Don’t Let APM Tools Gather Dust

Many Small to medium size enterprises (SME’s) buy the right APM tools but often end up under-utilizing them. The reasons could be many – examples are lack of trained personnel, lack of awareness of best practices, and the prevailing culture of constantly fighting fires. TT was one such enterprise (in the newspaper industry) that had purchased and installed two APM tools (from Opnet) with a lot of initial enthusiasm but eventually forgot about them in a few months.
In such cases APM consultants have an important role to play – work with customer’s management and engineers to first revive the tools for basic use. Then further work with the customer to expand the scope of usage of the tool in additional meaningful ways to support business operations in a proactive manner. The steps typically involve discovery/review of environment, assessment, and evaluation of the current set-up/usage of the APM tools.

As an example, in one case, APM consultants worked with the customer TT and revived the usage of APM tools. The APM tool in this case was AppResponse Xpert from Opnet Technologies. The engagement resulted in TT implementing the recommendations in the areas of managing the box capacity, creating appropriate business groups, cleaning up NetFlow setup, and configuring alerts/dashboards for mission critical applications. The dashboards eventually ended up in their Network Operations Center (NOC).

The dashboards displayed how users in various locations were experiencing end-user response times. The two-dimensional dashboard had radio-buttons with red, yellow, and green colors. The button would go red if the 95th percentile of the response time for a particular application violates a pre-set threshold. These thresholds were set up by observing the response time behavior over a one-month period.

Alerts were set up to send emails if server response time for a particular application exceeded a pre-determined threshold. Again a careful observation of the server response time over a one-month period is recommended. Low thresholds can result in excessive emails to the technician.

One challenge for setting up dashboards and alerts is the presence of WAN Optimization devices in the environment. Since these WAN Optimizers act as “a pair of men in the middle” or “proxies” the true end-user response time measurements gets masked (the APM tools are typically located in the data center close to the servers). Hence one may have to settle down for the server response times to represent end-user response times. This simplification may be fine as networks with WAN Optimization tools rarely have network related issues.

Also this customer TT was able to utilize the APM tools and reduce bandwidth costs. They could easily recover the money spent on APM consultants in a couple of years just by this one bandwidth cost saving.

In summary, a general advise to the customers is to remember that they have invested lot of money for buying the APM tools (an also the annual maintenance fees) and make best use of the tools to support their business operations. The small money spent on APM consultants is worth it.