May 13, 2010, 2:32 PM

Monitoring app performance in new-age flexible e-commerce applications

With e-commerce software developers working in more agile development environments intended to make apps more flexible to meet changing market demands, AppDynamics launched a free tool this week designed to monitor how well those apps are performing.

With e-commerce software developers working in more agile development environments intended to make Java web applications more flexible to meet changing market demands, AppDynamics Inc. launched a free tool this week designed to monitor how well those apps are performing.

“We’re showing code-level diagnostics to identify which line of software code is causing a slowdown,” says Steve Roop, vice president of marketing.

Roop contends that the free AppDynamics Lite tool provides today’s application environments nearly the same level of application performance monitoring capability of pricey tools from industry leaders like CA Wily, IBM and HP.

That’s true, says Bernd Harzog, an analyst specializing in virtualization performance and capacity management in Internet applications at consulting firm The Virtualization Practice.
And that is because the older, more established application performance management tools on the market were initially designed years ago for large corporate environments, where Internet applications typically were deployed on a relatively small number of really large web servers.

But today, he adds, the trend toward agile development means web applications can be spread across hundreds of smaller, less expensive Java web servers. The benefit is that such configurations, often deployed in a relatively low-cost open source environment, let teams of software developers focus on more distinct sections of an application. “If you break an application into a bunch of little pieces and have one person responsible for each piece, you can evolve the application more quickly to meet new demands,” Harzog says. “That’s agile development.”

In the older type of environment, he adds, a web site operator might be inclined to add new functionality to web applications once a year. In contrast, the new methodology supports changes once or more a month. So an online retailer, for instance, would be freer to modify a web site feature in response to customer demand, such as with a deal-of-the-day option added to merchandise displays and integrated into the checkout process.

In addition, new application environments today are more likely to also be spread across hosted Internet-based infrastructure, commonly called the cloud, as well as across a company’s own data center.

AppDynamics performance monitoring technology, Harzog says, was designed to operate in this agile development, which requires site operators to monitor a broader, more distributed server environment. “At any one moment in time, an online retailer may need to know which piece of an application is communicating with another piece, and they need to know the path of that communication, and the mapping of these complex systems,” Harzog says.

He adds: “If part of an online retailer’s applications are in the Internet cloud, and part are in its own data center, AppDynamics’ free tool can monitor both parts,” Harzog says. “The larger application performance management tools can’t do that.”

The AppDynamics Lite tool, however, has its limitations. It can only store performance data for a rolling two-hour window, and it’s best suited for web applications designed for up to about 25 web servers, Roop says.

Although the Lite tool offers effective monitoring for basic awareness of how well an application is performing, many site operators may want to dig further into performance data to compare, say, how well a particular function has performed over a 30-day period, Harzog says. “If I made a change to a web site 30 days ago, I want to know how that changed the usage of the app up to the current day,” he says. “That trend analysis is important to understand patterns of application performance over time.”

AppDynamics’ standard edition application performance management tool, which offers that broader monitoring capability, starts at about $120 per month, based on the number of web servers used by a client, Roop says.

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