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If there's a particularly "hot" area in application performance management these days, it is probably mobile APM – where thousands and thousands of applications have been cast into the sea of mobile devices. In an environment with a huge range of variables in devices, operating systems, signal quality, etc., APM can play a critical role in ensuring app success. This is likely why some of the most notable SaaS APM providers are focused heavily on mobile APM.
Project managers looking to improve mobile application performance might consider the advice of Gartner analyst Jonah Kowall. In a 2013 report he explained that "native mobile applications are often built hastily, in a rush to have a mobile application in the marketplace." As a consequence, analytics that identify usage or performance trends are crucial to driving improvements in application quality.
That's exactly the motivation behind the development of a slew of mobile-focused SaaS APM offerings, he noted, since the SaaS option simplifies deployment.
Yet, according to IDC analyst Mary Johnston Turner, vendors are pretty inconsistent in describing what they do and why. Some focus on their mobile APM offerings in terms of real user monitoring, some emphasize analytics, and others include the end-user experience as part of a broader APM offering that also addresses synthetic monitoring.
"When you focus on just mobile APM or on end-user experience, that overlooks the fact that the way that the various APM modules interact might be just as important as single-module functions, since most applications are accessed via a range of experiences nowadays," noted Turner.
Turner said most of the leading vendors cover all the major functions; they just segment them differently. "Often it has to do with the extent to which their back-end architectures allow integration or the way they feel they can best monetize the service," she said. In addition, they sometimes focus on how their customer targets have different needs.
Among the better-known vendors offering mobile-oriented SaaS APM are New Relic, AppDynamics and Dynatrace (formerly Compuware APM). Some of their functions are summarized below.
New Relic Mobile builds on strong SaaS APM for the Web
Jonah KowallGartner analyst
Gartner's Kowall pointed out that New Relic was early to ship performance-monitoring products for mobile platforms and leverages the same SaaS infrastructure, portal and workflow that it uses for traditional, server-based APM. "This allows for tracing of the mobile application performance and stability in conjunction with the supporting server-side components, resulting in a unified view of the application and its end users across platforms," he noted.
According to the company, New Relic Mobile provides real-time performance visibility into code running on the device, as well as its back-end services. The SaaS platform itself allows access to real-time data so users can monitor the end-to-end performance of their mobile apps.
New Relic Mobile touts User Interaction Traces, which can isolate the root cause of app issues by combining app and back-end, code-level diagnostics with end-user device performance. New Relic also claims to monitor the real-user experience and provide app page views, screen load times, error analysis, and drill-downs by app version and operating system.
"We have around 6 million downloads of all our different applications. When we use New Relic, we don't get a sample, but we have real data on how the application is actually performing," said Paul Ryan, CTO of Yellow Pages Group, a New Relic customer.
Dynatrace logs user actions for diagnostics
Compuware APM was recently renamed Dynatrace. Dynatrace offers Mobile Application Monitoring in a cloud-based Free Edition that includes views of end-user experience, performance and usage analytics.
Dynatrace includes crash diagnostics, along with performance and business analytics for native mobile apps. The company said the product can track application usage, performance, availability and business-level information, and detect crashes.
On the user-experience side, Dynatrace mobile APM claims to be able to monitor "every user and every action, from every mobile device, 24/7." That includes capturing characteristics such as signal strength, battery charge, carrier and memory status. It can also drill down to trace the exact line of code associated with an app crash.
Finally, Dynatrace offers summary analytics detailing all user interactions with an application and segmenting them by device, operating system, carrier, country and connectivity. This can be supplemented with custom metrics designed for a given customer or application.
AppDynamics adds real-time data and high visibility
AppDynamics Application Performance Management works for iOS and Android with both cloud and on-premises deployment, to help monitor and manage mobile software environments.
AppDynamics Mobile APM provides real-time insights into mobile applications in any location, and allows retrieval of data by platform, device type and region, to clarify issues contributing to poor performance. The company says its Mobile APM provides specific insights into users' devices, carriers, operating systems and application versions, as well as crash reporting with root-cause analysis.
According to the company, its Mobile APM also provides insights into server performance as it relates to the performance of mobile apps, and can be configured to provide custom metrics.
"End-to-end visibility into the performance of production mobile apps is growing in importance," said Hanna Sicker, site operations manager at StubHub and an AppDynamics customer. She said it's "exciting" to her that AppDynamics can now monitor, manage and improve the performance of mobile applications "in real time."
Putting it all together
Ultimately, applying APM to mobility is perhaps a blend of science and art. As Gartner's Kowall observed, success is likely to come from understanding how an app is used, as well as how many seconds it takes to accomplish something -- completing a sale, for example. "It is possible to over-engineer and over-optimize," he warned. SaaS APM tools can provide information about mobile applications, but decision makers need to determine how best to apply the information, he said.
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