Context Guide – Instana’s GPS for Your Applications and Infrastructure

April 7, 2020

Contex Guide

In the world of modern, highly distributed, microservices applications there are a few universal problems:

  • Root cause and contributing factor cause are slow and cumbersome in highly distributed and highly virtualized architectures
  • Understanding all infrastructure and service dependencies is nearly impossible as the size and rate of change of the environment increases
  • It’s difficult to assess the risk of any individual component failure on the system under management

In Gartner’s research note titled “Advance Your Application Performance Monitoring Strategy to Support Microservices” the analysts state: “Due to the intricate, ephemeral topology linking microservice-based applications and the microservices themselves, it’s difficult to know the health of microservice-based applications in production, visualize dependencies among these services and perform root-cause analysis.”

Inability to address these problems results in many negative consequences with the worst being loss of revenue due to extended outages, loss of customers due to poor performance, loss of staff due to a constant focus on problem solving (undesirable) instead of innovating for the business (desirable).

Instana’s mission in life is to help with the problems presented above and we’ve taken another gigantic leap forward with the release of Context Guide.

The Foundation of Assisted Navigation

You can think of Context Guide as an assisted navigation tool similar to the GPS functionality on your mobile device. Context Guide knows exactly where you are, shows you everything connected to your current location, provides important details about all possible destinations, and makes it easy to jump to any connected destination with a single mouse click. In more concrete terms, Context Guide provides UI driven interaction with Instana’s Dynamic Graph.

The Dynamic Graph is a model of your application that understands all physical and logical dependencies of components. Components are the piece parts of your application, like Host, OS, JVM, Cassandra Node, MySQL, etc.. The Graph has more than the physical components – it also includes logical components like traces, applications, services, clusters or tablespaces.

From any element within Instana you can access the correlated applications, kubernetes, and infrastructure stack as well as the dependent upstream and downstream services. What’s most important to understand about the Dynamic Graph is… “Components and their dependencies are discovered automatically by the Instana Agent and Sensors such that the Graph is continuously kept up to date. Every node in the Graph is also continuously updated with state information like metrics, configuration data and a calculated health value based on semantical knowledge and a machine learning approach.”

Getting back to our GPS analogy, Instana’s Dynamic Graph is equivalent to having the most up to date and detailed base map possible. The “map” is current to within a few seconds and the details about every “destination” are enhanced with what you can think of as user reviews (health values mentioned above). As a result, the Dynamic Graph is an incredibly powerful tool.

Unlocking the Power of the Dynamic Graph

Instana has always used the Dynamic Graph as the foundation of how the platform works. Most of Instana’s functionality relies on the Dynamic Graph, notably the “Incident” functionality which incorporates dependency analysis, expert knowledge, machine learning, and event correlation. The resulting Incident alerts are highly accurate and timely but, as expected, some problems are exceptionally difficult to solve and require more exploration and analysis by the technologist.

With this in mind, Instana has unlocked the power contained within the Dynamic Graph and made it easy for every Instana operator to realize the value – with Context Guide.


Context Guide automatically adjusts itself to whatever entity is currently in focus. When you open the Context Guide it shows ONLY the correlated entities of the stack or the upstream/downstream services. This data, combined with KPIs and health status allow the operator to immediately orient themselves within the application architecture, understand what is impacted or causing impact, and drill down to any related entity for further examination.


Operators need to understand the architectural context of the component they are currently looking at, so that…

  • They can immediately orient in the system under management
  • They can diagnose root cause and contributing factors faster
  • They can see the scope of the impact on the end-user
  • They can assess the risk of any individual component failure
  • They can understand whether a problem is due to code or due to dependencies

Context is the key to transforming data into useful information. Before the release of Context Guide, Instana had full context of every monitored component but did not allow users to see and navigate this contextual information. By creating a UI driven interface into the Dynamic Graph Instana is empowering operators with end-to-end context. This in turn helps Instana users:

  • Identify root cause and contributing factors faster
  • Immediately understand how all components are related to and dependent upon each other
  • Accurately assess the risk the failure of any individual component on the system

Instana’s Context Guide is available today. If you already have Instana you will see the “Stack” and “Upstream/Downstream” buttons appear in your UI automatically. If you are not a current Instana customer you can see the Context Guide working in your environment today by starting a free trial.

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Instana, an IBM company, provides an Enterprise Observability Platform with automated application monitoring capabilities to businesses operating complex, modern, cloud-native applications no matter where they reside – on-premises or in public and private clouds, including mobile devices or IBM Z.

Control hybrid modern applications with Instana’s AI-powered discovery of deep contextual dependencies inside hybrid applications. Instana also gives visibility into development pipelines to help enable closed-loop DevOps automation.

This provides actionable feedback needed for clients as they to optimize application performance, enable innovation and mitigate risk, helping Dev+Ops add value and efficiency to software delivery pipelines while meeting their service and business level objectives.

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