Today it’s extremely rare for an organization to rely solely upon on-premises, physical equipment for all their networking environment needs. This even applies in situations where security is a key concern; the advantages of migrating to the cloud are just too great to be ignored. However, the opposite is true when it comes to cloud resources: almost no organization has a networking environment that resides entirely within the cloud. This means that nearly every single network administrator or IT manager needs to monitor a mix of cloud resources and physical networking equipment. But with increased cloud usage comes a greater need to monitor performance. Cloud monitoring helps you observe response times, availability, resource consumption levels, performance, as well as predict potential issues.
What is Cloud Monitoring?
Essentially, cloud monitoring is the process of reviewing and managing the operational workflow and processes within a cloud infrastructure or asset. It’s generally implemented through automated monitoring software that gives central access and control over the cloud infrastructure.
Concerns arise based on the type of cloud structure you use. If you’re using a public cloud service, you tend to have limited control and visibility for managing and monitoring the infrastructure. A private cloud, which most large organizations use, provides the internal IT department more control and flexibility, with added consumption benefits.
Regardless of the type of cloud structure your company uses, monitoring is critical to performance and security. The cloud has many moving parts, and it’s important to ensure everything works together seamlessly to optimize performance. Cloud monitoring primarily includes functions such as:
- Website monitoring: Tracking the processes, traffic, availability and resource utilization of cloud-hosted websites
- Virtual machine monitoring: Monitoring the virtualization infrastructure and individual virtual machines
- Database monitoring: Monitoring processes, queries, availability, and consumption of cloud database resources
- Virtual network monitoring: Monitoring virtual network resources, devices, connections, and performance
Cloud storage monitoring: Monitoring storage resources and their processes provisioned to virtual machines, services, databases, and applications
Cloud monitoring makes it easier to identify patterns and discover potential security risks in the infrastructure. Some key capabilities of cloud monitoring include:
- Ability to monitor large volumes of data across many distributed locations
- Gain visibility into the application, user, and file behavior to identify potential attacks or compromises
- Continuous monitoring to ensure new and modified files are scanned in real time
- Auditing and reporting capabilities to manage security compliance
- Integrating monitoring tools with a range of cloud service providers
Why Monitor the Cloud?
Obviously, you need to know what’s going on in your entire networking environment, but why is monitoring the cloud so important? And what makes it different from monitoring your physical networking environment? The key to understanding the importance of cloud monitoring is that the cloud is always costing you money. Your physical network environment (for example) is a sunk cost and doesn’t cost you less if you’re not using it efficiently. Ensuring optimized performance and minimizing downtime is essential to cloud monitoring. Unlike your physical networking environment, your cloud resources can rack up charges at a dizzying rate if you’re not keeping an eye on them.
There are also a number of other key considerations including:
Security is crucial in the cloud so gaining strict control over data at all endpoints helps mitigate risks. Solutions that scan, analyze, and take action on data before it leaves the network help protect against data loss. It’s also important to scan, evaluate, and classify data before it’s downloaded to the network to avoid malware and data breaches.
The cloud can have an array of performance issues from poorly designed APIs. You can avoid poor cloud API performance by using APIs that operate via objects instead of operations. This results in fewer individual API calls and less traffic. APIs with consistent designs and few data type restrictions result in better performance.
An application’s response time and supporting resources are vital to understanding what’s hindering performance. Following an application’s workflow helps you identify where and when delays occur.
Overprovisioning cloud services—also known as cloud sprawl—eats up resources, availability and can impede performance. APM tools can help you find the issues, then proper policies and procedures can help mitigate sprawl and pull back resource and network use when necessary.
Monitoring the cloud requires tools that track performance, consumption, and availability while ensuring the secure transfer of data. A proper solution and management enable companies to find a balance between mitigating risks while leveraging the benefits of the cloud.
The 9 Best Practices
Monitoring the cloud resources is the first step. The next step is to figure out what you can do with that information. Ideally, you’ll be wanting to run your cloud resources as efficiently as possible in order to keep costs under control while providing a seamless experience for your end-users. Your organization’s needs will determine your priorities, but in general here are the nine best practices you should be adopting when it comes to cloud monitoring:
Identify and List Important Metrics and Events
What action needs to be monitored? Not everything that can be measured needs to be reported. You’re going to want to carefully determine the metrics that matter to your organization’s goals as well as the bottom line. Take some time to review exactly what your monitoring solution can track and consider what’s going to be useful to you.
See Everything in Context
Your cloud-based resources are part of your overall networking infrastructure. They should be managed that way. Your cloud monitoring solution should allow you to see everything (cloud and physical resources) in context so you can quickly drill-down to issues and isolate the cause of problems that span technology silos.
Use One Platform to Report All the Data
Organizations have their own physical networking infrastructures in addition to cloud services to monitor. They need solutions that can report data from different sources on a single platform, which allows for calculating uniform metrics and results in a comprehensive view of performance. Every cloud provider will include monitoring tools, but those tools may not integrate with your existing monitoring solution. Having one tool that reports on the ENTIRE networking environment makes troubleshooting faster, easier and eliminates finger-pointing.
Monitor Cloud Service Usages and Costs
This is where most traditional IT teams can get caught flat-footed. The ability to scale is a key feature of cloud services, but increased use can trigger increased costs. Robust monitoring solutions should track how much of your organization’s networking activity is on the cloud and how much it costs. A monitoring solution that alerts IT when cloud resources exceed budget or usage limits can save your organization a fortune.
Track Long-Term Trends
Most monitoring tools provided by cloud service providers only maintain data for a limited time (usually 30-60 days). That’s not nearly adequate for long-term trend analysis. Your monitoring tool should support maintaining that data in order to show trends over several months at least. Understanding long-term network trends can make it easier to run your network more efficiently, saving both time and money.
Set Up Alerts and Proactive Automated Actions
Alerting IT staff is a good start, but IT teams need to be able to proactively handle issues in the cloud. If activity exceeds or falls below defined thresholds, the right solution should be able to automatically add or subtract servers to maintain efficiency and performance. The same thing goes for performance issues. Not only does this make IT teams much more productive, it makes them look good by resolving issues before they impact end-users.
Monitor the End-User Experience
Organizations need to know what users experience when using their cloud-based applications. Monitor metrics like response times and frequency of use to get a complete performance picture.
Set Up Instant Visibility for Everyone
Regardless of whether or not you have a NOC, network status and performance should be something that can be seen at a glance by anyone. Your monitoring solution should support customizable dashboards that provide instant visibility into what’s up, what’s down, what’s seeing heavy usage, what’s idle, etc. Not only does this make it easier to troubleshoot, it allows IT teams to see issues develop and resolve them proactively before they impact end-users.
Test for Failure
Test your tools to see what happens when there is an outage or data breach and evaluate the alerting and/or automated response systems when certain thresholds are met.
Extending your network environment to the cloud offers a huge number of advantages, but monitoring the results is crucial. While choosing a monitoring tool for the entire networking environment, the most important requirements are going to be how well it integrates information from the cloud provider, how well it puts that information in context with the rest of your networking environment and how well it lets you proactively resolve issues before they impact your end-users. Remember that you’re losing money once an end-user is impacted by a network issue and a good network monitoring solution allows you to be proactive instead of just reactive.
The author is Senior Vice President, Ipswitch