The making of app monitoring: the health dashboard

BY Doug Breaker

August 12, 2015

We're battle-scarred devs building the focused app monitoring service we've always wanted. We're blogging about the adventure below.

Customers telling me our app is slow? I'm looking at a response time graph.

On the front page of Hacker News? I'm looking at requests per-second and response time on a graph.

Lots of things going wrong? Show me ALL the metrics.

The challenges with building a one-page dashboard of app health?

The first step is admitting I have a problem

We track eight key health metrics for our applications:

So, what are some approaches to help me get an at-a-glance view of app health?

1. Stack timeseries charts for each metric vertically

Let's start simple: we'll put a timeseries chart for each metric, one per-row, 350px in height (including margin), on a page.

That's 2,800 pixels in height. My MacBook has a screen height of 800 pixels, so unless I build a script to continuously scroll up and down and take a hit of dramamine, I'm not going to view all the metrics at once.

A scaled representation is below:

2. Throw some sparklines at it

A good chunk of the time, I care about trends, not absolutes. I care if our response time is increasing, but not the absolute value of it (as long as it is acceptable).

Sparklines are great for this - you can grasp where a metric is heading with little space:

If I had a 140px x 20px sparkline for each of our 8 metrics, I could actually fit them in a single row across my browser window. I've got at-a-glance app health!

...but's very common that I need to interact with a metric on a chart to look at values in more detail. Sparklines are too small to support this kind of interaction well. It's also very helpful to view some metrics with stacking (ex: response time by category) - that won't fit well in a sparkline.

3. Bundle it

Where we're at:

As Comcast says, bundle it!

The display I settled on: a large chart above a row of sparklines for each key metric:

apm dash

Here's a sample interaction. Note that the blank metrics aren't yet available, but will be during our BETA period:

animated dash

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