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Advice on getting the most out of APM in the AWS cloud

Customers who have looked outside of CloudWatch for APM solutions share their APM-on-AWS approaches and why they chose them.

When trying to determine a business' need for application performance management and monitoring while running on the AWS cloud, knowing when enough is really enough can be hard. After all, CloudWatch on AWS not only dives deep into the data, but it also casts a wide net. And it's already bundled in. But for some companies, CloudWatch isn't enough.

So what to do? Customers who've looked outside of CloudWatch for application performance management (APM) solutions shared their APM-on-AWS approaches and why they chose them. These software pros also offer advice and suggestions on getting the most out of APM in the AWS cloud.

1. Think through the existing platform tools

"AWS probably has the best tooling infrastructure out there," said Stuart Grant, director and co-founder of location data service company Geo.me. His 14-person company is able to deploy business intelligence and site location applications through its software-as-a-service offerings on AWS in large part because of functionality built in to CloudWatch. Grant appreciates the DNS failover, search and resiliency features. Geo.me takes full advantage of CloudWatch's dashboards and server performance metrics and uses APIs to create custom views of the data the company needs.

Even though the company has a close partnership with Google, Grant doesn't feel the need to consider switching to the Google Cloud Engine because Geo.me is getting all it needs from AWS.

2. When less might do more

After using a resource intensive -- and expensive -- APM solution that ultimately crashed some of its applications, August Systems wanted a lightweight APM choice for its applications on AWS, said Director of Operations Alan Nelson.

Nelson had tried Manage Engine's Site24x7 at a previous employer and liked its ease of deployment and, specifically, its very small footprint. "We looked at other massive monitoring suites that were really much more appropriate for larger companies," he said.

Site24x7 is the right-sized solution for the company, he said, and that's key. Make sure you don't choose a bigger APM solution than you need, he advised.

3. Know what you're trying to solve

When it was time for Geo.me to offer clients SLAs, Grant wondered just what CloudWatch might not be letting them see. And it was clear there were holes, particularly when it came to the very fine details of the application's performance. That's when the company turned to CopperEgg, now owned by Idera. "We are able to get a much more detailed view than we could before and now we are much better informed," he said. "CopperEgg fills in the gaps that AWS can't."

It wouldn’t have made sense to add CopperEgg if Stuart hadn’t been able to make a good business case for it. "We knew the value of SLAs, so it made sense to make the investment in additional APM. But you first really need to ask yourself if you actually need a third-party tool, or if your cloud provider is giving you enough."

4. Go with what you know

Sometimes it doesn't matter what a cloud provider -- in this case AWS -- is offering because it makes more sense to work with what you know. At least that was the case at Orrstown Bank, where Senior VP and Chief Architect Christopher Thompson wanted to move an application on to AWS. He turned to Splunk, a company he had worked with before, for a log analysis solution. It was a fast and easy transition to get the bank's data on to AWS, and Splunk's monitoring tools are helping the bank with security and risk management.

Thompson said the bank, which has other applications on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, doesn't use CloudWatch because Splunk is giving the bank's tech ops team the end user visibility, data and analytics it needs.

5. You may sleep better, or you may not

It may seem like a small thing, but having an APM solution that can send an alert about a problem is apparently priceless, particularly if it's a text and not an email. CloudWatch has that capability but Geo.me's Grant says it doesn't work for his UK-based company. He is grateful for not having to constantly scan his email looking for alerts. "Things don't go wrong too often but it's incredibly useful to know that when we get an SMS from CopperEgg we need to stop and pay attention."

On the other hand, though, is the issue of phantom alerts. August Systems is still fine-tuning Site24x7, Nelson said, particularly because of phantom alerts. He said middle-of-the-night high memory or CPU usage is triggering alerts that don't make sense because his customers wouldn't be logging on then. So sifting through what's real and what's not requires patience, particularly as you're getting started.

6. Is the price right?

Using CopperEgg, or any third-party APM tool, adds to the cost of using AWS, Grant said. "This isn’t especially cheap so you need to ask yourself if you really need it," he said. In Geo.me's case, the company also uses Loggly for log management and, of course, is paying for that as well. Loggly's ability to go beyond what CloudWatch and CopperEgg could do -- specifically cause analysis at the application level -- "got us out of jail" by figuring out why an application looked fine but was crashing, Grant said. But between the two offerings Grant estimated the company pays "a double-digit tax on top of AWS hosting."

This was last published in December 2014

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What approach has your business taken for APM-on-AWS?
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In most cases, attempts to ascertain the business requirement for application performance management and observation while operating on the AWS, becomes difficult to know when enough is actually enough. But for my business, we have been able to deploy business intelligence and site location application through this software on AWS. This is because cloud watch on AWS not only goes deeper into the data but also casts a wide net.
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Great to hear about SMEs liking our simple, user-friendly APM solution!

Aarathy,
Site24x7 Team
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