The cloud is a wonderful and flexible tool that allows businesses to scale like never before, but managing it can be a hassle. In this article, we’ll review some strategies you can use for cloud monitoring along with a few helpful tools that make it much easier.
What is cloud monitoring?
Cloud monitoring is the practice of reviewing and managing the security or workflow of cloud based applications and infrastructure. Cloud monitoring can be done either manually or done with the assistance of tools that measure the performance of virtual resources and other metrics that are then displayed through a centralized dashboard.
In addition to resource management, cloud monitoring can measure statistics such as API usage, read/write speeds, server response times, and security settings. This proactive monitoring is key to help keep the cloud up and available, as well as predicting cloud hosting costs.
When paired with a tool, cloud monitoring can be done across multiple cloud platforms and in hybrid environments. This flexibility helps larger expanding enterprises manage all of their cloud resources from a single pane of glass.
Cloud monitoring is really an umbrella term that can cover many different types of monitoring aspects depending on what services are being hosted in the cloud. This can range from database management to website monitoring. Below are a few different types of monitoring that can be achieved through cloud monitoring.
Virtual Resource Monitoring
This measures the utilization of virtual resources across the cloud environment. Since cloud servers operate by assigning virtual resources, measuring this usage is key in recognizing overutilization. Virtual hardware such as memory, disk space, and CPU cores can all be virtually allocated. Monitoring these resources helps ensure servers and services continue to run smoothly and may give insight as to when it’s time to expand those resources.
Cloud web hosting requires a slightly different set of monitoring guidelines in order to keep the site performing optimally. Web server monitoring tracks the usage of virtual resources as well as metrics such as session time, monthly visitors, and time on page. Certain monitoring tools give you insight as to which parts of the world your traffic primarily comes from. This can help you make changes in the type of content you produce, and even where your next CDN server location will be.
Everything from web servers to virtual applications use some sort of database, so monitoring its health is imperative. This monitoring technique checks the health and integrity of the database, as well as tracks queries, response times, and multiple API calls. Some monitoring tools come with options to provide adjacent redundancy along with monitoring. This can help recover dropped tables and replace data without having to pull from a backup and remount the database.
Virtual Network Monitoring
Some environments utilize virtual network appliances such as firewalls, switches, and routers to manage traffic across the web. Rather than being physically stationed in an office, these appliances are completely software-based and utilize virtual machines and resources. IT departments will want to monitor these appliances for unauthorized configuration changes, traffic spikes, and overutilization. Just like virtual resources, the flow of traffic can be dynamically shifted automatically to other virtual networking appliances if traffic suddenly increases.
Why cloud monitoring is essential?
Proper cloud monitoring can help predict costs, prevent downtime, and foresee potential issues before they impact productivity. Since every environment is different, what is essential to certain businesses will vary, but overall cloud resources need to be available and ready to expand at a moment’s notice.
This need to scale is even more important as enterprise-level businesses plan to rapidly expand their company. Many times not much thought is put into how this will impact the business from an IT perspective. This is where cloud monitoring is key. By reviewing trends in traffic and normal day-to-day usage, IT administrators are able to gauge how a new acquisition or team expansion may impact the server and cloud infrastructure.
Cloud monitoring also is vital to maintaining a pulse on application performance and uptime. Without a clear view into metrics like disk speed, wait times, application hangs, and overall traffic, it becomes very difficult to pinpoint where an issue is stemming from, especially in complex multi-cloud environments.
Cloud-based service providers, SaaS companies, and resellers may be bound to specific Service Level Agreements (SLAs) which would be impossible to measure and track if cloud monitoring is not in place. Even though providers like Google Cloud and AWS offer credits for downtime, you’ll still need to be able to provide evidence of the downtime, and which services were impacted. Cloud monitoring tools can make this significantly easier.
How cloud monitoring works
Cloud monitoring works by directly measuring specific resources, users, and log files for their current state and any abnormalities. Most cloud providers have built-in platforms that provide some levels of monitoring that can be a great starting point for many organizations. While these built-in dashboards are convenient, they often lack some of the more advanced features such as event correlation, proactive alerting, and automated remediation.
