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APM Is Application Performance Monitoring--Isn't It?

APM is hard to define because it means different things to different people. Here's what you need to know.

APM is a buzzword you hear often in IT today. It's also a term that is hard to define, because it means different things to different people. Indeed, IT professionals and marketers can't even agree on what the acronym APM stands for. Some say it's short for application performance monitoring. Others say application performance management. (You might also see APM used to refer to Advanced Power Management, but that's a separate field.)

What's the real definition of APM? And what are the subcategories that comprise the dynamic $5.7 billion APM market? Keep reading to find out.

Defining APM

A basic definition of APM might sound like this: It's the tools, processes and philosophies associated with monitoring and/or managing applications and infrastructure.

If that sounds like a mouthful, it's because it is. APM involves so many different things that it's impossible to write a short and sweet definition.

Categories of APM

Instead of trying to define APM in a singular way, it makes more sense to disaggregate APM into the different types of processes and strategies that make it up. Here's a rundown.


The most basic (and the oldest) form of APM involves monitoring. Monitoring means using tools to collect log data or other metrics from an application or infrastructure in order to assess their stability or identify potential problems.

There are different ways to perform monitoring. The most important include:

  • Synthetic monitoring, which uses scripts to simulate user interaction with an application or infrastructure.
  • Real-user monitoring (sometimes also called end user monitoring), which monitors applications or infrastructure based on data generated by interactions with real users.
  • Transaction tracing, a technique for determining exactly how specific parts of an application behave when a certain action is triggered. Once a strategy used by developers to find bugs, transaction tracing is a feature of many modern APM tools.


In recent years, the definition of APM has expanded in many IT pros' minds to include not just application and infrastructure monitoring, but also management. In other words, the goal of APM tools and processes today is usually not simply to monitor for problems, but to optimize overall performance.Toward that end, modern APM tools often offer some level of the following:

  • Root-cause analysis, meaning that APM tools help trace a surface-level problem (such as a database that is responding slowly) to its underlying cause (such as a failing disk, or poorly written database code).
  • Automated response, or the ability of APM tools to take steps automatically to resolve a problem after they have identified it.
  • Cost-analysis, which helps identify underutilized resources in order to mitigate unnecessary expenditures.

Applications vs. infrastructure

Although there's some disagreement (as noted above) about whether the M in APM stands for management or monitoring, everyone agrees that the A in APM stands for application.

Unfortunately, that's a bit misleading because, in most cases, APM tools and strategies involve the management and monitoring not just of applications, but also of the infrastructure that hosts them.

To make matters more complicated, that infrastructure comes in multiple forms. APM tools could monitor and help to manage the server that hosts an application, but they can also be used to monitor and manage databases, networks and other infrastructure components. Most modern APM tools work with conventional infrastructure as well as software-defined infrastructure and cloud environments.

Some people refer to infrastructure monitoring and management as IPM. However, that term is much less common than APM, and most APM tools that are marketed as such offer infrastructure monitoring and management as a core feature.

Modern APM tools

If you've read this far, you know that APM is not a singular thing. It's a broad set of strategies and processes that help IT pros in several different areas of their jobs. Fortunately, most APM vendors offer tools that pack a majority of the functionality described above into a single platform. As a result, you don't have to find a different tool for each specific type of APM feature that interests you.

With that said, not all APM tools offer all of the features described above. Plus, they vary significantly in price. So will take you some time to evaluate different APM solutions effectively.

But as long as you understand that APM is a diverse and dynamic field, rather than one simple type of process or tool, you're in the right place to begin determining which components of APM can benefit you, and where to find them.

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