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Application performance management tools: A must-have for the cloud

SSQ contributor Crystal Bedell talks to APM experts about considerations for decision makers when evaluating APM tools for their cloud-based applications.

As with so many other areas within application lifecycle management (ALM), the cloud is driving a renewed interest in a toolset designed to improve efficiency. In this case, that toolset is application performance management (APM). Traditionally, organizations could get away with not having an APM tool. But as organizations begin to move enterprise applications to the cloud – the public cloud, in particular – the need for a tool that monitors and manages the performance and availability of applications becomes a must-have. Meanwhile, organizations that use APM tools for on-premise applications are finding themselves re-evaluating the tools they’ve invested in.

“Cloud is one of the key things that is really driving a reevaluation [of APM] in most companies. Research is showing that quite a number of companies are reevaluating their APM portfolios specifically because they are adopting cloud,” says Julie Craig, research director, Enterprise Management Associates.

Before the advent of APM tools, application performance troubleshooting was a time consuming and tedious task. Tools were used to manage some aspect of the IT environment, but none of them provided a holistic view of an application. For example, infrastructure management tools provided visibility into the infrastructure and network management tools provided visibility into the network, explains Craig.

When an application suffered a performance problem, each tool and the person responsible for it would be consulted. “Organizations were trying to manage applications by looking at vertical technologies,” says Craig. “As time went on, they found that this was counterproductive and time consuming because as applications started to span potentially hundreds of tiers, you couldn’t really just call the people in charge with each of these technologies.”

The availability of application performance management tools offers a more efficient means of troubleshooting and managing application performance. But, according to Craig, some companies are still trying to manage their applications by looking at the vertical technologies.  

“The good news is every year I see more and more companies becoming aware of the need to manage application performance, mainly because it’s costing too much to manage applications without tools, and it takes too much time to solve application problems. Meanwhile, the users are twiddling their thumbs while the app becomes usable again,” says Craig.

And now there is an increasing need to manage applications that are hosted off-premise. As organizations move their enterprise applications to the public cloud, they need visibility into the technology stack and the ability to control it. Unfortunately, organizations that already have APM tools for on-premise applications may find that those tools do not work for the cloud.

“Those who have already adopted APM are mature enough to start looking at whether those solutions are capable of managing their cloud solutions as well. In terms of visibility, it’s a totally different game when those apps are no longer hosted on premise,” says Craig. “The tools companies have in house may have little or no visibility into applications that are running in the public cloud.”

To complicate matters further, the vendors building APM tools face the same challenges as the cloud customer: a lack of visibility and control. “I see the whole idea of APM for cloud as being in a very early state. Vendors are doing the best they can. It just takes awhile to get all these pieces in place,” says Craig.

APM tools are continually evolving, but that doesn’t mean that you should wait to invest in a tool. If you have a need for APM today, then look for a solution that will solve 80% of the problems you have today, advises Craig.  “It’s more key than ever before to work with vendors that you feel confident will continue to enhance their product going forward; in other words, vendors that have a good track record of growing with you,” says Craig.

Scott Barber, Chief  Technologist, PerfTestPlus Inc., advises organizations to perform a gap analysis when determining what tools they need for managing their applications. “Make sure you take a good hard look at your tool options-- what’s included, what’s not included, and make a comparison with what you already own and what you actually need,” says Barber. “Don’t pay for stuff you’re not going to use. Don’t get stuck thinking you bought everything you need and find out you’re missing a huge component,” he adds.

Fortunately, the APM tool you invest in for cloud-hosted applications should also work for your on-premise applications. “There’s a lot of rebranding going on, and a lot of vendors are enhancing their tools to handle remote cloud environments better. It’s still the same tool. Once the tool that you’re used to makes that release or once you get that upgrade or next version, if that vendor hasn’t made it to be used in both, get a new vendor. . . if it works in the cloud it should work in-house as well,” says Barber.

That said there’s no need for organizations to settle for one tool. “No one product will be an end-all-be-all,” says Craig. “You might want to have one comprehensive product, then a couple others. I’m not sure I’d look for any one vendor who has the perfect solution, but I would want to look for a vendor that would grow with me as my problems become more complex as time goes on,” says Craig.

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