The second option is to use a third-party tool that integrates with your cloud environment. This provides a deeper look into the status, security posture, and overall health of your entire cloud infrastructure. These tools can either integrate via API or be installed within the cloud inside a virtual container.
Another benefit to using third-party tools is that you can customize SLAs that meet specific requirements. Rules can be created that are global throughout the cloud or are fine-tuned to specific servers, services, and groups.
When it comes to cloud monitoring, how it’s done will depend on the specific cloud environment. Private clouds are by far the easiest to monitor, as they allow for the most control, flexibility, and scalability. Private clouds are dedicated resources that are only allocated to one business. This can either be physical on-site infrastructure or hardware and a third-party data center.
Public clouds can be monitored as well, but normally not with the degree of visibility as a private hosted environment. It can be argued that public cloud environments need cloud monitoring more than private clouds, due to their shared resource architecture and limited access.
Lastly, cloud monitoring can be deployed in a hybrid environment that leverages both private infrastructures as well as public cloud resources. This essentially lets businesses use their private resources to conduct business, and then utilize the public cloud infrastructure when traffic demand increases.
This configuration is favorable among both smaller and larger businesses as both can benefit from the cost savings and flexibility that come with a hybrid model. In a hybrid environment, you’ll find similar visibility and freedom that you would in a private hosting configuration.
No matter what configuration you choose, any data that is accessible to the monitoring tool will report back its finding to a centralized dashboard. Here administrators can browse log files, view highlights critical events, and monitor the entire cloud from a single point of view. This can include metrics such as traffic spikes, wait times, user account activity, and security notifications.
At scale, it can be difficult to manually monitor the dashboard every day, so many tools have the option for automated remediation or alerting. Alerts can usually be configured to monitor specific thresholds, conditions, or even dynamic baselines that follow the ebb and flow of the businesses. This can provide an easy and automated way to alert admins via email or Slack, and in some cases integrate directly with ticketing systems to create new work orders for NOC staff.
Cloud Monitoring Best Practices
While there are many different ways to actually monitor your environment, there are a few guidelines that can help any cloud environment leverage its monitoring efforts to be impactful. Here are a few general guidelines that can help you see results in your cloud monitoring system.
List and rank your most critical resources. In an age where everything is “critical,” this step is key. Take the time to list services and servers that are absolutely vital to business operations. Managed service providers might be able to do this by the client, while enterprises might have resources that serve more customers than others.
If you’re having trouble with the exercise try to average out what one hour of downtime would cost if that server or service went down. If certain services are dependent on another this would help you naturally rank which applications are more important than others. Understanding what is critical early on will help lay the foundation for proper cloud monitoring metrics.
Understand the context behind the resource. This can be much more difficult in larger environments but will be worth the time. Does one server house HIPAA information? Does one database store financial information? Are there any compliance standards that need to be applied to a certain area of the cloud? Tagging servers and services with context will help guide your SLAs and requirements for monitoring as you scale. If certain areas of a virtual network need heavy user monitoring, such as with configuration changes, make note of this and apply user tracking when necessary.
Review your cloud subscription plan and resource availability. It’s vital to know exactly what your cloud subscription covers and how many resources you have available at any given time. All major cloud providers offer calculators and dashboards to help admins assign resources and plan their infrastructure for growth.
For instance, you can ensure resource availability by using Google Cloud’s “committed use discounts.” This essentially guarantees your business a certain amount of resources in the future, no matter how many additional clients sign up after you. AWS also has a similar feature called reserved instances.
Oftentimes these resources are less expensive when purchased in advance and help cushion unexpected spikes in traffic or usage throughout the year. You can get an idea of what your average resource usage looks like through either your third-party cloud monitoring software or the built-in dashboard that is provided by your cloud host.
Define SLAs and remediation actions. Even if you’re not sure that a tool can provide automated remediation, try and map out what actions would solve a problem. For example, if a virtual switch were to reach its maximum capacity, could traffic be routed to another switch? Or could virtual ports be added on the fly?
