Every business is highly dependent on software these days. Ensuring that all of your organization’s mission-critical applications are running optimally at all times is priority #1! There is a wide range of application performance management and application monitoring (APM) tools on the market available for developers, DevOps teams, and traditional IT operations.
There is a lot of gray area as to what APM is and who it benefits within an organization. In this post, I’ll define what APM is, share some tips for selecting a tool, and list the top APM tools along with their features.
To fully manage and monitor the performance of an application, it requires collecting and monitoring a lot of different types of data. An APM solution is like the black box of an airplane. Application monitoring tools ensure that developers are not flying blind!
Components of a complete application performance management solution:
Read our guide on What is APM to learn more.
Typically when you think of APM tools, you think of running them on production servers, but there are also APM tools that developers can use on their workstation while writing and testing their code. Thanks to detailed transaction tracing, which is powered by lightweight code profilers or other technology, you can easily see these types of details and more.
Depending on which programming language you are using, there are several different developer tools you could use for this. The features and functionality of these tools vary wildly. Some require a lot of code changes or configuration, some don’t require any.
These developer tools are primarily designed to run on your workstation, although some may also work on a server.
These types of APM tools are a lifesaver for developers. Once you start using them, they will become part of your standard tool-chain. They are great at answering that question of “What did my code just do?”
Application performance management tools have traditionally only been affordable by larger enterprises and were used by IT operations to monitor important applications. They have been used for what I always call business transaction monitoring. In the last few years, APM tools have become affordable and a must have for all businesses. They are also being used more and more by developers and not just IT operations for application performance monitoring. APM is a big part of the DevOps movement.
Key things to consider:
New Relic has championed the idea of a SaaS based APM and is one of the industry leaders in application performance management. New Relic also provides APM for mobile apps, advanced browser performance monitoring and most recently added infrastructure monitoring.
Cost: $75-600 per month per server, cheaper annually
AppDynamics caters to larger enterprises and offers a SaaS APM option as well as an on-premise option. Self-described as an application intelligence platform, AppDynamics monitors application performance and then derives insights into how application performance is impacting business operations. From data collection to processing and then deriving knowledge from your data, AppDynamics provides full visibility into exactly how application performance is affecting your business.
Cost: $230 per month per server
Retrace is an affordable SaaS APM tool designed specifically with developers in mind. It is designed to help developers optimize the performance of their applications in QA and “retrace” application problems in production via very detailed code level transactions traces. A free workstation level APM tool called Prefix helps developers as they write and test their code. Retrace is focused on being simple to use and affordable for developer teams of all sizes.
Cost: $25-50 per month per server, $10 for non-production
DynaTrace, previously known as Compuware APM, is touted as the first self-learning Application Performance Monitoring tool. Through its agent is provides auto-discovered topology visualizations of applications and their components. This sets DynaTrace apart as an application performance tool. However, the one thing to keep in mind is that it takes time to learn. You may have to wait for enough data points to come in before you stop seeing false positives.
Cost: $216 per month per server for SaaS version
Scout provides a good APM for Ruby on Rails. However, it requires expansions into their “Server Monitoring” and “DevTrace” offerings for a fully rounded solution. The lack of other available languages makes this APM product somewhat niche.
Cost: $59 per month per server
This product started as Tracelytics, was acquired by AppNeta, and is now part of SolarWinds. All the standard dashboard and drill down capabilities that you have come to expect with SolarWinds are naturally included.
Cost: $79 per month + Storage $19 per GB per month
Applications Manager has code-level diagnostics for .NET, Java, and Ruby on Rails, applications. As well as KPI database monitoring out of the box. It has the ability to auto-discover application topology and present visualized dependencies. ManageEngine Applications Manager provides basic application monitoring tool.
Cost: Starts at $795 (perpetual license)
We included App Insights in our list, but it is arguably not a full-fledged APM solution. It does not do code level profiling but instead provides some high-level performance details only for SQL queries and web service calls. We would call it “APM light”.
Cons: No reporting per SQL query. No transaction tracing view. Does not correlate logs, errors, and request details well. No reporting across apps. Does not work for non web apps without major code changes. Can not track the performance of any line of code in your app via custom CLR profiling.
Cost: $15 per month per server + data charges
Compare: Retrace vs Application Insights
Riverbed’s SteelCentral is another Enterprise Class APM solution. Multiple Riverbed components are required to get the same in-depth results that come from other singular solutions. The SteelCentral AppResponse, AppInternals and Portal are all required to get a holistic view that you get through many other products.
I found this user’s review to be very helpful especially when you take into account that these are both physical and virtual appliances. “Intuitive use: The GUI isn’t intuitive and several elements of its design differ in appearance and function with other parts of the interface. Reliability: Issues interfering with the deployment and use of the product has made its use reduced in scope.” – via IT Central Station
Cost: $90-200 per month per server
SCOM is a decent out of the box APM system. Once the overhead of setting up the appropriate Management Packs, System Center Operations Manager offers a significant value in the realm of APM. However, there is a decent level of care and feeding required to maintain its usefulness. Also to get intuitive dashboards either significant effort or 3rd party plugins are required.
Cost*: $1323 – $3607 / Azure Offering Prices vary on Licensing Agreements
(*See Microsoft Licensing for details as this per Core Costs)
Provides User Experience Monitoring, out of the box analytics dashboards, in-depth cross connection mapping between applications and databases. Quest creates a good baseline for the APM requirements, but the interface can be somewhat confusing and clunky to find the details you are looking for.
Languages: .NET, JAVA, PHP
JenniferSoft APM solution provides for a true Real-time Dashboard and Topology view on top of wall the other standard APM features. Not to mention it is also specially designed to be a Low Overhead solution. That means that they specifically designed it to take the least resources possible.
CA is recognized for being versatile in its offerings and being able to meet the needs of its customers. It has done no less with its APM solution as well. With End-User Experience, APM Team Center Dashboards, and Companion Software CA can provide as deep of insights as any other of APM solutions out there.
Nastel provides another out of the box solution for deep APM analytics and discovery. However, Nastel is a Middleware centric business transaction tool and like most other Application Performance Management Vendors it is focused on that Middleware business transaction.
IBM has been a mainstay in enterprise class solutions for more than half a century now. With their Application Performance Management offering it precisely what you would expect it to be. IBM provides expansive SaaS offering with multiple tiers allowing for you to go as deep as you desire. The deepest level allows for Database, Code level Stack Traces, and automatic Hung Transaction Resolution.
Cost: Starts at $185.00 Per Month
SmartBear absorbed Lucierna’s APM into its AlertSite offering that is geared specifically towards REST and SOAP APIs. This limitation along with pricing makes this a niche APM product geared towards a select market. SmartBear is poised to expand this product creating a major player in the Application Performance Management vendors.
IDERA has made its name through deep SQL Monitoring capabilities. Precise is no different, leveraging the deep Database structure IDERA has expanded Precise into true APM solution. IDERA is known for having an intuitive dashboard and allow for quick insights, Precise uses these dashboards to make it one of the best APM Monitoring Tools available today.
There are a lot of application performance monitoring tools on the market. Most all of them target large enterprises and IT operations. Stackify Retrace separates itself from the group by being focused on developers instead of IT operations. Retrace is also very affordable while still providing common features needed to optimize and monitor the performance of your apps.