While everyone knows application monitoring is an essential part of running awesome software services, understanding whether you need application performance management (APM) or log management isn’t so straightforward. Both techniques involve collecting data that describe your application’s behavior, and both help you analyze that data.
Despite the similarities between APM and log management, they serve two distinct purposes. Implementing one well doesn’t mean you can skip the other. What’s more, to get the most out of these techniques you need separate, dedicated tools that each solve a single problem.
This article will make the difference between APM and log management crystal clear, and show you how combining both tools is the best way to truly understand your application.
APM vs Log Management
APM is a method of monitoring software application performance and availability. APM includes tracking two types of metrics: user-facing metrics that monitor how your users experience your app, and system-level ones that tell how your software is using hardware resources.
For example, tracking user-facing metrics such as site availability and page load time provides you with a good indication of the user experience. These kinds of metrics are vital for keeping your users happy, particularly as your audience grows and you need to maintain response times. Watching CPU utilization at the system level helps you identify potential bottlenecks due to limited capacity and preempt outages caused by resource saturation.
Log management, on the other hand, is concerned with aggregating, presenting, and analyzing logs. Logs form a critical record of historical events for your application, and they often provide key pieces of information when you’re searching for the root cause of a problem. For example, you might suspect that a specific IP address range is experiencing network outages. There’s no way to know that ahead of time, so it’s not the kind of metric you’d be actively tracking. Only by diving into your log data will you be able to test and validate your hypothesis.
Collecting all of those logs together so that they can be analyzed with a single view is the job of log aggregation tools. And with the rise of modern software designs like microservices, log aggregation is more important than ever. Whereas in the past it wasn’t difficult to SSH to an individual machine to inspect logs, with logs now spread over tens or hundreds of containers and microservices, you need to consolidate your logs into a single location to be able to efficiently search and make use of log data.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Both APM and log management are closely related. You need a solid log management strategy and toolset to pool all your logs into a single view and ensure they contain the right information to help you troubleshoot issues. You also need APM to consume that log data and use it to track the performance of your apps.
Logs are the sources of information for your APM tools; without those logs, you won’t be able to track app performance over time. Conversely, if you don’t use APM tools it’ll be that much harder to diagnose performance problems with your apps and services because you won’t have a ready-made way to make sense of your log data. Just doing either APM or log management well isn’t sufficient to catch and diagnose all the application issues you might encounter; you need to do both well.
But it’s difficult for a single tool to provide a robust APM and log management solution. Dedicated tools have the benefit of a razor-sharp focus on a single problem, and the best tools do one job really well.
APM and Server Monitoring With AppOptics
SolarWinds® AppOptics™ is powerful cloud-based application performance and infrastructure monitoring tool. It supports a wide range of programming languages, which means it can easily parse logs from your application. AppOptics comes with over 150 plugins and integrations, including ones based on the Snap and Telegraf ecosystem.
AppOptics’ support for custom metrics allows you to monitor the values that make the most sense for your environment and users. That way, you can uncover insights to make better decisions and tie application performance directly to business results.
Visualization is also an important part of spotting patterns with your software performance and correcting any negative trends before your users notice. With AppOptics, you can quickly shift gears from viewing high-level trends to code-level root cause analysis. You can even visualize performance bottlenecks using the end-to-end distributed tracing and use heatmaps to identify outliers in your data.
But APM tools are only as good as their data sources. To make sure you’re getting the most out of all of your logs, you need a log management tool that can handle large volumes of logs in a variety of formats.
Log Management With Papertrail
SolarWinds Papertrail™ is a cloud-hosted log management tool that supports a number of features that work in harmony with APM—features such as log aggregation, advanced searching, and filtering.
Sending logs to a central location in Papertrail means you can use a single UI to access all of your logs, no matter where they originated from. Running searches and filters on a single repository of log data makes it much simpler to create summaries of your application’s behavior. Features such as live tail allow you to interactively work with logs in real time, and filter incoming messages as they happen. For analyzing historical logs, the Papertrail event viewer lets you seek by time, context, and even colorize your logs so you can highlight patterns in the data.
Centralized security is also a big advantage of a log management tool such as Papertrail. Per-user access controls with customizable log groups give you fine-grained control over which users can see which logs, allowing you to separate logs by teams (developers vs ops) or even servers and geographical regions.
And the log velocity analytics from Papertrail help you understand how frequently events happen. By creating alerts that send a count of HTTP errors from your web app to AppOptics every couple of minutes, you can send log search results over to AppOptics for trends analysis and visualization.
Papertrail also helps to implement log retention policies. Instead of configuring and deploying retention and archive policies to each logging component, Papertrail lets you set global log management and retention policies across your entire infrastructure.
Though APM and log management solve different problems, they’re both equally important and represent opposite sides of the same coin. APM is all about monitoring application performance and availability; it lets you track both user-facing metrics and system-level metrics over time to spot bottlenecks and capacity issues.
However, the data that APM tools monitor needs to come from somewhere. And that somewhere needs to be a single location so that your logs can be processed holistically and high-level summaries of events can be generated.
While you need separate tools to address the two use cases, those tools have to work together seamlessly if you want to effectively understand your app’s behavior and performance, and quickly discover root cause issues before your users notice.
AppOptics and Papertrail are both parts of the SolarWinds family, and they integrate perfectly to deliver a robust and effective APM and log management solution. Sign up for a free AppOptics and Papertrail account today.