Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part tip series on developing services to improve cloud application performance for customers.
Don't forget to check out part one, Improving cloud computing performance: A path for revenue growth, and part two, Better cloud application response time: An overview of partner options.
As critical applications are born in or move to the cloud, leaving their performance unmonitored is as ill-advised as leaving a baby without a sitter. Things can and will go awry, and customers want a means to detect performance problems in their cloud-hosted applications as well as in the entire application-delivery system. Cloud providers can tap into this demand by enabling customers to keep a watchful eye on the performance of their "babies" from afar with application performance management (APM) services.
"In the old days, you had an inch-thick catalog listing the vendors surrounding your software environment. In the PaaS world, SaaS vendors replace that," said Steve Harris, senior vice president of products at Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) provider CloudBees, based in Woburn, Mass. "There's a fundamental change in the way the ecosystem is delivered. It becomes a service world. What you once bought and owned as software are now services that you just select and use."
The opportunity for cloud providers isn't hypothetical. Cloud-tailored and cloud-based APM services are necessary to attract and retain application-developer customers, according to Oren Teich, chief operating officer of Heroku, a PaaS provider in San Francisco.
"For a developer to do their job right, they need complete visibility into what's going on," Teich said. "This isn't just a continuation of how they did things before, when they were using their own servers. They need help gathering ridiculous amounts of data and making sense of it in new ways."
Application developers at small- to medium-sized businesses are an especially fertile ground for cloud-based APM services, agreed John Essex, marketing director at New Relic, a San Francisco-based company that sells its APM product to enterprises and cloud providers as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering.
"[Those kinds of customers] are progressive, lean, and agile -- and they have an immediate relationship with their customers," Essex said. "Our SaaS-only tool allows them to get an app out more quickly than their competitors."
User experience paramount to cloud APM services
As the truest measure of application performance is user experience, cloud APM services should be developed with the actual users in mind by monitoring the entire application-delivery path -- from the application to the user's browser.
Cloud APM services that only monitor the application and/or underlying cloud infrastructure provide an incomplete picture, often missing problems caused by slow browser-rendering times, latency and application chattiness. Although there is a place for products that monitor surrogate users rather than actual ones -- such as tools from CompuWare Corp. and Keynote Systems -- they do not as accurately reflect actual behavior at users' exact locations.
Measuring the real user experience for public cloud-hosted applications entails placing an intelligent agent into the application server. The agent introduces a browser component that enables monitoring data to be captured at the user's device. The information captured should include metrics like application response-time and availability; the platform should also provide the ability to access more granular reporting to determine which application-delivery elements in the path are potentially problematic.
The first SaaS provider to offer end-to-end, real-user-experience monitoring as a service is New Relic. In its marketing materials, New Relic describes its cloud APM services as an "all-in-one Web application performance tool that lets you see performance from the end user experience, through servers and down to the line of application code." Designed as a SaaS-only offering, New Relic supports Ruby, PHP, Java, .NET and Python programming languages.
"We spend a lot of time making our service easy," said Essex, of New Relic. "Cloud providers want to make it seamless to be in the cloud. The whole philosophy of the cloud is that it should be easy."
Developing cloud APM services: Build or buy?
Traditional hardware and software vendors are also starting to creep into this space.
The APM product that wide area network (WAN) optimization vendor Riverbed Technology acquired from Zeus Technology -- now called Stingray -- is already being used in cloud environments for load balancing.
"[Stingray is] perfectly placed to help customers capture and interpret information in a distributed application delivery environment like Amazon. We see every connection that goes to an application, so we see what's going on with the application, who is using it and how," said Apurva Davé, vice president of product marketing at Riverbed. "Because we need to understand response times in order to do a better job of load balancing, we can report on response times, and we can get information about the user experience."
Cloud providers can also build cloud APM services using enterprise-grade tools, such as Compuware's dynaTrace, Opnet's AppResponse, CA's Wily Customer Experience Manager, Correlsense's SharePath Real User Monitoring or BMC's End User Experience Management (formerly Coradiant). But this alternative is not easy. These software tools are time-consuming to configure to work in a virtual environment; they are designed for enterprise, not service provider, use; and they are relatively expensive to deploy.
Partnerships may be a wise choice when the disadvantages of building out cloud APM services outweigh the benefits.
"We give away the medium level of service, and if a customer upgrades to the premium service level, there is revenue sharing," said Essex. PaaS provider CloudBees offers New Relic's "Pro" service for $0.29 per server per hour.
Another cloud-based APM services provider, AppDynamics, offers a more narrowly focused service that monitors performance of the application itself. When an end-to-end view is needed, AppDynamics taps its partnership with BMC to use its End User Experience Management tool to provide visibility from the user's browser to the application stack.
"The key thing service providers struggle with is to realize the importance of the application and to expand their view from servers, networking and storage up the value chain," said AppDynamics CEO Jyoti Bansal. "This [perspective] would be good for their business because it would give them better margins and make them more competitive."
As of mid-2012, New Relic has signed on 24 cloud-provider partners, including Rackspace, Joyent, Heroku and CloudBees. These providers offer New Relic's services as part of an "ecosystem" of solution partners. Some expose their application programming interfaces (APIs) to APM-services partners to offer customers an integrated provisioning and service management portal, strengthening customer relationships with a one-stop shopping model.
The market for APM services in the cloud is in its formative stages. Look for innovative cloud-centric APM capabilities to come from new emerging players, as well as from the incumbents that cannot be dismissed yet.
About the author:
Rebecca Wetzel is a principal with NetForecast and also is president of the marketing consulting firm, Wetzel Consulting LLC. She provides insight on the data communications industry and helps vendors and service providers develop successful marketing strategies.
Improving cloud computing performance: A path for revenue growth
Better cloud application response time: An overview of partner options