Let’s face it: No one likes to be stereotyped.
So industry analysts don’t call it stereotyping, they call it categorization, and although the vendors being categorized still may not like it, and may not even agree sometimes, it does provide a foundation that is often valuable to those new to an industry segment or those just trying to navigate one that is evolving rapidly.
Gartner, a well-respected information technology analyst group, recently tried to bring some focus to the broad IT segment of network monitoring, but in the process may have muddied the water just a little. They recently defined two different categories with very distinct technologies, but with similar sounding names: Application Performance Monitoring and Application-Aware Network Performance Monitoring. For one category they did a Magic Quadrant, which is a go-to resource for those looking to procure technology in a given segment, and for one they did not. This resulted in all of the technology vendors wanting to be in Magic Quadrant category, even if they really do not belong there.
Let’s take a moment to look at these two categories and understand the differences. By doing so, we’ll hopefully see why there is value in the differentiation, and why there should be no stigma for vendors finding themselves in the category without a Magic Quadrant.
Application Performance Monitoring (APM)
Fortunately, Gartner is very clear when establishing requirements for a market segment. The APM market is defined by Gartner as the market for all of the technologies and services that deliver these five dimensions of functionality.
- End-user experience monitoring — the capture of data about how end-to-end application availability, latency, execution correctness and quality appeared to the end user.
- Runtime application architecture discovery, modeling and display — the discovery of various software and hardware components involved in application execution, and the array of possible paths across which those components could communicate that, together, enable that involvement.
- User-defined transaction profiling — the tracing of events as they occur among the components or objects as they move across the paths discovered in the second dimension, generated in response to a user’s attempt to cause the application to execute what the user regards as a logical unit of work.
- Component deep-dive monitoring in an application context — the fine-grained monitoring of resources consumed by and events occurring within the components discovered in the second dimension.
- Analytics — the marshalling of a variety of techniques (including behavior learning engines, complex-event processing (CEP) platforms, log analysis and multidimensional database analysis) to discover meaningful and actionable patterns in the typically large datasets generated by the first four dimensions of APM.
Basically, as the name implies, this segment is strictly about how applications perform, from an end-user perspective, regardless of the methods used to transport application requests and responses.
Application-Aware Network Performance Monitoring
Again, this segment has a very clear, and distinct, set of requirements as defined by Gartner. The solutions in this segment must allow passive packet capture of network traffic and must include the following features.
- Receive and process one or more of these flow-based data sources: NetFlow, sFlow and Internet Protocol Flow Information Export (IPFIX).
- Provide roll-ups and dashboards of collected data into business-relevant views, consisting of application-centric performance displays.
- Monitor performance in an always-on state, and generate alarms based on manual or automatically generated thresholds.
- Offer protocol analysis capabilities to decode and understand multiple applications, including voice, video, HTTP, and database protocols. The tool must provide end-user experience information for these applications.
- Have the ability to decrypt encrypted traffic if the proper keys are provided to the solution.
Optionally, the features of market leaders in this segment include:
- High-capacity storage of captured packet data, but this is not required as a core feature, although it can be useful from a diagnostic perspective. Products that do not store the data must provide packet capture on demand and reported in real time.
- Operation in WAN-optimized and virtualized environments through support for popular WAN optimization controllers (WOCs; e.g., Riverbed, Cisco and F5), as well as virtual network tagging, such as Cisco’s virtual network tag (VNTag), VMware’s ESX and Citrix’s Xen.
As these features clearly indicate, the main focus of this segment is network performance monitoring, with “application-centric performance displays” being only one small part of the functionality. Maybe if the category was called “Network Performance Monitoring” everything would be a whole lot clearer. We know networks transport application data so it is only logical that a network performance monitoring solution should be application-aware.
The Magic Quadrant
And here’s the crux of the matter: the similarity of the names and the fact that one was a Magic Quadrant and the other was not. There are vendors who clearly belong in one category or the other—for example, WildPackets is clearly in the AA-NPM category based on Gartner’s definition. But, since Gartner created a Magic Quadrant for the APM space and not the AA-NPM space, everyone wants to be in the APM, or clearly explain why they’re not there.
Both of these sectors are different and big sectors within the networking industry and should be treated equally, even if one was a Magic Quadrant and the other was not. Categorization is important, but in the same vein the name of a certain set of categories is also essential as if the names appear to be too similar there is a chance of confusion within the industry and a possible misinterpretation to the importance that one category might hold over the other.