Methods for Measuring Application Performance
Application performance management (APM) is a discipline in systems management that focuses on monitoring and managing the performance and availability of software applications. This discipline is used to detect, diagnose and report on application performance issues to ensure that applications meet or exceed the expectations of end users and the business.
Application performance relates to how fast transactions are completed on behalf of, or information is delivered to, the end user by the application; it continues to become a central focus for IT operations. In their most recent “Magic Quadrant for APM” report, Gartner estimated that by the end of 2012, global spend for APM software will grow to $2.14 billion, a nine percent growth over the $2 billion spent in 2011.
There are two main methods by which application performance is assessed for production applications. The first is measuring the resources used by the application; the second entails measuring the end-user experience. Measuring the end-user experience is considered by many to be the most valid method of assessing the performance of an application in production. It helps organizations quantify actual performance, pinpoint the source of problems quickly when they occur for effective resolution, and identify areas for ongoing optimization.
Marketing Associates agrees with the view that APM must focus less on the performance of individual infrastructure components and more about understanding the ultimate outcome—the end-user experience. The company calls this a “new approach” to APM, enabled by Compuware APM. Although information pertaining to the performance of individual elements like the network and servers is useful, many pieces and parts must all come together and work well to deliver a strong application experience to an end user. APM therefore must change from a component-oriented mindset to an end-user-experience mindset. Failing to approach APM in this way can result in enormous complexity and lack of clarity as to the meaning of events at the component level.
Put another way, let’s say one of your application servers goes down. What’s the business impact? Is it more serious or less serious than another incident, and how should you prioritize your efforts? The only way to answer this question is to understand which end users are being affected and what is the nature of that impact. The quality of service delivered to end users places the performance of the infrastructure and application components in a business-relevant context.
About Marketing Associates
As a full-service, technology-enabled marketing company, Detroit-based Marketing Associates produces and delivers high-quality integrated marketing solutions for Fortune 500 companies across different industries. The company prides itself on being flexible, responsive, proactive and measurable in terms of the actual marketing strategies and programs delivered to clients, as well as the underlying technology.
Marketing Associates’ client roster includes many household names: Ford Motor Company, DuPont and Starwood Hotel Group, just to name a few. Consumers expect flawless performance as they interact with these brands through marketing vehicles including websites, dedicated applications and other promotion-oriented social-media campaigns.
Marketing Associates offers a world-class data center that securely supports thousands of URLs and digital marketing initiatives for end users around the world. The company’s clients expect near-perfect availability combined with fast, nimble and professional online interactions for end users, even during periods of peak traffic. An example is a “Race to the Finish” campaign: an online survey may go live for a certain time, and consumers who respond correctly may win a sample or supply of product. Marketing Associates must be able to anticipate, plan and cost-effectively support this huge surge in traffic, often with little preparation time.
These types of marketing campaigns and initiatives can be hugely successful, but they also put brand perception and client reputation directly on the line, as follow-up comments on social media sites will attest. With so much at stake, clients are often nervous about handing away the “keys to the kingdom,” and as a result, Marketing Associates must be very transparent. This means giving clients a direct look at dashboards to see how websites and applications are running for end users. It also means showing clients how potential problems are being handled, which in turn means that Marketing Associates must identify and resolve problems with lightning-fast speed and accuracy.
Why Managing Application Performance Is So Difficult
For companies like Marketing Associates, certain macro-trends make managing application performance potentially challenging:
- End consumer expectations continue to rise: End users expect superior website and application performance combined with feature-richness on the device and browser of their choice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to the Aberdeen Group’s report, “When Seconds Count,” two seconds or less is the threshold most consumers are willing to wait for a website or application to load before growing frustrated and abandoning it. Anything that adds one or two seconds of response time can spell disaster.
- Client demands for feature-richness are increasing: Marketing Associates clients want more feature-richness in their online marketing campaigns and vehicles, with the goal of creating more-compelling, satisfying and memorable consumer experiences. At the same time, clients want fast and furious delivery of these campaigns and vehicles, and faster performance.
- Growing complexity at the edge of the Internet: Complexity at the edge can make managing performance a daunting technical challenge. Today, there are more device types and browsers in use than ever before, and ensuring superior response time across all or even some of them has the potential to be time and resource intensive. Also, in an effort to bring content closer to users to quicken download speeds, organizations have begun enlisting services like content delivery networks (CDNs), which can potentially introduce more points of failure into the application-delivery chain.
- Do more with less: Like many organizations, Marketing Associates is expected to do more with less to deliver these increasingly feature-rich, high-performance consumer experiences, all while maintaining existing infrastructure and testing/quality-assurance staff levels. In some cases, this means using newer technologies like virtualization and server consolidation, which, although designed to harness compute power at a higher level, can sometimes negatively affect the end-user experience.
How End-User Experience-Focused APM Helps Marketing Associates
Marketing Associates experienced three primary benefits to an end-user experience-focused APM strategy.
- The company can manage all critical points of the application-delivery chain throughout the application lifecycle. The answer here, once again, is to adopt an application point of view that starts with the end user. In one instance, Marketing Associates was able to isolate the source of poor application performance to a particular database query. As a result, the problem was quickly fixed, bringing overall transaction response times (the time it takes to actually complete a multistep transaction) from more than eight minutes to 27 seconds.But you must incorporate testing and measurement from the very beginning of the development phase so that potential problems can be fixed and remedied along the way. You don’t want to wait until days or even hours before launch to realize something is wrong with a business-critical application.
- The company can ensure transparency between all responsible stakeholders. This means making sure technology works well and delivers value consistently, both before and after infrastructure changes. It also means giving direct insight into when and how problems are being fixed. In one instance, a customer discerned a potential performance problem, and Marketing Associates was able to inform that customer that it was already on it, with a patch underway. Transparency also enables service-level agreement (SLA) monitoring and validation to show clients that end consumers are getting the response times they expect.
- The company can foster collaboration and communication. This sometimes means managing the disparate goals of marketing and IT teams and satisfying the requirements of both (i.e., launching a website securely in two or three weeks). Typically, marketing wants fast launches and professional performance for online marketing vehicles to help enhance the brand, while IT is more concerned with matters like security, privacy and disaster recovery. Demonstrating performance levels through a true view into the end-user experience helps satisfy marketing teams’ demands while giving IT peace of mind through a secure, stable delivery environment.
An end user-focused view of applications—delivered by Compuware APM—provides a cost-effective foundation for Marketing Associates to optimize performance. Furthermore, the transparency that this view offers helps Marketing Associates validate SLAs and ensure that clients’ requirements for end-user experiences are being met. In summary, an end user-focused view of applications helps Marketing Associates differentiate itself and consistently deliver the most engaging, high-performance end-user experiences that help enhance clients’ brand and revenues.
Leading article image courtesy of Overton2012