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DATA INSIDER

What Is Cloud Monitoring?

Cloud monitoring — a subset of availability monitoring — is the process of observing and managing the availability and performance of cloud-based resources. The discipline of cloud monitoring is a vital activity for any business that has migrated workloads to the cloud — indeed, most businesses today.

Sometimes still known as cloud server monitoring, modern cloud monitoring extends far beyond server monitoring. Cloud monitoring offers insights into the operation of virtual machines, databases, cloud applications and other apps, storage subsystems and more. Cloud monitoring can be used to gauge a website’s availability, monitor and optimize the performance of an application that’s hosted on a cloud service, ensure security is intact and provide other cloud computing or SaaS infrastructure management operations.

Two main varieties of cloud monitoring tools exist: single-vendor monitoring tools provided directly by the cloud platform and multi-platform tools that can monitor a number of platforms simultaneously and holistically. As enterprises increasingly adopt multicloud (a combination of several public cloud services) and hybrid cloud (a combination of multiple cloud services and on-premises workloads) environments, most organizations have identified a clear need for multi-platform cloud monitoring tools to stay on top of copious monitoring data.

In this article, we’ll explore types of cloud, various examples of cloud monitoring and their benefits, best practices for cloud monitoring, and how to get started with the discipline.

What Is Cloud Monitoring | Contents

Cloud Monitoring: The Essentials

What are some examples of cloud monitoring?

Cloud monitoring can take many forms. Here are some common ways that cloud monitoring works and is used.

  • Monitoring the performance of a cloud providers to ensure they are in compliance with stated Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
  • Ensuring the corporate website is online and responding quickly — and ensuring rapid response times by alerting IT management if problems arise.
  • Monitoring the uptime of a web-based database and keeping an eye out for errors like data corruption, capacity issues and stability concerns.
  • Ensuring that cloud-based storage systems are operational and in sync with one another.
  • Monitoring the corporate firewall to ensure the organization is not undergoing an active attack.

These are just a few basic examples of cloud monitoring. Ultimately, any service that is hosted by a cloud provider can — and should — be monitored to ensure it is operating as expected.

cloud-monitoring-diagram cloud-monitoring-diagram

Some of the most important cloud monitoring use cases include ensuring rapid response times, monitoring provider performance, and governing the organization’s firewall.

Why is cloud monitoring essential?

While on-premises management tools, equipment and other IT infrastructure can be directly observed by management, cloud environments cannot. That’s why cloud monitoring is essential — IT may not even know where the physical servers reside. This type of abstraction offers simplified management and improved scalability but also creates a level of opacity in understanding how well these services are working. With cloud monitoring tools, IT departments can understand the health and performance of their cloud environment.

Additionally, as an enterprise’s cloud infrastructure expands to comprise a combination of public and private cloud, as well as hybrid cloud offerings — which is typical in most organizations — keeping tabs on all of these platforms becomes daunting and complex. Third-party cloud monitoring tools, often part of a broader infrastructure monitoring toolset, are designed to help track multicloud environments like these, ideally providing visibility into multiple platforms and services from a single dashboard. Many tools also combine cloud visibility with on-premises data center and legacy platform visibility, further consolidating monitoring operations.

What are the benefits and challenges of cloud monitoring?

Without cloud monitoring, you simply have no qualitative way to determine how well your cloud services are running — or if they are running at all. But specifically, cloud monitoring provides a number of key benefits.

  • SLA management: With cloud monitoring, organizations can easily manage workflow and audit internal and external service level agreements.
  • Downtime reduction: Cloud monitoring services offer quick alerting and automated recovery mechanisms that minimize downtime in the event of an outage.
  • Convenient insights: Good cloud monitoring solutions provide a single dashboard that can centralize insights from multiple cloud instances and platforms (often from any type of device).
  • Improved security: Cloud monitoring helps improve security by giving faster and more comprehensive insight into breaches.
  • Potential for scale: Just like cloud services themselves, cloud monitoring is designed to scale with your enterprise.
  • Employee satisfaction: Reduced reliance on manual oversight improves employee satisfaction and lowers the cost of cloud service management.
  • Enterprise efficiency: Cloud monitoring simplifies the job of IT management by abstracting a range of monitoring issues from infrastructure to the code level — and frees up managers for troubleshooting threats, disruptions and other higher-level tasks.
benefits-of-cloud-monitoring benefits-of-cloud-monitoring

Cloud monitoring offers a qualitative way to determine how well your cloud services are performing.

