SaaS Monitoring – A Complete Guide

If you know you need application monitoring but are torn between SaaS monitoring vs on-premises, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the advantages and disadvantages of SaaS monitoring, and recommend a few tools that have proven themselves time and time again.

SaaS Monitoring Guide

What exactly is SaaS monitoring?

SaaS (Software as a Service) monitoring is a monitoring application that is hosted off-premises and allows businesses to monitor their applications and environment from anywhere in the world. This is in direct contrast to on-premises monitoring, which requires that the monitoring tool be installed and implemented on a server at your physical location.

SaaS products are completely managed, hosted, and maintained by the third-party vendor. In exchange for this convenience, many SaaS companies charge a monthly fee for this service that is usually on a monthly or yearly basis. Oftentimes SaaS monitoring services come in tiers, with higher tiers allowing for more monitoring functionality and “pings” back to their server.

Many times SaaS monitoring tools try to create a smooth user experience by making the data and insights easy to read and convenient. This could be through customizable widgets, pre-configured reports, or preloaded automation. With no long-term contracts, it’s in the companies’ best interest to go above and beyond to make the entire process as convenient as possible.

How does SaaS monitoring work?

SaaS monitoring usually works by deploying a small installer or snippet of code on the server or application you’re trying to monitor. For example, some monitoring software can be deployed quickly via an MSI installer. This is convenient because it allows administrators to distribute the monitor via group policy or login script at scale.

For cloud-based applications, the monitor can be installed directly inside a dedicated virtual server, or inside its own Kubernetes container. If hosting your own cloud or relying on physical on-premises hardware, the same applies to those environments as well.

SaaS monitors that measure website performance and data usually exist in the header fields of each page that needs to be monitored. This lightweight JavaScript records user behavior as well as technical details about the session and overall health of the website.

No matter what type of application you’re monitoring, the technology all works the same. These small sensors or snippets of code securely communicate back to the SaaS monitoring host through dedicated firewall rules. As the data arrives it is then organized into a dashboard where customers are free to log in to manage and view insights on their applications.

SaaS Monitoring Disadvantages

While there are a ton of benefits to monitoring your applications in the cloud, there are a few considerations you’ll want to take into account before choosing a tool. While SaaS monitoring can be convenient, it can sometimes be restricting, especially for a highly technical audience.

As the name implies SaaS is a service, so managing the back-end maintenance and making technical changes all fall on the provider. For most people, this is a welcomed benefit to the SaaS model, but for those who are used to making changes themselves, it can be frustrating.

For instance, say you need to change the port the SaaS monitoring tool listens on because you’re making firewall changes. In a self-hosted environment, this would take a few minutes, granted you knew what you were doing. In a SaaS environment, you would likely not have access to change this information and would need to create a ticket.

This is where ensuring your SaaS provider has fast and competent customer support is critical. A simple configuration change that isn’t accessible from the dashboard could potentially take hours to have done. For SaaS monitoring, not many configuration changes are usually needed after the agent deployment, but it’s definitely worth considering.

Depending on the vendor, SaaS monitoring fees and licensing can get confusing fast. Almost all monitoring services structure their pricing around data usage since they are ingesting large amounts of your data and processing it on their servers. This can be calculated through a credit system, based on gigabytes received, or be a combination of both.

Sometimes this usage-based fee is also paired with a monthly or yearly service fee that may or may not include customer support. As the SaaS market has matured and become more competitive, many SaaS monitoring services are moving quickly to simplify pricing and positioning themselves to be as transparent as possible. Doing proper due diligence should help avoid any billing headaches after service has started.

Lastly, you’ll have an overall lack of control when it comes to the types of custom features you can implement. In a custom on-premises solution, you may be able to program your own dashboard or code a custom API for another application. In a SaaS environment, you’re much more restricted to what you can do on a technical level.

