How to Achieve End-to-End Observability With APM tools

By on July 30, 2021

With the rapid adoption of cloud and microservices architecture, it’s becoming challenging for under-resourced IT staff to monitor individual systems’ performance and behavior. Network admins typically rely on monitoring for better visibility into the application or system performance. However, visibility alone isn’t enough today; businesses need advanced observability to gain a better contextual understanding of distributed systems that are hard to observe due to their complex and dynamic nature. Observability doesn’t replace monitoring; it complements and enhances application performance monitoring (APM).

What Is Observability?

Observability is the process of knowing the internal state, dependencies, or “normal” behavior of a system and how it impacts end users. In other words, it’s about understanding multi-layered architectures: assessing erroneous internal parts in need of alternation to improve the overall system performance. Likewise, end-to-end observability across cloud-native environments enables cross-functional teams to detect and debug performance issues—whether client-side or server-side—by aggregating and analyzing application metrics, traces, logs, and user experience data in a single, unified interface. Having such critical data in one place enables IT pros to track the root cause of performance issues down to the code level and troubleshoot it quickly to minimize its impact on application users.

Conventionally, metrics, traces, and logs are the three vital aspects of observability. However, capturing such telemetry data from back-end systems doesn’t provide a complete picture of an application’s behavior or performance at the front end. Businesses must extend traditional observability telemetry by adding real-world performance and user experience data to eliminate blind spots.

Role of APM Tools in Achieving End-to-End Observability

As discussed, achieving maximum observability can help businesses identify abnormal application behavior, trace requests, understand dependencies, and ultimately deliver a great user experience. Gaining end-to-end visibility with traditional APM solutions is difficult as they often operate in silos—either at the client-side or server-side—while tracking application performance. For instance, back-end or server-side monitoring tools typically neglect the user experience data while monitoring business-critical apps. In addition, working with multiple monitoring and troubleshooting tools makes it challenging for IT teams to identify and resolve problems due to communication bottlenecks and the absence of unified data, resulting in extended mean time to resolution (MTTR).

Businesses can overcome such issues by employing a holistic APM suite with a combination of client and server-side monitoring tools under a single platform to offer maximum visibility into application and infrastructure performance. Having such a single, tightly integrated product suite allows IT teams to quickly trace the root cause of the performance bottlenecks with the help of unified data views or visualizations. It also improves coordination between DevOps experts, security specialists, and site reliability engineering (SRE) teams while troubleshooting across a distributed application environment.

Modern APM suite built on a unified data model typically includes:

Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM)

DEM solutions capture the web application performance data directly from the real users’ browsers. Developers insert a small JavaScript code on every webpage that automatically triggers whenever a user visits the website to gather real-time performance data, such as page load times and bounce rate. Such tools also use synthetic monitoring to identify and fix issues in critical site flows or transactions by running simulated tests at frequent intervals from different global regions. Ultimately, DEM can maximize observability by offering an outside-in perspective to ensure seamless application availability, functionality, and performance across all customer touchpoints.

Application Monitoring

Application monitoring tools track the entire stack, from application framework, database, APIs, and middleware to the underlying IT infrastructure. Stack monitoring typically includes code profiling, distributed tracing, and exception handling. As part of the APM suite, these tools identify and troubleshoot server-side issues by analyzing metrics, traces, and logs in a unified dashboard. A metric is a quantified measure typically aggregated over a period that provides a high-level view of app performance. Key performance metrics include response time latency, number of requests, error rate, and CPU utilization rate.

Traces represent the path traversed by a request in a distributed application. Monitoring the entire transaction path helps IT teams identify the different services and infrastructure components associated with a request along with its overall execution time. Further, logs contain detailed information about a specific issue or event.

Log Management and Analytics

System or application-generated logs are helpful for IT teams to identify the root cause of the problem. For example, default log messages originating from applications and underlying infrastructure can easily highlight resource constraints, such as database timeouts and CPU overuse, causing application errors. SRE teams can drill down to the logs associated with a transaction trace for accelerated troubleshooting using a holistic APM suite. Businesses can correlate and visualize performance metrics and log data to monitor trends and SLA compliance using log management tools.

Which Is the Best Tool to Achieve Observability?

As discussed, the concept of end-to-end observability is rapidly gaining popularity among businesses adopting modern, cloud-native technologies—such as Docker containers and Kubernetes—for development purposes. Many monitoring solution vendors have retouched and optimized their product offerings to keep up with changing market needs. These vendors offer a comprehensive APM suite for unified data analytics, insights, and seamless team collaboration. Businesses should consider multiple aspects, such as monitoring needs, training requirements, ease of implementation, and budget, before finalizing potential solutions. Companies can get started with commercial APM solutions as they’re typically easy to set up and don’t have a complex learning curve.

The SolarWinds® APM Integrated Experience is one such observability suite for full-stack performance monitoring across your on-premises and cloud environments. It offers comprehensive visibility into your application stack. The APM Integrated Experience intelligently combines the SolarWinds monitoring solutions—AppOptics, Loggly®, and Pingdom®—into a single platform, allowing IT pros to quickly move from issue detection to remediation by analyzing the performance metrics, traces, logs, and user experience data together. It provides the insights and tools DevOps, SRE teams, and security specialists require to collaborate and troubleshoot issues across hybrid IT and cloud-native environments. Businesses seeking higher observability can sign up for a free demo of the SolarWinds APM suite. It captures data from both client and server sides to provide deeper insights into the application performance and user experience.

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