How DevOps Monitoring Works: Concepts, Types & Best Practices

DevOps is an IT delivery concept that combines people, practices and tools with the shared goal of accelerating the development of applications and services. Adopting DevOps at enterprise level typically requires:

  • Seamless collaboration between teams of engineers, product managers and data analysts
  • A combination of multiple engineering practices

The continuous development of DevOps practices, as well as other factors like the rapid pace of modern code changes, facilitates a need for DevOps monitoring: a set of tools and processes to support the entire software development lifecycle. So, what are the different types of monitoring in DevOps, and which practices and tools are most effective?

Let’s explore the use cases and potential applications of DevOps monitoring for the enterprise in more detail. 

What is monitoring in DevOps?

DevOps monitoring is the process of tracking and measuring the performance of applications and systems in order to help software development teams identify and resolve potential issues more quickly. This is typically done via a manual or automated DevOps monitoring solution or a collection of continuous monitoring tools that gather data on things like:

  • CPU utilization
  • Response times
  • Disk space

DevOps monitoring is also referred to as continuous monitoring (CM) or continuous control monitoring (CCM), but the principle remains the same.

With DevOps monitoring solutions, you get a continuous, real-time view of the whole development pipeline. This is often comprised of continuous planning, development, integration, testing, deployment and operations. In a nutshell, DevOps monitoring processes ensure that the software development life cycle functions more efficiently, enhancing the customer experience while improving business credibility and reducing costs.

DevOps monitoring use cases

The main benefit of DevOps monitoring is its ability to define, track and measure of KPIs across all aspects of DevOps. Here are some specific use cases of DevOps monitoring: 

  • Detect and report errors earlier. Flagging issues to DevOps teams more quickly means they can resolve them before they impact user experience.
  • Reduce system downtime. DevOps monitoring tools allow tech teams to have continuous oversight of the database, applications and networks so they’re able to resolve any issues before system downtimes occur. 
  • Increase security. Through data analysis across the entire ecosystem, continuous monitoring in DevOps automates security measures by identifying inconsistencies or triggers that lead to security failures. Teams can then respond to threats manually (on-call) or automatically with tools. 
  • Enhance observability of DevOps components. Easily identify when various systems and applications in your DevOps stack degrade in performance, cost, security or other factors to avoid problems down the road.
  • Uncover root cause of issues faster. Continuous tracking of logs and metrics can help teams to identify the root cause — where a problem started or occurred. This allows engineers to identify patterns in system behavior to look out for in future. It also leads to improvement of mean time to detection (MTTD), mean time to repair (MTTR), and mean time to isolate (MTTI). 
  • Improve collaboration. The establishment of a continuous feedback loop improves collaboration between the DevOps teams and engineers, the rest of the enterprise and both internal and external users. 
  • Enhance the user experience. DevOps monitoring continuously tracks user feedback which can help inform new updates or changes to the app or system.
  • Boost business credibility. All the functions above help to ensure that an enterprise can be more in tune with its product and is able to improve it using customer and employee feedback — all with limited time, cost and effort. 

Types of monitoring in DevOps

When it comes to utilizing DevOps monitoring for your business, understanding what your enterprise should monitor is the first part of the process. Here are the main types of continuous monitoring in DevOps that you can make use of: 

Infrastructure monitoring

Infrastructure monitoring involves real-time tracking of the computer systems, servers, processes and equipment that make up the computing network in an enterprise. With infrastructure monitoring tools, information is collected from specific IT components, including software and hardware units, virtual machines, data centers, networks, disk storage etc. 

These continuous monitoring tools ‘supervise’ the computing network environment, helping IT teams identify and address any resource or performance issues more effectively. Not only does this improve internal efficiency, but it can facilitate product and user experience improvement too. 

Network monitoring 

Within the concept of IT infrastructure monitoring is network monitoring, which refers to tracking the health and performance of a network and its related components. Network monitoring tools help to identify network performance issues by evaluating servers, switches, routers, firewalls and virtual machines. Metrics such as bandwidth, uptime (availability) and hardware failures are instrumental in measuring and correcting network issues. 

DevOps tools for continuous network monitoring automate many of the checks that a system administrator would have to perform manually. This means that IT engineers can act quickly on crucial failures and other network problems before they can impact user experience. Such a process is essential for basic network management.

Application performance monitoring (APM)

As its name suggests, this type of continuous monitoring involves measuring the performance and availability of specific applications. Application performance monitoring tools track metrics such as:

Application performance monitoring in DevOps is important because it allows you to identify and resolve issues before they impact the performance of the overall system. This is similar to the goal of network performance monitoring (NPM), but the two practices have fundamental differences which make them both worthwhile to adopt.

(Understand the relationship between NPM and APM.) 

Synthetic monitoring 

Synthetic monitoring is a form of software testing that uses behavioral scripts to simulate real end-user interactions with an application or website. The goal is to understand how a user would experience an app or website, measuring the performance, speed, and functionality of a particular system or system component. 

Synthetic monitoring tools for DevOps can help you identify and fix issues before they impact users, in addition to helping to establish future performance benchmarks. 

(See how Splunk supports all these monitoring practices.)