While most SaaS companies work hard to provide extensive API access and integrations for other vendors, there still might be a time where a feature doesn’t exist. In most circumstances, a SaaS provider will not code a custom feature unless it is a popular request. Be sure to list out all your needs in terms of integrations and features before talking with a SaaS monitoring company.

SaaS Monitoring Advantages

The SaaS industry has truly come a long way and presents many move advantages now than it would have ten years ago. Let’s dive into some of the key reasons why SaaS monitoring is a better option than hosting on-premises.

SaaS monitoring provides better reliability

In environments where uptime and reliability are paramount, you won’t want to have to scramble to replace faulty hardware on a host when it fails, or spend hours trying to fix obscure software bugs. SaaS monitoring tools are usually hosted in a data center where the service is virtualized and physical hosts have built-in failover configured.

This means if a physical server or drive were to fail, that service would still be available and see virtually no interruption. To provide this level of reliability you would not only need tens of thousands of dollars in hardware, but also have a small team to build, manage, and troubleshoot the system. As long as your applications have access to the internet, they will have the capability to be monitored

SaaS monitoring has a lower cost of ownership compared to on-premises

You might think that owning your own hardware would be cheaper over the long term, but that’s not necessarily true. The total cost of ownership (TOC) is typically 5-10 times lower with a SaaS tool than it is with on-premises solutions. This is after you factor in the cost of labor for maintenance, set up, configuration, redundancy, and hardware requirements.

Over a ten-year period, you’ll likely encounter hardware failures or the need to proactively upgrade your hosting infrastructure. This can cause additional large upfront costs that many businesses aren’t ready to take on, let alone manage all to replace a simple monitoring service.

Cloud-hosted monitoring is easy and fast

SaaS monitoring in the cloud is designed to be efficient, easy, and fast. The entire backend is configured to start delivering insights as soon as possible. Many tools have prebuilt reporting, automation, widgets, and dashboards that you can choose from that help speed up the monitoring process.

In an on-premises environment, you may have to battle with your own IT infrastructure and get left with a myriad of technical issues during the deployment process. Even if the deployment goes smoothly you may encounter problems when it comes to actually processing the data.

This is where self-hosted and open source solutions often experience the most friction. Companies can sink dozens of man-hours into a problem that could have been avoided by simply choosing to use the monitoring tool as a service. It’s critical to look at man-hours when choosing between on-premises vs SaaS, especially during deployment and regularly scheduled maintenance.

Outside monitoring provides more accurate results

Chances are your application needs to be accessible to people all over the world, not just inside your office. By positioning your monitoring tool outside your network you get a better look at exactly how your customers experience your product.

If your application is hosted on-premises, it can be tricky to detect issues with DNS or regional errors by monitoring from inside your own network. SaaS monitoring gives you a better perspective as to how accessible your application is, and can even be distributed across multiple servers around the world to give you region-specific performance data.

SaaS Monitoring Solutions

So what are the best SaaS monitoring solutions? We’ve reviewed our favorite three SaaS monitoring tools to help businesses both big and small manage their applications more efficiently.

1. SolarWinds AppOptics

Appoptics Screen

SolarWinds AppOptics is part of a larger suite of Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools designed to help developers and administrators take the lead on their monitoring efforts. AppOptics focuses on delivering key performance insights through a combination of simple graphics and full-stack visibility.

While most SaaS monitoring tools require technical expertise to interrupt data, AppOptics takes the initiative to summarize insights and provide simplified root cause analysis so technicians immediately know where to start looking. This feature alone dramatically helps reduce mean time to resolution and improve efficiency almost immediately.

Like DataDog, SolarWinds AppOptics supports multiple cloud environments as well as self-hosted application monitoring and works to aggregate multiple sources of data into one simple dashboard. AppOptics also works great for more complicated environments by automatically building an application service topology map.

This map gives you a visual representation of what services you have, and what they are dependent upon. This map is live, so administrators can select either the service or traffic flow indicator for additional metrics like root cause service degradation, performance over time, exceptions, and transaction traces.

