APM - at a Crossroad in the Cloud
November 05, 2014

Patrick Carey
Exoprise

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Judging by recent venture funding, private equity investment and acquisitions, there is a lot of interest in the Application Performance Management (APM) market today. Much of it has been fueled by the rise of cloud computing. After all, there are a lot of apps being developed and hosted in the cloud, and those teams have a significant need to monitor and manage app performance. Their success depends on it.

But what about the customers of those apps and services – IT and business operations teams that purchase and maintain portfolios of cloud apps for their organizations? They still support users who expect them to maintain high application service levels regardless of where the app runs. Unfortunately, most APM solutions on the market today aren't well suited to their needs.

This is why many organizations, including larger and more sophisticated IT teams, who already have a myriad of systems management and monitoring tools, are seeking alternatives able to help them manage their cloud-based apps. It's this gap – and emerging IT business operations customer base for APM – that will define the APM landscape in the years to come.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Nobody in their right mind thinks that a source code debugger is a useful tool for an IT team managing a Microsoft Exchange Server farm. It's the wrong tool for them. It might provide a ton of information, but it isn't useful or actionable for an IT operations team.

Likewise, you can't expect an APM solution, built for DevOps teams, to work well for a Business Ops team consuming Exchange Online, Dropbox, Salesforce.com or any other "black box" SaaS app. These teams can't log into the app servers, they can't instrument the application code, and they can't directly access log files or SNMP messages from most of the network infrastructure that connects them to their cloud apps.

The fact is that the APM needs of Business Ops teams are fundamentally different than those of DevOps teams.

Here's why:

Service Level Management v. Application Tuning

By definition, DevOps is the combination of application development and operations, with the goal of providing a feedback loop to assist both developers and operations personnel in optimizing the delivery of an application or service they manage. These teams use APM tools to let them know which specific code or infrastructure "knobs" to turn to improve their application performance and reliability.

By contrast, Business Ops combine the concerns of particular groups of users (e.g. sales, marketing, and for certain apps, the entire organization) and IT. These are cloud application "consumers" rather than owners. They are focused on keeping their users connected to and productive with the apps they rely on. However, because they leverage multiple apps and ISPs, Business Ops teams need a different set of tools to help verify and manage service level attainment across multiple vendors in addition to detecting and isolating problems within their own network.

Hands-off v. Hands-on

Perhaps the most obvious difference between a DevOps team managing performance for their app(s) and an IT/Business Ops team managing performance for an app like Salesforce.com is level of access to the application source code and hosting infrastructure. For these 3rd party apps, Business Ops teams have none. The apps are completely "black box," as are most of the app delivery networks users rely on to access them.

For this reason, solutions that require code-level instrumentation, or even tight integration into the app delivery network, are impractical. Business Ops teams need APM solutions that can effectively function solely by interacting with the public facing UIs and APIs provided by the cloud apps.

Lots of apps v. Lots of users

Application DevOps teams, particularly those building consumer or B2B apps hosted in the public cloud, are usually focused on a single application or a relatively small set of apps they build and manage. However, they are trying to test and optimize their app delivery for a nearly infinite set of users, remote end points, and code execution paths. They want to gather and analyze as much data as they can from this vast, unknown set of users and locations, without degrading the user experience. Again, this is why solutions that work through injection at the hosting point of origin make so much sense.

Business operations teams, by contrast, have a different problem. They generally have a relatively finite and well known set of users and points of access they are managing, but need solutions that enable them to manage a wide and growing array of apps from multiple vendors, without requiring them to become experts in the protocols and syntax for each and every app.

Inside-Out v. Outside-In

If you are the application hoster, you want to have data that reflects the performance of your application from points outside your network. After all, that's where your users are, right? Whether you use one of the solutions that synthetically monitors from points of presence (POPs) in the cloud or use a passive/real user monitoring (RUM) solution to infuse tracking code into the app, as a DevOps team you are generally interested in an "outside-in" view of application performance.

Business Ops teams need to look in the other direction. For most, the bulk of their users access cloud-based apps from inside the office network. Monitoring solutions that operate out of vendor managed POPs aren't as effective in these cases because they don't exercise that critical "last mile" spanning from the ISP/access provider through the organization's own network segments. This is a big gap, as these last mile components are very often the source of application availability and performance problems. If you are only monitoring your cloud apps from the cloud, you have little chance of detecting and resolving problems before they impact your users.

Ease of use v. Depth of analysis

Service providers can draw a clear business case to justify investment of resources into the integration, deployment, training, and ongoing management of an APM solution. If you don't deliver a high quality user experience, users won't continue to use the application and/or you won't be able to effectively scale to support large numbers of users. As development organizations themselves, application service providers also have the skills and fluency with their own application to effectively integrate an APM solution and interpret the detailed data it provides.

On the other hand, Business Ops teams are focused on their organization and users. APM is a means to an end for them and they need to do it as effectively and efficiently as possible. These are true operations teams, not software development teams. Solutions that require complex integration and/or scripting are too cumbersome to manage, especially as the organization's application portfolio grows. The cloud apps they leverage are becoming increasingly easy to manage. They need APM solutions that are equally so.

Business Ops teams need solutions that provide a broad analysis, both in the number and diversity of apps they monitor as well as the end-to-end view of the network path between their users and the cloud apps themselves. They aren't looking to shave 100 msec off of a particular application's login time. They are trying to detect when critical user transactions that should take a couple of seconds start taking 10 or 20 seconds. If they are, the IT team needs to be able to pinpoint the cause of the problem, even outside their network, so they can take effective action.

Bus Ops is the New DevOps

Clearly Business Ops teams using cloud-based apps have APM needs that differ significantly from those of application service providers and DevOps teams. While there are a number of solutions on the market that categorize themselves as "Enterprise APM" these tend to be oriented toward teams managing performance for apps they themselves operate on their own servers or VMs.

While still Application Performance Management, the solutions for Business Ops teams are so different that perhaps they should be considered a completely new category - APM for Business Ops. Is this a niche? Up to now, perhaps. But with Amazon, Google, Microsoft and other big players fully committed to the cloud, all indications are that cloud apps and services will continue to gain significant share of application portfolios in organizations of all sizes.

So while the APM for DevOps wave seems to be cresting, behind it looms a much larger APM for Business Ops wave.

Patrick Carey is VP Product Management & Marketing at Exoprise.

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