We all know from firsthand experience that nothing irks end users more than unexpectedly slow response times. In fact, slowness is arguably a bigger problem than application downtime and unavailability. Research on ecommerce websites shows that slowdowns occur ten times more often than outages, and those cumulative slowdowns add up to twice the impact to an online store’s bottom line. This means that ensuring that your application is up and running is important, but it’s not enough. In addition to basic availability monitoring—such as testing IP protocols and network services with automated software, which can issue real-time alerts as soon as functionality breaks down or dips below established thresholds—a comprehensive approach to APM should take a number of additional factors into consideration, as explained in the previous section, in order to help improve your application’s overall reliability and speed.
According to tech research firm Gartner, a full-featured approach to application performance management should include some variation of at least these five specific steps:
1. End-User Experience Monitoring — As a first step, end-user experience monitoring would pick up a problem as it impacts the application’s user.
2. Runtime Application Architecture Discovery, Modeling, and Display — As a second step, the application’s runtime architecture would be generated and/or surveyed to establish the potential scope of the problem.
3. User-Defined Transaction Profiling — As a third step, user-defined transactions would be examined as they flow across some subset of the possible paths exhibited by the runtime architecture graph, to ascertain what nodes in that graph are the sources of the problem impacting the end user.
4. Component Deep-Dive Monitoring in an Application Context — As a fourth step, deep-dive monitoring of those nodes is carried out in the context of the results of the previous three steps.
5. IT Operations Analytics — As a fifth and final step, analytics are brought to bear—on the one hand, to establish root cause in the midst of the vast volumes of data generated in the first four steps, and, on the other hand, to better anticipate and prepare for end-user experience problems that could emerge in the future.
Gartner’s report concludes, “The APM market, then, is the market for all the technologies and services that deliver these five dimensions of functionality.”
And yet, on another level, the fragmentation within most organizations’ approaches to APM means that finding a solution that thoroughly covers all five of Gartner’s steps is not easy. Many companies piece together a few diverse tools—often made by different vendors—in order to cover their performance-monitoring bases, doing their best to make sure that key APM functionality doesn’t slip through the cracks. Their intentions may be noble, and they may even find that all of their needs are being met, at least from a business and IT perspective. But what about Gartner’s primary step—the perspective of the end user, or what has been termed end-user experience monitoring (EUM)? How many organizations are truly prioritizing that?
If one takes a good look at the current APM marketplace, it’s the predominance of big data analytics, not a simple empathy for end-users’ experience, that appears to be what most serious vendors are selling. However, application performance management that doesn’t place human beings front and center is very likely going about things the wrong way, no matter whether your company’s offerings are B2B or B2C or somewhere in between. Gartner lists end-user experience monitoring as its first step in APM and lists IT system analytics last, not because data analysis isn’t foundational to user experience (it is), but rather because data analysis is, in the majority of cases, meaningless apart from its effect on human users. Continually optimizing the end-users’ actual experience of your application’s performance, reliability, speed, and functionality is not merely a minor footnote in the annals of APM—it’s the moral of the story.
The Future: From APM to UXM
In the past, more than a few tech observers criticized the very idea of application performance management because they felt its grand synthetic vision promised more than it could genuinely deliver. But times are changing fast, and in a world where every second of an application slowdown can damage both revenue and customer loyalty, APM is becoming less of an aspirational fantasy and more of a practical necessity. Yes, many companies still require a cobbled-together assortment of tools in order to get the job done. And yes, single vendors offering truly integrated solutions are still rare. But they do exist.
The number of tools that are being seamlessly integrated into single-vendor solutions like SmartBear’s AlertSite, for example, is a clear sign of things to come. AlertSite more than satisfies Gartner’s five-steps recommendation, covering nearly a dozen different toolsets: Web Application Load Testing, API Load Testing, Real User Monitoring, Transaction Tracing for API Monitoring, Root-Cause Analysis, Real Transaction Monitoring, Synthetic Transaction Tracing, API Monitoring, Real Browser Recording, Core Synthetic Monitoring, and, most importantly, providing a comprehensive User Experience Management Platform.
User-experience management, or UXM, is the APM of the future. While crunching big data remains all the rage with some APM vendors, it isn’t hard to see why, as delivery cycles continue to speed up, they’re going to need to shift their attention. Focusing on the most crucial element of your business—i.e., the actual experience of your customers—will almost certainly remain the key to intelligently prioritizing your company’s time and money for the foreseeable future. By seeing exactly where user experience is lagging and then conducting root-cause analysis and testing your applications under load in a targeted way, you can diagnose and resolve very specific problems before anyone has time to complain. After all, why would anyone invest their energy into optimizing a fully array of arcane system metrics that make no discernable difference to an end-user’s experience? If you have the time, sure, attention to detail can only help. But who has the time?
Empirical performance is one thing, but paying attention to perceived performance and functionality is something else. It’s the very definition of UXM. Your software production team’s ability to innovate, optimize, and get UX-centric products to market faster than your competitors will give you a distinct advantage. And adopting a fully integrated, unified APM solution that makes data analytics subservient to user experience may just be the deciding factor that keeps your company at the evolving edge . . . while your data-hugging competitors become relics of the past.
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