right APM strategy for a changing network can be daunting for many enterprises.

Today's applications are complex -- with some transactions running across on-premises and public cloud environments. However, many companies are managing these applications with simple tools to monitor narrow slices of the infrastructure stack instead of application management products that offer a universal view of everything, said Julie Craig, research director of application management for Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) Inc. "As businesses increasingly make use of new technologies such as cloud [and] mobile technology, APM solutions must evolve as well," she said.

A new class of APM tools monitor both network and application performance, allowing enterprises to move away from niche monitoring tools that look at CPU utilization or application response times. Instead, enterprises are adapting a broad APM strategy.

"Some enterprises still assume that today's complex transactions … and applications can be managed with siloed tools, which simply is not the case," Craig said.

New-gen APM tools: Getting the entire IT team involved with app performance

Some enterprises find that the right APM tools can get every silo in the IT organization on the same page. APM tools can help admins who have always confined themselves to monitoring their own domains to become more strategically valuable performance management professionals who understand applications, as well as the infrastructure that supports them, Craig said.

T2 Systems Inc., an Indianapolis-based parking management software provider didn't have APM in place during its first few years in operation. When the IT organization saw an increase in customers and transaction volume in 2009, it began to see the need for an affordable and scalable APM strategy, said Jim Hutchins, chief technology officer and executive vice president of T2 Systems.

"For the first few years, we were small enough to do ad hoc monitoring -- like keeping an eye on how the RAM and CPU were doing. But after 2009, we knew that OS-level tools were not going to cut it anymore," Hutchins said.

The Software as a Service provider also wanted a tool that wouldn't require IT to designate a dedicated application management professional. Hutchins and his IT staff chose ExtraHop's network-based APM and wire data analytics product, a "general purpose" tool that gave the entire team actionable data on what is happening on the network. "The idea of needing one person to work APM was daunting for us," Hutchins said. "All of my IT analysts and administrators are able to play within the ExtraHop tool and see what is happening in real-time -- like seeing how long it's taking us to respond to customers -- or even test the performance of new code before it goes into production."

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Traditional siloed IT departments have a dedicated applications team -- which was usually the group tasked with application performance, Hutchins said. "Now, it's more about having IT generalists -- people that know some about all these different aspects of the network," he said. "Most [IT professionals] can't afford to go to two-week long classes on APM and read all the release notes once a quarter, because they are busy doing so many other things."

Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina has been employing APM tools from CA Technologies for the past six years. It adopted CA tools when it company decided to make application management a cross-silo responsibility, said Jimmy Cunningham, manager of tech support and enterprise monitoring systems for Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Before that change, administrators in each functional team were buying their own monitoring tools as they needed them. Blue Cross wanted to consolidate the effort in order to coordinate how the tools were used, he said. "Different administrators would see their segments were available, but they wouldn't realize that tiny gaps in availability were adding up to pretty big impacts for customers at times," Cunningham said.

Blue Cross created a cross-silo monitoring team of administrators to use CA's APM tools to get to the source of problems faster, he said. "We wanted a more customer-oriented view into how we were doing, instead of the silo method that many companies have used."

APM tools need to continue to evolve with the enterprise

Enterprises will need APM tools that can evolve with their changing business needs, IT environments and technologies, EMA's Craig said.

When Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), an IT consulting and professional service provider, upgraded its network infrastructure to support public and private cloud-hosted applications, its legacy APM tools were insufficient. Modernizing the infrastructure meant modernizing network monitoring too, said Brien Lay, senior system administrator of Falls Church, Va.-based CSC.

After evaluating eight different APM vendors, Lay selected dynaTrace, Compuware's APM tool. In the two years that Lay and his team have been using dynaTrace, they have noticed gains in both quality and performance of CSC's systems, Lay said. CSC's development teams are now integrating APM into the building phase of new products and systems. "In the traditional world of monitoring, you have to manually go into remote servers and look at different things. And in production, that isn't always possible," he said. "Having APM in production, as well as within [like testing and development environments], has opened our eyes to issues within our systems that we really didn't know about before a customer finds it."

"When you go from having simple monitoring tools -- like server monitoring -- to having APM tools, it's a massive step up," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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