Solving the Problem of Application Latency- Part One Identifying the Issue

When businesses host their critical applications on Microsoft Azure or other cloud providers, they seek to drive growth, enhance the customer experience, and ensure smooth operations. However, when end users encounter high latency—a system delay significantly affecting application responsiveness and overall performance—this can lead to user dissatisfaction, revenue loss, and operational issues.

It is critical to be able to swiftly resolve latency in cloud-hosted applications.

Organizations often use application performance monitoring (APM) tools, such as the one built into SolarWinds Observability®, to address latency-related issues. These solutions offer detailed insights into application health, enabling proactive issue detection and latency resolution.

This guide is the first of a three-part series on solving problems in Azure-based applications with SolarWinds Observability®. In this guide, we focus on understanding latency. We’ll look at the causes of latency, its impact on applications, and how to use SolarWinds Observability to identify, analyze, and address latency issues.

Latency in Applications

Latency is the measure of time between the start of a request and the corresponding response. It encapsulates all the critical moments as data travels from one point to another, traversing various processing stages and network components.

To understand the root causes of latency and its impact on applications, consider a typical three-tier application architecture:

User request in a three-tier application.

  • Frontend: Users interact with the application via web or mobile clients, submitting requests and initiating the application flow.
  • Application Server: Receives user requests, processes business logic, and communicates with the database to retrieve and store data.
  • Database: Stores and retrieves application data, acting as the central repository for information.

Latency can occur at any point within this chain. For instance, a delay in data retrieval from the database can significantly hinder the application's performance, causing users to encounter unresponsiveness and timeouts.

The challenge of identifying the root cause

Identifying the root cause of latency can be difficult, particularly in large-scale, distributed applications with complex architectures and numerous interconnected components. This complexity poses significant challenges to pinpointing the exact source of latency.

In such scenarios, traditional monitoring tools are unable to provide sufficiently meaningful information. Granular insights are needed to help isolate the specific component or process responsible for spikes in latency. Without this level of visibility, response teams cannot troubleshoot effectively, and issue resolutions suffer delays.

Observability solutions like SolarWinds Observability offer holistic application performance monitoring (APM) and provide a robust solution for troubleshooting latency issues in distributed applications. An observability solution can aggregate and analyze performance data from across the entire stack, allowing engineers to understand the web of dependencies and pinpoint the root cause of latency issues.

How to Use SolarWinds Observability to Detect Latency Issues

The application performance monitoring (APM) capabilities provided by SolarWinds Observability help engineers quickly identify and solve application health issues. By analyzing the flow of requests within an application, engineers can leverage application performance monitoring to pinpoint which components or processes are causing delays. For example, if a web application runs slowly, engineers can trace the request from the user's click to the server's response, highlighting any slow points in this journey.

In addition, application performance monitoring (APM) integrates performance data with insights into resource use and infrastructure metrics. This combination helps detect any resource shortages or network problems contributing to latency. An example would be identifying if a server is overloaded during high-traffic periods, allowing teams to reallocate resources or address network congestion proactively. This capability ensures the application remains efficient and responsive, even under heavy user load.

Holistic application performance monitoring in SolarWinds Observability.

Key APM features

SolarWinds Observability offers extensive application performance monitoring (APM) capabilities that make it stand out from other tools with its comprehensive visibility into application performance, advanced tracing capabilities, and deep understanding of application architectures. Here are some key application health indicators SolarWinds Observability can provide you:

  • Response time monitoring: Tracks the time it takes for an application to respond to requests, identifying anomalies that indicate potential latency issues.
  • Transaction trace analysis: Utilizes transaction traces to visualize the flow of requests through the application, pinpointing bottlenecks and slow-performing components.
  • Throughput measurement: Monitors the maximum number of requests an application can handle per second, ensuring it can scale to handle peak traffic without performance degradation.
  • Error rate tracking: Identifies and monitors error occurrences, as unexpected errors can significantly impact application responsiveness and lead to latency problems.
  • Database performance insights: Correlates anomalies in application performance monitoring data with potential database performance issues, such as slow queries, inefficient indexing, or overloaded databases.
  • Resource usage analysis: Identifies resource bottlenecks, such as excessive CPU or memory consumption, impairing application performance, and contributing to latency.
  • Networking visibility: Tracks network latency and identifies potential network congestion or routing issues impacting application performance.

