Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 1 - Getting Started

Last month, I wrote an introductory post about the new Application Insights (AI) feature of Microsoft’s Visual Studio Online. In that post, I briefly touched on how the Microsoft Management Agent is now used for both SCOM 2012 R2 and AI. By bringing these two worlds together with the same agent, Microsoft has reduced the differences between their on-premise and cloud-based monitoring solutions.

This post is Part 1 of a series where I’ll be deep-diving into the full capabilities of Application Insights. In this part I'll give you an overview of Application Insights and how to get started with setting it up.

You can check out all the other posts in this series using the following links:

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 2 - Building A Demo Server

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 3 - Deploying A Demo Web Application

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 4 - Monitoring Availability

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 5 - Monitoring Performance & Using Diagnostics

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 6 - Monitoring Usage

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 7 - Working with Dashboards

Application Insights Deep Dive Part 8 - Alerting & Administration

Application Insights Overview

With Application Insights, we have the same excellent capabilities from the Application Performance Monitoring (APM) feature (formerly AviCode) available in SCOM 2012 R2 – with the exception that it’s all run from the cloud as part of Visual Studio Online. With this type of monitoring for your applications, you can ensure that they are available and performing optimally, while leveraging usage data to drive improvements and trends.

In relation to the Microsoft Management Agent used for both Application Insights and SCOM 2012 R2, they share the same source code but have a slight difference with serialization that determines which REST interface and location the agent sends its performance data to.

Application Insights supports both .NET and Java web applications. On the Java side of the house, it supports monitoring Tomcat 6, Tomcat 7 or JBoss 6. For the purposes of this deep-dive series however, I’m going to concentrate on demonstrating its capabilities monitoring .NET web applications and I'll save the Java monitoring for a later post.

You can use Application Insights to monitor web applications that are running in an on-premise/virtual machine scenario and of course, it’s also fully supported to monitor web applications running as a web role in Windows Azure Cloud Services. If you’re a Windows Phone app developer, you might be interested in the capability to view usage trends and other analytical data as users download and use your app on a daily basis.

The method of getting these different environments monitored varies depending on scenario but typically, it’s a straight-forward enough process as you’ll understand when you read through this blog series.

Regardless of the environment you're monitoring with Application Insights, you can ensure you’re kept up to date with any performance issues (slow responses, uncaught exceptions etc.) by enabling email notification direct to your inbox. If you want to use Visual Studio to view the stack trace to help triage the problem, then this is an easy option too.

So, that's a high-level overview of what Application Insights can do, now let's get started!

Creating Your Account

The first thing you’ll need to do is to create a new Visual Studio Online account by clicking on the following link to sign up:


Click on the 'Ready to Go?' tile

Enter your Microsoft Account (formerly Windows Live ID) details, then click the Sign In button. If you don’t yet have a Microsoft Account, you can sign up for a new one here.

Input all your details into the ‘Create a Visual Studio Online Account’ window, then hit the Create Account button to move on.

Once you’ve created your Visual Studio Online account, you’ll need to specify a name for your first project. Call it what you want, then hit the Create Project button to finish.

Now, at the Overview screen of your Home page, you should see a Blue tile titled ‘Try Application Insights’ as shown below. If you can't see the Blue AI tile, then click the Help button and choose the 'Display Announcement' option from the resulting menu.

Click on the Blue tile and you’ll be taken to the *Insights view where you’ll be prompted for an invitation code to gain access

Invitation Code? I hear you ask.
Don’t worry if you don’t have one, even though AI is still only available as a Preview, the good folks over at Microsoft have made a public code available at the following link:
Type in your code, then hit the Get Started button to enter the new world of Application Insights!
That’s it for Part 1 of this series. In Part 2, we’ll start work on building a demo .NET web application environment for us to give our new Application Insights account a test drive in.

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