Your APM Needs To Be Fast and Play Well With Others


As enterprise networks grow ever more complex, IT operations pros need tools that can help them monitor application performance from the network side. And it's crucial that any such solution offer speedy access to data, fine-grained controls for operations and administration, and integration with other monitoring tools and popular enterprise dashboards.

SteelCentral AppResponse is a packet-based application performance monitoring (APM) solution that meets all these needs. And the most recent version of AppResponse features a big speed boost and hooks you can use to integrate the data it produces into your existing workflows. We asked Alfred Jones, Product Management Director at Riverbed, to walk us through the latest improvements.

A quantum leap in data access speeds

Network operations staff need to be able to track down the cause of a problem quickly. In a typical scenario, they'll start by examining high-level performance information and drill down to a very detailed root cause analysis. That can be tricky, because there's a huge repository of packet data stored in the AppResponse appliance to search through. The latest release of AppResponse makes it possible to find what you need in orders of magnitude more quickly than previous versions — anywhere from 10 to 30 times faster.

What's behind the improvement? "Just being able to accept and store packets at 20 Gbps or more is itself a pretty complicated task, but AppResponse can keep up," says Jones. "We also create a very smart index as we write these packets to disk. That way, when somebody says, 'Give me the packets for this workstation talking to that server,' AppResponse doesn't need to go hunting through the whole disk to find them — the index quickly tells it where to look."

Keep those appliances tuned up

A typical enterprise might be running 10 to 15 AppResponse appliances, and making sure they're all in good health and operating smoothly is a priority. The latest version of AppResponse can report its own health to users, either through the AppResponse GUI or via SNMP polling.

Figure 1. Checking up on the health of an AppResponse appliance

AppResponse also offers fine-grained control to administrators so they can customize their deployment for their needs. For instance, one of the important resources admins need to monitor is the amount of disk space available to store different kinds of performance data. "People working at a datacenter might be more concerned with non-packet performance, whereas at a branch they care about packets a lot more because they're closer to the end user," says Jones. "There's no one universal scheme that works for everybody, and AppResponse lets you make those tradeoffs.

Figure 2. Allocating disk space to different types of data

Part of a larger team

AppResponse is just one of a suite of performance visibility and digital experience monitoring products from Riverbed; tighter integration between AppResponse and Riverbed AppInternals, an APM tool that helps DevOps teams manage distributed microservices, has been a particular focus of the new release. "These services need constant monitoring," explains Jones. "Let's say there's a problem with a particular server and you want to know what, if anything, the network did to help cause it. Integration between AppInternals and AppResponse provides a seamless way to get an answer to that question. Network-oriented performance data from AppResponse is available in AppInternals."

Also updated is SteelCentral Transaction Analyzer, a complementary tool that's part of the AppResponse ecosystem, and that can provide a microscopic analysis of individual user transactions. Transaction Analyzer is now integrated with the Riverbed SteelHead WAN optimization line of products, which means admins can connect directly to SteelHead appliances to capture transactions for analysis.

Scripting made easy

AppResponse has a native browser-based GUI, but there are other ways to get access to the rich, detailed data and metadata captured by the appliance. Many users prefer to import that data into a universal enterprise dashboard like ServiceNow or VMware's Wavefront. That's possible thanks to Riverbed's documented REST API, which is wrapped in a Python library called SteelScript. And AppResponse now gives you direct access to the SteelScript code for any widget you see in the AppResponse GUI.

Figure 3. See the SteelScript behind the AppResponse GUI

"Some of our users may not be very familiar with scripting," explains Jones. "With this release, anytime you're looking at the web UI and you see something interesting that you want to share with the rest of your organization — a bar chart or a donut chart, say — you can right-click to see the SteelScript code that gives you access that data.

"AppResponse is targeted at making the lives of folks in IT operations easier," he concludes. "And everything in this release moves us towards that goal."

Get started with AppResponse

For current AppResponse customers on maintenance, these new features are a free software update away. If you want to find out more about AppResponse, visit the product page, as well as the product page for Transaction Analyzer.  You can also register for a free AppResponse trial