Get started with SolarWinds Observability APM

Identifying latency issues in your applications using application performance monitoring involves a systematic approach to analyzing and pinpointing the root cause of performance slowdowns. To begin, create your user account. This initial step is detailed in the SolarWinds Observability Getting Started Guide.

SolarWinds Observability monitors services for applications developed in various programming languages. Verify your system compatibility, as well as the compatibility of the service's components with the libraries.

Finally, verify your firewall settings allow communication with the SolarWinds APM collector endpoint, as detailed in the documentation on data centers and endpoint URIs.

Select Add Data in the top bar to begin setting up a service.

Add service entities

To add your service entities to SolarWinds Observability, follow these steps:

 Click the plus (+) button in the top-right corner of the interface.

  1. Select Services.
  2. Name your service and select the appropriate language for your operating system, which forms part of your service key.

 

To add a service in SolarWinds Observability select Add Data and select the services option.

This step also involves selecting an existing API token or creating a new one to use with the new service.

Setting up a token in SolarWinds Observability

Install the APM Library

Next, you’ll install the APM library for your service's language. This process varies depending on the language and operating system. For this step, follow the specific instructions available for installing libraries, such as:

Configure service entities

To configure the service entities, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the add data wizard.
  2. Toggle the button to OK (indicating successful data transmission).

It’s important to configure your APM library to tailor your service's monitoring to your needs. This includes configuring libraries specific to different languages and adding custom instrumentation for additional application-specific visibility in SolarWinds Observability.

Observe your monitored service entity

Observing your monitored service entity involves accessing the information collected. 

  1. Navigate to the Entity Explorer widget → Area OverviewsCustom Dashboards.
  2. Click on APM in the side navigation and review individual entity details in the Entity Explorer.
  3. See Observe entities for more details.

 

Services overview in SolarWinds Observability

Using the Traces Explorer

For in-depth analysis, the Traces Explorer is a valuable tool. 

  1. Click Analyze Traces.
  2. Follow the path of a single request or query through an application and view detailed information about the transactions, traces, and spans collected by the APM libraries.
  3. See Traces Explorer for more details.

Trace chart in SolarWinds Observability.

Analyze individual metrics

Individual metrics can give you a granular view of application performance across all entities or specific to individual services. 

  1. Click Analyze Metrics.
  2. Click on a metric to view a history of measurements collected for your service entities.

Leveraging APM to Identify Various Issues

Application performance monitoring is essential in modern software development and operations, especially when identifying and resolving issues that can hinder system performance and user experience. It does this by continuously collecting data on various aspects of your application, such as response times, system resource usage, and error rates. 

Let’s look at a specific example: database problems. Suppose you notice anomalies in your application's performance. By examining the data collected by your application performance monitoring solution, you can correlate these irregularities to potential database issues. This correlation can manifest in several ways, such as long query response times or multiple failed database transactions. 

The ability to trace a request, a key capability of application performance monitoring, allows you to follow a transaction or a process from start to finish. Tracing provides a clear picture of where delays or errors occur, enabling you to zoom in on the problematic database operations.

CPU and memory utilization dashboards in SolarWinds Observability.

However, database issues are just one of many problems affecting application performance. Other common issues include resource constraints (such as CPU and memory usage) or networking issues (such as latency and bandwidth limitations). The application performance monitoring capabilities provided by SolarWinds Observability is equally capable of identifying and helping diagnose these issues as well. We’ll cover some of these in the next two parts of this series.

A key advantage of using SolarWinds Observability is its role in streamlining the transition from issue identification to resolution. The holistic observability provided by SolarWinds Observability aids in quickly identifying the nature of a problem but also in understanding its context and impact. This streamlined approach is crucial in modern, fast-paced development environments where downtime or performance degradation has significant implications.

Conclusion

The extensive application performance monitoring (APM) capabilities provided by SolarWinds Observability deliver deep insight into application behavior and advanced troubleshooting tools essential for identifying the root cause of various application performance challenges. These include latency detection and resolution, database optimization, and improvements in resource and network utilization. This comprehensive approach to monitoring application health enables engineers to ensure applications are responsive and perform efficiently, meeting user expectations.

In part one of this series, we’ve provided a foundational understanding of application latency issues and the effectiveness of the application performance monitoring (APM) capabilities provided by SolarWinds Observability in tackling these challenges. In part two, we’ll explore scenarios where engineers can effectively use this tool to diagnose and resolve issues related to resource constraints.

For more information about SolarWinds Observability, explore its official documentation and sign up for a free trial.

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