If a remote desktop server is over-utilizing resources that can’t be added while live, can that traffic be moved over to an identical server in a cluster? These are a few questions to consider when planning out remediations.
As for SLAs, these are sometimes dictated by contract or company policy and give you less flexibility when planning your cloud monitoring. Oftentimes there are client-facing SLAs as well as internal SLAs such as email response time, and report deadlines.
Configuring your cloud monitoring around these SLAs can be difficult, but having remediation options in place helps reduce the risk of breaking any service agreements.
Review your cloud monitoring tools and reporting. In the event of an outage or security breach, your monitoring and log capabilities will be put to the test. It’s best to do quarterly reviews of your monitoring systems to check that the information is accurate, alerts are functioning, and that automation is working as expected.
Reporting is also key, especially for businesses that rely on the support of stakeholders and decisions from upper management. Having separate reports for both technical and non-technical readers planned ahead of time can make life a lot easier and avoid unnecessary questions.
Highlighting financial and uptime metrics along with general efficiency insights helps keep management informed without being overwhelmed. For technical staff trends in downtime, resource consumption, and SLA targets prove to be beneficial in helping technicians stay informed on their progress.
Leverage cloud monitoring tools to make life easier. Even smaller operations can use cloud monitoring tools to help compile insights, alerts, and reporting into a single dashboard. Choosing the right tool can be difficult as there are many on the market already. Below we’ll share a few of our favorite cloud monitoring tools that help make monitoring a lot simpler.
Cloud monitoring solutions
SolarWinds offers robust cloud monitoring through its Application Performance Monitoring (APM) suite of tools. This helps administrators monitor both cloud environments, as well as locally hosted applications.
SolarWinds AppOptics is great for administrators who need in-depth monitoring of their cloud environments. Through central dashboard and waterfall reports, AppOptics can take you from top level insights, into line by line detail of what caused an issue on a specific server or application.
Whether it’s a database, web server, or overall cloud health, AppOptics has a customizable dashboard that can suit the needs of practically any environment. Larger companies will immediately benefit from the full-stack visibility that AppOptics offers. This helps not only dive into the individual health of specific applications but also aids in identifying issues and how they impact supporting infrastructure and systems.
You can try AppOptics completely free for 30 days.
2. ManageEngine Cloud Monitoring
ManageEngine is a full-service application and performance monitoring tool that has a number of different sensors that integrate directly with cloud environments for monitoring. Currently, the platform can provide deep monitoring and performance insights for AWS, Google Cloud, Oracle, Azure, Openstack, and a number of other cloud services.
ManageEngine is a great cloud monitoring tool for any organization that utilizes multiple cloud environments or has found that they mix and match services, such as AWS RDS and Google Cloud Kubernetes.
By consolidating these cloud services into a single dashboard, and further separating them by service, ManageEngine gives admins a complete and uncluttered view into their cloud usage. The platform can provide monitoring on a deep level across dozens of services but is simple enough to use for smaller operations as well.
You can test out the paid version of ManageEngine Cloud Monitoring free for 30 days.
3. DataDog Cloud Monitoring
DataDog Cloud Monitoring offers a monitoring SaaS product that can provide near-instant insights into hybrid and multi-cloud environments. The platform displays pre-configured key insights into a simple but elegant dashboard that helps admins start extracting valuable information straight out of the box.
The centralized dashboard helps unify metrics across different providers, platforms, and services, and gives the user full freedom over how that data is displayed through easy to use widgets.
The flexibility in DataDog Cloud Monitoring makes it a great choice for both established businesses as well as smaller companies that are poised for growth. DataDog excels in helping take complicated cloud environments and simplifying each part of them to help providers better insights, uptime, and cross-collaboration.
Pricing is separated into two tiers, Network Performance Monitoring and Network Device Monitoring which start at $5.00 and $7.00 per month respectively. Each tier offers a number of “flows” that will scale with your cloud environment as your network grows.
You can test-drive DataDog yourself through a free 14-day trial.