External Services Monitoring for Python
Python web applications are taking over more and more of the internet (source).
However, with great Pythonic power comes great responsibility — ensuring that your web applications consistently deliver in terms of performance and reliability.
It is one thing to build and ship an application and another to continually monitor and maintain it on the internet. The latter's significance in the software development lifecycle is often conveniently overlooked, usually at the expense of performance, customer experience, and reputation.
This post will focus on monitoring external service communications for your Python applications. We will dive into what external services are, their significance, and how you can get started with external service monitoring using top Application Performance Monitoring tools like Scout.
Here's an outline of what we'll be covering so you can easily navigate or skip ahead in the guide –
- What are External Services?
- Types of Services to Monitor
- Why is External Service Monitoring Important?
- Things to Keep in Mind
- Getting Started with ScoutAPM
What are External Services?
External services or APIs are interfaces that will take the responsibility of processing and providing a service/functionality to your project.
For example, consider any popular application for booking cab rides (e.g., Uber). Most such applications will have a map built-in to display the live location of the driver and the cab.
To include this mapping functionality, developers of the application will have two options:
- In-house: To build and maintain this feature (along with all the necessary infrastructure) in-house, or
- Outsource: Leverage an existing library/interface that specializes in providing this mapping service at a (usually) small cost (e.g., Google's Maps API).
Both approaches have pros and cons, but it will be wiser to go with the second option and outsource the functionality to an external service provider in many scenarios.
This is an example of a reasonably visual API (with real-time maps and such). However, external service providers can also help with more rudimentary JSON data, e.g., weather information, live sports scores, etc. Other examples of popular APIs that you must have come across while making online payments include Stripe, Razorpay, and more.
Types of Services to Monitor
For some context, it helps to compare and contrast the monitoring of different types of services in your application. We can broadly define the types of services worth monitoring into three types:
- 'Internal' server monitoring:
This includes keeping track of metrics like response times, memory usage, error rates, etc., of your server's endpoints — i.e., all the internal routes of your application (shown within the yellow box in the figure below).
- Database service monitoring
This refers to monitoring the performance (% time consumed, throughput, mean times, etc.) of your database interactions (CRUD operations and such), shown in the pink box below.
- External service monitoring
And as we discussed, external services (or APIs) will be communicated by the server to provide specific valuable functionality for your application. Monitoring these services includes keeping track of similar metrics to get a sense of how much they are boosting or degrading performance.
Why is External Service Monitoring Important?
With the rise of the API economy, more and more organizations are outsourcing essential application functionalities to external services.
As our reliance on these services increases, we need to ensure that responses from these interfaces aren't becoming potential bottlenecks and significantly impacting our response times.
As a result, apart from tracking your internal request/response rates, you also need to monitor how the communication with external services is faring.
Often, you'll realize that a significant chunk of your endpoint processing is happening through requests to external APIs. You can imagine how cumbersome and laborious manually keeping track of performance for these multiple separate channels can be (as if managing native endpoints wasn't challenging enough).
Practical external monitoring techniques can provide insightful information about which services are causing delays and should thus be explored further.
This enables organizations to compare all their external API calls in one view, debug tough calls, and perhaps consider alternative external service providers for their applications.
Now let's look at two points to keep in mind for effective management of external services.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Excess of everything is terrible.
It is beneficial to take another look at the external APIs your application depends on before beginning your monitoring journey.
No matter how convenient the concept of integrating an API and outsourcing a chunk of the processing might seem, additional external APIs will bring an additional overhead that you will not have direct control over (unlike internal components of your infrastructure).
Some services (like payment gateways) will be non-negotiable for most use cases. However, it's still worth reevaluating the pros and cons of each additional API you introduce.
Check out this post on our blog to learn more about identifying bottlenecks and optimizing performance in Python applications.
- APM is the way!
As we have already briefly touched upon, to be best able to analyze external services (among other components of your applications), you need Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools. These are programmed to 24x7 monitor all the aspects of your application's health and alert you whenever required in real-time. Let's dive deeper into one of the top APM tools for the job!
Getting Started with ScoutAPM
Scout is a comprehensive Application Performance Monitoring tool that enables developers and organizations to analyze all aspects of an application's performance and gain actionable insights and alerts about any issues in real time.
After releasing error monitoring add-ons and enhanced alerting capabilities earlier last year, Scout launched support for external service monitoring in December 2021 (press release).
With Scout, you can track and visualize performance metrics like percentage of time consumed, throughput, mean and 95th call time, and more for each of your application's external API calls in real-time 24x7. This enables you to analyze performance trends and identify the pain points causing significant slowdowns. You can also zoom in on metrics in specific time slots or click and drag to highlight numbers for periods of your choice.
To learn more about how you can set up and configure performance monitoring for your Python application, check out Scout's documentation here. Additionally, check out our blog's External Services Monitoring post to learn more about this topic.
In this post, we talked about external services and the significance of monitoring them. We also discussed the role of APM tools like Scout and how you can integrate Scout into your Python applications.
Now that you understand external service monitoring add an APM tool like Scout to your toolkit and up your monitoring game.