Application performance monitoring (APM) is crucial to ensure critical business applications are available, resilient, and perform at peak levels. When applications aren’t working as designed, business workflows suffer and slowdowns occur, resulting in lost time and revenue. With businesses increasingly migrating more applications to the cloud, APM has become even more important because cloud-native or hybrid-cloud applications often have additional vectors that can impact performance. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of APM and how to leverage it specifically for ensuring the high-performance of cloud-based applications.

What is cloud application performance?

In many ways, cloud application performance is similar to traditional application performance. Just like their on-premises or localized cousins, cloud applications need to be monitored to ensure they’re available and operating efficiently. But cloud applications also have other considerations.

Because they’re accessed over distributed network connections, issues such as response and round-trip times (RTT) can occur. And, since resources such as CPU, GPU, disk, and memory are mostly on-demand, cloud applications must be monitored for how effectively they use those resources to contain the variable costs. 

Cloud application performance, then, is a combination of factors that relate to availability and responsiveness but also to overall cost.

Key metrics for cloud application performance

Applying APM to cloud applications requires a slightly different approach and a different set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure optimal cost and user performance:

  • RTT: Cloud applications are accessed across networks (rather than just within a network). These additional networks can increase the time it takes for the application to receive a request and respond to it. Ultimately, if the RTT is too high, it can impact the user experience by making the application seem slow. 
  • Latency: This refers to the delay between a user's action and the application's response. For cloud applications, latency can result from a variety of factors, including the cloud environment as well as the network through which the user is accessing the application. When latency is high—which increases RTT—the application can feel slow and user satisfaction can decline. 
  • Throughput: Throughput gauges the amount of data transferred successfully within a given time frame. When cloud applications require a high user concurrency, throughput can indicate how much data can be processed in parallel. If throughput drops too low, user sessions can be throttled, resulting in users having to wait for the application to become available again. 
  • Error rates: The complexity of cloud applications introduces many more possible errors. In addition to bugs within the application itself, there may be connection issues or errors with cloud-based resources. The rates of these errors can be a key indicator for issues within the application pathway. 

The negative impact of poor cloud performance

Inadequate cloud application performance can lead to severe problems , including diminished user satisfaction, increased cart abandonment rates, loss of revenue, and damage to brand reputation. Users today expect seamless experiences, so any compromise in performance can have far-reaching consequences.

Implementing APM solutions can improve your cloud application performance. These tools offer real-time insights into application behavior by identifying bottlenecks, monitoring proactively, and optimizing resource applications. Ultimately, these improvements can delight users, boost brand loyalty, and increase revenue. 

How APM helps address challenges in cloud application performance

As user demand for a cloud-based application fluctuates, ensuring scalability without compromising performance can become challenging and create performance unpredictability. Additionally, cloud environments often involve  multiple components and dependencies, making it difficult to pinpoint performance bottlenecks.

APM can address those challenges in a few ways:

  • Anomaly monitoring: Ensuring highly performant cloud applications requires a lot of data analysis. But doing so manually is time-intensive. A good cloud APM (CAPM) solution can automatically analyze data and flag anomalies swiftly, enabling engineers to proactively address potential problems before they impact the user experience. 
  • In-depth analytics: A reliable APM solution offers in-depth analytics into application performance. This enables operations engineers, DevOps, and other stakeholders to maintain visibility, ensuring that decisions can be made quickly to optimize the performance of cloud applications.
  • Distributed tracing: Most cloud applications are complex, with multiple data, software, and network resources required to complete individual user requests. A good APM platform leverages distributed tracing to track individual user requests and sessions throughout the entire application chain. This feature can assist in pinpointing bottlenecks or inefficiencies, resulting in rapid issue identification and resolution.
  • Cloud-native support: Cloud environments are dynamic, and an APM solution should be able to adapt quickly to ever-changing conditions, providing visibility and control in dynamic and distributed cloud setups.
  • Integrations: APM platforms should seamlessly integrate with various technologies and frameworks such as Node.js, Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), Prometheus OpenMetrics, and OpenTelemetry. APM platforms should also support native integrations to quickly configure and visualize data insights without wasting time on developing custom connections. 

Getting started with cloud application performance monitoring 

One of the biggest challenges of ensuring highly performant cloud applications is the timing of issue detection and resolution. To make that happen, the data generated from APM has to be in real time to provide a means for DevOps and network engineering to quickly identify issues so they can be resolved faster. Real-time monitoring, then, is a cornerstone of cloud APM.

The many ways to monitor in real time with APM

It’s not always feasible to get the needed data about cloud application performance. If there aren’t enough actual users working in the application, issues that only appear under heavy load may never reveal themselves until it’s too late. APM can take advantage of a variety of different ways to collect monitoring data for tracking metrics, analytics, and diagnostics to maintain and improve performance.

New Relic documentation emphasizes optimizing architecture and spending to improve your modern cloud environment continuously. New Relic provides insights into effectively utilizing APM tools to monitor application performance through the following means:

  • Synthetic monitoring: Simulates user interactions to assess app performance. Agents deployed through a testing harness can be scaled up or down to mimic specific throughput or scale requirements.
  • Real user monitoring (RUM): Tracks live user interactions, capturing session data for valuable insights into natural user behavior and application experiences in real time.
  • Infrastructure monitoring: Evaluates essential application-supporting components, tracking servers, databases, networks, and more to assess health, performance, and utilization crucial for functionality.

Cloud application performance management

While APM is critical to ensure the high performance of your cloud applications, monitoring is only one part of the equation. APM encompasses a suite of tools and strategies to ensure consistent, reliable, and efficient cloud application performance:

  • Enhanced reliability: Application performance management ensures applications maintain a high level of reliability by constantly monitoring performance metrics and promptly addressing any deviations or issues. Through traditional APM dashboards and real-time telemetry, issues can be identified and resolved quickly to ensure any cloud application provides the highest level of user satisfaction. 
  • Improved scalability: Scalability is pivotal to the success of modern cloud applications. Application performance management enables businesses to scale applications efficiently by providing insights into performance bottlenecks and ensuring the infrastructure can accommodate increased demands without compromising performance.
  • Cost optimization: APM is more than just monitoring. It’s about using the data captured from across the components and infrastructure to aid in cost optimization. By identifying inefficiencies, resource wastage, or underutilization, businesses can more effectively use cloud resources such as CPUs, GPUs, storage, and memory, optimizing spending while maintaining peak performance levels.

It’s important to note that APM is one part of the larger observability space. While APM provides aggregated metrics, observability is the holistic, dynamic practice that helps you dive deeper into your complex stack.

APM best practices in cloud environments

Leveraging APM within cloud environments doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right tools, like New Relic, and a few best practices, you can ensure that your cloud apps stay high performant, highly available, and provide a high level of end-user satisfaction. Consider the following:

Proactive monitoring: Proactively track performance metrics to anticipate and prevent issues before they impact users.

Scalability and flexibility: Ensure APM solutions can scale and adapt alongside evolving cloud environments and increased workloads.

Team collaboration: Foster collaboration between development and operations to integrate performance considerations into the application lifecycle.

Continuous improvement: Embrace continuous improvement by analyzing trends and adapting APM strategies to evolving technologies and methodologies.

By proactively tracking metrics, fostering collaboration, and continuously adapting, APM facilitates reliable and efficient cloud application functioning.

New Relic is an ideal solution for cloud APM due to its comprehensive suite of tools and technologies. With a focus on proactive monitoring, scalability, and in-depth analytics, New Relic empowers businesses to optimize their cloud-based applications efficiently.