AppOptics comes in two editions, Infrastructure Monitoring, and Infrastructure & Application Monitoring. Both start at $9.99 and $24.99 per month respectively and come in packs of 10 hosts with 100 containers. For multi-cloud support and access to trace-level root cause analysis, businesses will need to choose the $24.99 per month package.

You can start a free trial of AppOptics free for 30 days.

AppOptics Start a 30-day FREE trial

2. DataDog Cloud Monitoring

datadog python monitoring

DataDog provides companies monitoring services for both on-premises and in the cloud solutions, making it a great option no matter what your opinion is on SaaS products. What makes DataDog stand out is its ease of use and attention to the customer experience.

Deployment of DataDog is the SaaS configuration is simple and uses a lightweight agent to pull information from your environment back into the cloud dashboard. For cloud monitoring, the DataDog agent can be installed as a Docker image repro in a standalone container.

Once data becomes available the preconfigured dashboard will begin to populate with insights such as traffic metrics, number of requests, error codes, and hardware resource usage. The DataDog default dashboard does an excellent job of highlight important information out of the box and offers plenty of customization options for those who want their own look.

Individual monitors can be configured based on over a dozen different conditions. These can range from checking if a process is started, to analyzing overall traffic behavior and alerting anomalous conditions. These monitors come with extensive API support alongside a library of community scripts that aid in integrating populator apps with the DataDog platform.

Pricing comes in 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” which helps keep costs predictable as you begin to understand your monitoring needs. This simple pricing structure along with the done-for-you feel of DataDog places it at the top of our list for best SaaS monitoring tools.

You can try out DataDog yourself through a free 14-day trial.

3. AppDynamics

App Dynamics Dashboard

AppDynamics is a SaaS-based APM service that can monitor everything from microservices to detailed end-user monitoring. AppDynamics is a great choice for larger, more established businesses as many of its features such as baseline performance monitoring work much better when applied at scale.

The primary application dashboard is completely customizable and can provide a top-level overview of how applications are performing across multiple sites and services. A unique application flow map can help chart traffic to and from services in real-time and provide a simple visual indication if there is an issue.

Outside of standard monitoring features, AppDynamics utilizes what it labels as its Cognition Engine to help diagnose and pinpoint problems. This feature uses artificial intelligence to provide anomaly detection, root cause analysis, and correlation algorithms that can help tie application performance directly into bottom-line business intelligence.

The root cause analysis automatically creates alerts and highlights areas of code that might need developer attention. This not only helps developers resolve issues faster but allows for the automatic prioritization of certain tasks so technicians know what needs immediate attention.

AppDynamics is designed to work seamlessly with its other suite of products to provide even further insight. For example, the Business IQ platform can help track and assign values to conversations rates when tied into the back end of an AppDynamics monitor.

Even as a managed service, AppDynamics gives organizations more flexibility than most platforms and allows custom scripts and automation to be deployed when specific thresholds are met. Alternatively, these even can also create tickets and integrate with most service desk platforms that are on the market.

AppDynamics has three tiers to its SaaS monitoring platform, APM Pro, APM Advanced, and APM Peak. APM Pro is best suited for basic monitoring needs while APM Peak is geared towards larger companies who want to tie performance monitoring insights directly into business intelligence.

Currently, pricing is not publicly available. You can test out AppDynamics through a free 15-day trial.

Conclusion

Whether you’re monitoring an e-commerce conglomerate, or simply need better insight into your website, SaaS-based application monitoring can simplify the entire process. Even if you think you might be opposed to SaaS monitoring, the free trials and simple setup make at least testing it out virtually risk-free.

So which SaaS monitoring tool makes the most sense for your business? DataDog is a great fit for any size monitoring operation due to its simplicity and ability to scale with its customers. Larger enterprise-level networks can greatly benefit from AppDynamics artificial intelligence features, as well as its business intelligence integrations.

How do you feel about SaaS monitoring? Is it better than monitoring on-premises? Let us know in the comments below.

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