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One of the most difficult challenges an IT infrastructure team faces is that of pinning down what exactly is broken when the technology that a business depends on starts to go awry. A day that begins smoothly can descend quickly into chaos as reports from various departments and locations tell a story of an application that is not behaving well.

Troubleshooting Tough IT Problems

Underperforming applications are a classic complaint. Email is slow. A report took too long to generate. CRM page loads are taking too long. The intranet site is throwing sporadic errors.

The help desk team escalates to the sysadmin team. The sysadmin team escalates to the application engineering team. The engineering team points fingers at each other. Management hauls everyone into a conference room to facilitate resolution. All the while, the badly behaving application continues its miscreant behaviour, angering and alienating the customer base while the IT engineering team sits around the conference room table, poking furiously at laptops in search of a cause.

There’s Got to Be a Better Way

The toolset that IT shops leverage becomes proactive instead of reactive. We are not just talking about red/green or up/down status messages, either. There are several sophisticated ways to monitor within the Application Performance Monitoring (APM) realm, falling roughly into one of the following categories:

  • Measuring what a user experiences when they interface with an application at each step of the transaction process to more accurately pinpoint where bottlenecks are occurring – before your end-users notice
  • SQL query response time monitoring
  • Modelling an application so that each underlying component is tracked as a logical whole
  • Applying intelligent performance, fault, and log alerts, based on industry best practices
  • Discovery of out-of-compliance systems and applying patches automatically
  • Proactive problem analysis using historical performance and capacity data to predict performance issues proactively

Selecting the Right Server and Application Monitoring Tool

What features should you look for when shopping for an APM? In part, this depends on what sort of applications you are trying to monitor. You are looking for a mix of generic monitors and specific monitors, such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) if you are a Windows shop and Java Management Extensions (JMX) if you run Java applications.

There is more to choosing an APM system than just the generic monitors. Though, you should also consider the specific applications your business runs, where it might be nice to have pre-built monitors included for you. For instance, Microsoft Active Directory, Exchange, and SQL.

That said, it is not as if Windows is the only common platform to be found. You do not want a solution that is Windows-centric if your infrastructure is a mix of bare-metal Windows and Linux as well as virtual machines sitting on top of a hypervisor. Therefore, the APM system should be able to monitor intelligent UNIX systems of various stripes, as well as interface meaningfully virtual infrastructures like VMware.

Another key element of an APM system is that of the interface. A bad user interface makes for an undesirable experience. In an APM system, you should be able to group all the key elements of an application into a single, cohesive group, and then organise those groups into a hierarchy that reflects how your IT functions. A monitoring interface should be simple, intuitive, and obvious to help you navigate from a general issue to a root cause in a straightforward way. You do not want to manage the interface. You want the interface to help you manage your applications.

Another piece of the APM puzzle that should be sought is that of synthetic transaction monitoring. In other words, you want your APM tool to pretend that it is a user and periodically push data through an application. When done properly, this will validate key application functions such as name resolution, authentication, payload processing, and overall responsiveness. Transaction monitoring can reveal an overall application issue when individual elements might be testing within parameters.

When an APM system does its job well, the natural progression is for the system to be called upon to monitor more and more elements. Therefore, the APM tool must be able to scale.

SolarWinds Server & Application Monitoring

One APM tool that matches up extraordinarily well with these requirements is the SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor (SAM). SolarWinds products are created by people who “get it.” SolarWinds understands the perspective of an infrastructure engineer in the trenches who need to keep a data centre running. Therefore, SolarWinds SAM does as much of the work for you as possible, without limiting your ability to customise and scale the applications you wish to monitor.

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