Best practices for DevOps monitoring

As with any DevOps strategy, it’s important to consider best practices of DevOps monitoring strategies in order to develop and implement the process correctly from the onset. Let’s take a look at best practices that support a successful DevOps monitoring strategy:

1. Decide what to monitor

Firstly, and most importantly, you should determine what you need to monitor and why. Reviewing the types of continuous monitoring listed above can help with identifying which systems, applications and metrics you need to make the most of your efforts. 

2. Adopt a shift-left testing approach

Shifting left refers to software testing that is performed earlier in the development life cycle, helping to:

  • Reduce the duration of test cycles (and costs)
  • Improve the quality of a product
  • Keep errors to a minimum

Introducing testing practices in pre-production environments enables DevOps teams to get an ongoing view of performance. This can help them to find bugs earlier on, allowing fewer code fixes and preserving the quality of monitoring alerts. One approach to this method of DevOps testing is by setting up relevant, automated alerts in the code development stage to minimize mean time to detect (MTTD) and mean time to isolate (MTTI). 

3. Establish your KPIs and goals

Fixed development goals can help you track the success of your DevOps monitoring strategies by showing how well they’re working, as well as providing insights into workflow efficiency and team performance. 

To properly define these outcomes, you can document the duration of a sprint and how long it takes to identify, record and fix any issues. This can be done manually, but you can also use tools to automate this configuration step and save time.

(See how to manage KPIs and use DevOps metrics.)

4. Automate incident management and response

This is one of the most valuable outcomes of DevOps monitoring for businesses. Monitoring and responding to incidents such as network failures, hardware issues, data inconsistencies and misconfiguration is just as important as monitoring software bugs, especially as cloud computing represents another layer of complication. DevOps teams should build incident monitors to ensure dependent services operate as normal. 

(Explore common incident response metrics.)

5. Monitor for risk mitigation

DevOps monitoring activities can also be used to mitigate threats and vulnerabilities. For example, monitoring user activity allows you to track suspicious login or admin requests from unknown devices, ensuring that only authorized personnel can access the system. You can also build security detectors with features such as rolling credentials, patches and upgrades. 

6. Choose the right DevOps monitoring tools

Most importantly, you need to ensure that your chosen DevOps monitoring tools meet your business goals and requirements. So, let’s turn to look at that now!

Choosing the right DevOps monitoring tools

The right continuous monitoring tools support and complement the DevOps culture and practices already established within an enterprise. Selecting the best DevOps monitoring tool for you depends on the type of systems or metrics you intend to monitor and whether it is compatible with your business — in terms of integration with existing tech stacks and overall objectives. 

When choosing a tool, ask yourself, “What do I need to be able to see in order to make the best choice?” This will enable you to decide what data is most useful, and therefore the key features and metrics that matter to your business. 

Features of monitoring tools

The basic requirements of monitoring tools in DevOps are logging, reporting and alerting. This translates to features like:

  • Triggering alerts when metrics exceed certain thresholds
  • Creating graphs of historical trend data
  • Logging events
  • Creating log databases
  • Summarizing system health components in a dashboard

The reports or dashboards should have system context and historical trend data and be accessible to users with different abilities and experience levels. Each member of the DevOps team should be able to understand and access real-time data from your chosen platform so any bottlenecks can be removed effectively. 

Any monitoring solutions should enhance — not hinder — any DevOps automation tools and existing processes already in place. This includes everything from CI/CD pipelines, IDEs and debuggers, to broader platforms like cloud services and team communication or collaboration software.

Finally, you should ensure that your chosen type of DevOps monitoring platform aligns with the regulatory and compliance requirements of the business.

Is Splunk a DevOps monitoring tool?

Splunk product enables real-time DevOps monitoring across all stages of the delivery life cycle, helping you to deliver better apps and more business impact faster. With Splunk, you can give different teams shared visibility into the performance of applications and infrastructure health without any data silos

The multi-stage functionality of Splunk makes it different from other DevOps monitoring tools, which only tend to focus on discrete release components. Learn more about how you can achieve end-to-end visibility and better insights with Splunk for DevOps monitoring.

The future of DevOps monitoring

DevOps monitoring is a rapidly evolving practice that is only set to grow. With the DevOps market alone forecast to exceed $20 billion by 2026, the need for continuous oversight and improvement of DevOps practices within the enterprise certainly won’t go away. As DevOps monitoring tools continue to develop, the automation and integration of these tools will become more widespread. The shift-left testing approach will help improve security and product quality, feeding into the DevSecOps transformation. 

We will likely see more DevOps teams adopting end-to-end integrated software development life cycle pipelines supported by relevant continuous monitoring tools. A report from Forrester predicts that these dedicated DevOps monitoring solutions will support MLOps, unified CI/CD and CD/RA (continuous delivery and release automation) pipelines, and involve low or no code developers and platforms. In addition to this, there is the prediction that monitoring tools in DevOps are likely to extend to network edge devices

With so much change happening already, it’s safe to say that DevOps monitoring will continue to improve and strengthen the relationship between development teams, IT teams and the wider business for years to come.

What is Splunk?

This article was written in collaboration with Ailis Rhodes and does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.

Chrissy Kidd
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Chrissy Kidd

Chrissy Kidd is a technology writer, editor and speaker. Part of Splunk’s growth marketing team, Chrissy translates technical concepts to a broad audience. She’s particularly interested in the ways technology intersects with our daily lives.