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Application performance monitoring (APM) services are tools that can help you understand how well or poorly your app is performing for your customers, your end users.

APM services or products are typically provided by third parties and help you track key information about your application, such as latency, but they also help you understand trends over time and allow your business to achieve specific SLAs (service level agreements) or SLOs (service level objectives)

New to application performance monitoring? For more general information about what APM entails, see our article here

Why use an APM service? 

APM services are foundational to keeping your application healthy and running smoothly. They’re key to ensuring customers have the best experience and are satisfied. 

But, it hasn’t always been the case that online services have used APM solutions. The truth is many businesses are behind the curve in adopting them, relying on engineers to build a custom solution without the proper tools or insight into all parts of their system. Yet measuring performance is critical. It’s unlikely that you’d ever set up a physical business without metrics, a way to observe your business operations, and a tracking system in place.

Applications are much the same–you need to know whether or not your customers abandon their carts, how performant your site is, if there are errors in the services you provide and what's causing those problems, the mean time it takes your team to resolve said errors, and more. 

Prevent potential risks

Without the proactive insight that an APM service provides, you’re at significant risk for things like site latency and downtime. These make it more likely that you’ll lose new or returning customers, sales and revenue, and customer engagement. Issues with latency and downtime always obvious unless you’re able to observe them, so an APM service will collect all the data you need to make decisions, visualize this information, bring problems to the surface. This ensures problems don’t occur in the future.

Save lots of headaches for your engineering team

It’s also worth thinking through whether or not you want your engineering team to spend valuable time DIYing an application performance monitoring solution for you. There’s a reason that third-party software companies have made so many tools available on the market for application performance monitoring. Simply put, it’s difficult to roll your own solution without spending a lot of money, effort, and time. In the end, purchasing a solution that’s already set up to give you the capabilities you need to have a fully observable system is worth it in both the short and long term. 

What standard capabilities should be included in an APM service? 

Visualization of immense amounts of data 

Dashboards, charts, and other visualizations of full stack traces are an integral part of an APM service. These help engineers understand your overall system at a glance and get to the information that they need faster. 

Troubleshooting information at the code level

Determining the root cause of errors and consuming requests should be easy to find and, preferably, inside a tool where you can also send alerts to your team or file an issue.

Automated service level management

The service you choose should be able to give you reports automatically and on a set schedule that tell you how your team is performing against SLIs and SLOs, so you don’t have to sift through data to make these on your own. 

Distributed tracing observability

Troubleshooting distributed systems is a classic needle in a haystack problem. You shouldn’t have to spend time, money, or effort on spinning up additional infrastructure to get this important information. 

The build vs buy dilemma in APM

When evaluating the build vs buy dilemma, it's crucial to start by assessing the total cost of ownership to maximize your return on investment (ROI) when it comes to APM tools. This evaluation extends beyond immediate costs to encompass hidden expenses, and opportunity costs that accompany both paths. Opting to build in-house can seem economical at first glance but entails significant time and resource commitments, alongside the opportunity costs of not pursuing alternative projects. Conversely, while purchasing entails an upfront investment, it tends to deliver faster time-to-value, allowing organizations to quickly harness the benefits and focus on strategic objectives.

Leveraging open standards

The OpenTelemetry initiative stands as a shining example of adaptability, promoting an open standard that numerous observability tools endorse. By integrating OpenTelemetry into applications and utilizing vendor-specific enhancements for easier configuration, organizations can avoid the pitfalls of vendor lock-in and expedite their adoption journey. This method secures the initial investment in instrumentation as broadly applicable and future-proof, safeguarding against the uncertainties of technological evolution.

The undeniable advantages of modern APM tools

Commercial APM solutions like New Relic APM 360 bring a wealth of benefits to the table. The time to value is significantly lower compared to building in-house, with streamlined user experiences, workflows, and capabilities designed for immediate impact. Furthermore, solutions like APM 360 allow organizations to offload maintenance and support burdens, freeing up valuable engineering cycles for core business tasks. The expertise that comes with the partnership of the right APM vendor cannot be understated, providing access to years of domain-specific knowledge and experience.

Making informed decisions

The decision between building and buying APM tools requires a holistic evaluation of both visible and hidden costs, benefits, and long-term impacts on organizational efficiency. By adopting a flexible approach like the adoption of open standards, organizations can ensure they are well-equipped to navigate the complexities of adopting application performance management practices more effectively and gain a robust foundation for sustained innovation and excellence, ultimately maximizing their ROI.

Factors to consider when purchasing an APM service

So what should you look for in an APM service? There are a number of factors to consider when buying an APM product: 

  • Easy installation: If you’re purchasing a product, it should be easy to set up and integrate—and it should come with some automatic instrumentation. Although it’s likely that you’ll have to do some customization to ensure your dashboards and the analysis is suited to what questions you’re most interested in, it’s best if you have a solution that gives you a starting point with a quickstart or other automatically set up tools. 
  • Automation: When developers make changes to your application, you’ll want to see that reflected right away in your dashboards and data. It’s best to have a system that can respond to new changes and that is able to trace back to the origins of any problems introduced by new code. 
  • Context: In order to have proper tracing, you’ll also need to have information collected by the system in some kind of context that makes it easier to understand how everything is related to each other. 
  • Alerting that’s integrated with tools you already use: It’s helpful to know that something has gone wrong in a system that your team is already familiar with and using to communicate. If you’re a user of Slack or Jira, for example, you probably want to seek out products that can send alerts or file issues immediately using those tools to save you time and the hassle of looking through various alerting systems. 

Additionally, a good rule of thumb when choosing software is to see how well technology analyst firms rate the product. Their job is to be as objective as possible when trying out and understanding the market of products. (We’re partial to the Magic Quadrant measurement, which typically shows how well a service does what it promises to do and who the top leaders in the industry are).

Something that doesn’t always come standard in tools is AI and unified pattern recognition so you can sift through data faster. It’s an extra plus that can really save your team time and effort. 

APM services, or application performance monitoring services, play a pivotal role in today's software landscape. It helps you gain deep insights into application behavior, optimize performance, and ensure a top-notch user experience. 

As businesses strive to meet their Service Level Objectives and enhance the reliability and performance of their applications, a robust APM service is an invaluable ally. 

Here at New Relic, we offer a comprehensive suite of tools and guidance to help you achieve your monitoring goals. Sign up today and start seeing the full potential of your applications. Your users and your business will thank you for it.