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APM tools vs. APM platform: What’s the difference?

The concept of APM has evolved in recent years, and it’s important to understand the differences between APM tools and APM platforms when evaluating your options. Here’s what APM is, how organizations use APM to manage application performance, the difference between APM tools and APM platforms, and the business benefits an advanced APM platform provides.

What is APM and what are the challenges?

What is APM? This acronym can stand for application performance monitoring or application performance management — two distinct but related concepts. Both terms refer to technologies and practices, and both approaches aim to detect and pinpoint application performance issues before real users are impacted.

Application performance monitoring

Application performance monitoring involves tracking key software application performance metrics using monitoring software and telemetry data. Organizations use this kind of APM to ensure reliable system performance, optimize service performance and response times, and improve the user experience. Application performance monitoring has a strong focus on specific metrics and measurements.

Application performance management

Application performance management is the wider discipline of developing and managing an application performance strategy. Organizations use this to ensure an expected level of service — for example, to meet service level agreements — as measured by performance metrics and user experience monitoring.

APM has become more challenging with the rise of cloud-native apps running on microservices in containerized environments across multiple cloud services. What was once a straightforward process in the days of monolithic applications is now considerably more complex. At the same time, it has never been more important for companies to deliver a smooth, seamless user experience. For these reasons and many more, organizations now use modern APM tools or APM Platforms to understand and resolve the myriad issues that can impact an application’s performance.

What’s the difference between APM tools and an APM platform?

Organizations often start their APM journey by implementing APM tools before moving on to APM platforms. Let’s look at the differences.

What are APM tools?

APM tools are typically designed to look at one specific aspect of application performance. These point solutions can help identify specialized issues. However, over time, organizations often find themselves using multiple APM tools that don’t necessarily integrate with one another or provide comprehensive insight into the application environment. As a result, they struggle to identify root causes or resolve application performance issues, and the business may suffer follow-on effects related to the user experience and revenue generation.

What are APM platforms?

APM platforms provide a single integrated platform using AI and automation to deliver a precise, context-aware analysis of the application environment. A modern APM platform that’s expressly designed with cloud-native environments in mind can deliver coverage across the full stack, encompassing the entire hybrid multicloud network. Utilizing an APM platform, organizations can continuously monitor the full stack for system degradation and performance anomalies and achieve accurate, prompt root cause determination.

What are the benefits of APM platforms?

Adopting APM platforms can bring many benefits to organizations, spanning across a technical and business scale:

  • Technical benefits – Organizations can gain several technical benefits by adopting advanced APM platforms and practices, including achieving increased application stability, reducing the number of performance incidents, and quickly resolving any issues that do arise. Organizations can also optimize their infrastructure usage, achieving a better return on their technology spend. They can even deliver faster and better software releases, gaining a competitive advantage over other players in the market who aren’t yet using modern APM platforms.
  • Business benefits – Intelligent APM platforms also offer several compelling business benefits. With less time spent in the weeds hunting for root causes of application and infrastructure performance issues, DevOps teams can enjoy increased productivity, and the organization can reduce its operational costs. With the time and effort saved, they can focus on innovations and user experience enhancements that increase conversion rates and boost revenue. All these advantages help organizations transform faster and compete more effectively in a dynamic digital landscape.
  • Team benefits – APM platforms also offers softer business benefits that will ultimately help organizations innovate and strengthen their competitive position. Advanced APM platforms that provide a single source of truth to all teams within an organization can aid cross-functional collaboration and greatly accelerate the process of root cause identification. This can significantly reduce the need for war rooms or finger-pointing when application performance issues arise. Subsequently, it can strengthen working relationships, increase employee satisfaction, and improve employee retention. With happier employees and increased productivity, organizations can focus instead on delivering even more ambitious innovations that differentiate their companies in the market.

What is the impact of APM on the business?

Ultimately, APM is a digital transformation enabler, freeing up internal capacity to focus on user experience enhancements and innovations that boost the bottom line.

Businesses need these capabilities to compete and win in today’s dynamic and fast-changing market. As they’ve increased their investments in cloud and mobile technologies — pursuing bold digital transformation to meet increased expectations for an exceptional user experience — they’ve also confronted growing complexity in the application environment and its underlying infrastructure. APM empowers companies to continue transforming without needlessly getting bogged down by the process bottlenecks and collaboration challenges that complex environments create when left unaddressed.

Isn’t APM just for monitoring applications?

Although it may sound like APM is just for application performance monitoring, it actually provides value well beyond this. It’s true that many organizations begin using APM tools because they need to monitor individual parts of their applications more effectively, but they often discover an APM platform also allows them to conduct comprehensive monitoring across the full stack. Not only can an organization use APM for application performance monitoring, but it can also use an APM platform for infrastructure monitoring, AIOps, digital experience monitoring, and digital business performance analytics.

Perhaps most importantly, organizations can use APM to understand the relationships and interdependencies between different aspects of their application environment and its underlying infrastructure, even as they become more complex.

Streamlining success: A single APM platform

Organizations increasingly understand an integrated approach to APM is critical to their future success. According to the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Application Performance Monitoring, by 2025 70% of new cloud-native application monitoring will use open-source instrumentation rather than vendor-specific agents for improved interoperability. However, these open-source tools can create new APM challenges as they can potentially exist in silos preventing end-to-end observability.

The ideal solution is an APM platform that is open and can accept data from virtually any APM tool. If it delivers contextual insights powered by AI analytics and automation, organizations can gain even greater insight into application performance issues. With a full-stack observability platform, digital teams can accelerate root cause identification, resolve issues faster, collaborate more effectively, and deliver an exceptional user experience more consistently.

Learn why Gartner named Dynatrace a Leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for APM — again.