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How to Identify Impactful Business Transactions in AppDynamics

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Summary
Business Transactions are key to configuring application monitoring in AppDynamics. Here’s how to decide which operations you must focus on to achieve your goals.

New users of APM software often believe their company has hundreds of critical business transactions that must be monitored. But that’s not the case. In my role as Professional Services Consultant (EMEA) at AppDynamics, I’ve worked at dozens of customer sites, and the question of “What to monitor?” is always foremost in new users’ minds.

AppDynamics’ Business Transactions (BTs) reflect the core value of your applications. Since our inception a decade ago, we’ve built our APM solution around this concept. Given the critical importance of Business Transactions, you’ll want to configure them the right way. While AppDynamics will automatically create BTs for you, you’ll benefit greatly by taking a few extra steps to optimize your monitoring environment.

APM users often think of a BT as a technical transaction in their system, but it’s much more than that. The BT is a key component of effective application monitoring. It consists of all required  services within your environment—things like login, search and checkout—that are utilized to fulfill and respond to a user-initiated request. These transactions reflect the logical way users interact with your applications. Activities such as adding an item to a shopping cart or checking out will summon various applications, databases, third-party APIs and web services.

If you’re new to APM, you may find yourself asking “Where should I begin?” By applying essential best practices, BT configuration can be a smooth and orderly process.

Start by asking yourself two key questions:

  1. What are my business goals for monitoring?
  2. What pain points am I trying to address by using APM?

You may already know the answers. Perhaps you want to resolve major problems that consume a lot of your time and resources, or insure that your most critical business operations are performing optimally. From there, you can drill down to more specific goals and operations to focus on. A retail website, for instance, may choose to focus on its checkout or catalog operation. Financial services firms may focus on the most-used APIs provided for their mobile clients. By prioritizing your business goals early in the process, you’ll find BTs much easier to configure.

AppDynamics automatically discovers and maps Business Transactions for you. Actions like Add to Cart are tagged and traced across every component of your application and visualized on a topology map, helping you to better understand performance across an entire application.

It’s tempting to think configuration is complete once you’ve instrumented with an agent and start seeing traffic coming in. But that’s just the technical side of things. You’ll also need to align with the business, asking questions like, “Do we have SLAs on this?” and “What’s the performance requirement?” You’ll also need to establish health rules and work with the business to determine, for instance, what action to take if a particular rule is violated.

Choose Your BTs Wisely

At a high level, a Business Transaction is more like a use case, even though users often think of it as a technical transaction. Sometimes I must remind users: “No, this activity you want to monitor is not a business transaction. It’s just a technical functionality of the system, but it’s not being used by a customer or an API user.” These cross-cutting metrics may be better served by monitoring through views like Service Endpoints or specific technical metrics.

Be very selective when choosing your Business Transactions. Here’s a rule of thumb: Configure up to 20 to 30 BTs per business application. This may not seem like a lot, but really it is. One of AppDynamics’ largest banking customers identified that 90% of its business activity was reflected in just 25 or so business transactions.

It’s not uncommon for new users to balk at this. They may say, “But we have many more important processes to track!” Fear not: the recommended number of BTs isn’t set in stone, although our 20-to-30 guideline is a good starting point. You may have 20 key Business Transactions and another 20 that are less critical, but you really want to monitor all 40. You can do this, of course, but you’ll need to prioritize these transactions. Capturing too many BTs can lead users to miss the transactions that are truly important to the business.

Best Practices

During APM setup, you’ll have many questions. Should you work exclusively with your own technical team? With the application owner? The business that’s using the application?

Start with these three key steps:

  1. Get to know your business.
  2. Identify the major flows.
  3. Talk to the application owner.

 

Whenever I’m onsite with a customer, the first thing I advise is that we login as an end user to see how they use the system. For example, we’ll order a product or renew a subscription, and then track these transactions end-to-end through the system. This very important step will help you identify the transactions you want to monitor.

It’s also critical to check the current major incidents you have, or at least the P1s and P2s. Find out what problems you’re experiencing right now. What are the major complaints involving the application?

Focus on the the low-hanging fruit—your most troublesome applications—which you’ll find by instrumenting systems and talking to applications owners. This will deliver value in the early setup stage, providing information you can take to the business to make them more receptive to working with you.

Prioritize Your Operations

Business Transactions are key to configuring APM. Before starting configuration, ask yourself these critical questions:

  1. What are my business goals for monitoring?
  2. What pain points am I trying to solve with AppDynamics?
  3. What are the typical problems that take up my time and resources?
  4. What are the most critical business operations that need to perform optimally?

 

Then take a closer look at your application. Decide which operations you must focus on to achieve your goals.

These key steps will help you prioritize operations and make it easier to configure them as Business Transactions. Go here to learn more!