The challenges of cloud monitoring, while not considered too difficult, are certainly worth considering, particularly for organizations that operate a multicloud environment. These include:

  • Steep learning curve: Early results may be difficult to obtain and perhaps inaccurate — formal training is likely to be required.
  • Operational complexity: Vendor-provided cloud monitoring tools are not agnostic and may only be used with their own cloud services. Most enterprises relying on these tools will have to master more than one — which won’t be able to communicate with one another.
  • Customization challenges: Cloud monitoring services are generally siloed and proprietary, with no formal standards for interacting with them. This makes developing custom monitoring applications complex.
  • Ongoing training: Services like AWS and Azure are constantly being updated, possibly requiring ongoing training.
  • Hybrid challenges: Many monitoring tools have no insight into the data center, which means that organizations running hybrid environments must rely on a separate monitoring tool to handle on-premises needs.
  • Staffing roadblocks: Cloud monitoring expertise is generally in short supply, so qualified employees may be hard to come by.

Comparing Cloud Monitoring Services

What are cloud monitoring services?

Cloud monitoring services describe any system that is used to observe and manage cloud-based operations. Two main varieties of cloud monitoring services include proprietary, single-platform cloud monitoring services and multi-platform monitoring services.

As the name suggests, single-platform monitoring services like Azure Monitor and AWS CloudWatch are designed to monitor their respective environments exclusively. These services are integrated with their platforms, and any additional costs for these monitoring services by themselves usually aren't excessive. On the plus side, these are native tools that are highly integrated with the parent cloud platform, which means they are all but guaranteed to work correctly “out of the box.” However, in a multicloud environment, this piecemealed approach makes it difficult for an organization to standardize its monitoring operations — various monitoring services all work slightly differently. Comparing an Azure Monitor dashboard to an AWS CloudWatch dashboard is likely to result in skewed perspectives about your operations.

What’s more, these tools don’t have the ability to monitor the internals of your applications unless you are fully “cloud native” on that cloud and using their services. Because the services may be performing differently, a fragmented dashboard will never be able to provide true insight into an organization’s environment.

Conversely, multiplatform cloud monitoring services are specifically designed to handle hybrid and/or multicloud environments. These tools allow for a more cohesive and holistic look at cloud operations across multiple platforms — as long as those platforms are supported by the monitoring tool. This sustains a more consistent monitoring solution and lets the organization view all of this information on a single dashboard instead of having to switch among multiple applications.

How does Azure cloud monitoring compare to AWS cloud monitoring?

Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS are two of the most popular cloud services, and both feature robust, integrated monitoring systems.

Azure Monitor is a unified platform for monitoring a wide range of applications, operating systems and platforms, including both Azure-hosted cloud services and on-premises applications. The platform supports a number of widely used languages including Java and .NET and works with both Linux and Windows-based virtual machines. With wide support for technologies like Azure Kubernetes and the Azure Automation service, the platform displays all cloud services on a single dashboard and lets you set various alarms to alert staff when problems arise.

Azure Monitor is Microsoft-centric, and some users complain that it can have a steep learning curve and that it can be difficult to scale. However, its support for both physical and virtual machines in Windows-Linux hybrid environments is a big plus, making it a natural fit for users who work heavily with Azure cloud.

AWS CloudWatch is a unified platform providing observability into all Amazon AWS cloud resources. Any application or service running on AWS can be monitored whether it is in the cloud or on an on-premises server, with all processes consolidated into a single dashboard. Like Azure Monitor, alarms can be set to alert management if problems develop, and machine learning algorithms can be leveraged to understand the source of this behavior and automate repairs.

But both these tools are limited to their own environments. Azure Monitor cannot monitor AWS workloads, and vice versa. Users of both AWS and Azure could be forced to operate both monitoring platforms side by side in order to keep tabs on operations. As such, in complex environments, it often makes the most sense to engage a third-party cloud monitoring solution that supports both platforms (plus any others the enterprise may be using).

Cloud Monitoring Implementation

What are cloud monitoring best practices?

Best practices can guide your cloud monitoring practice as you devise a strategy and implement operations. Here are some of the most critical to consider:

  • Understand what metrics matter: In any monitoring operation, it’s initially intuitive to want to monitor everything. This is particularly common in cloud operations, where visibility can be especially limited. But that approach is problematic for a number of reasons:
    • Overload: There’s no need to monitor everything because only a small number of metrics are truly critical to any given cloud ecosystem. For some operations those metrics may be website uptime and database performance; for others virtual machine efficiency and stability may be key. The point is to spend some time up front to understand exactly what matters in your organization and target those metrics with a precise monitoring solution.
    • Pricing: Monitoring doesn’t typically come with “all you can eat” pricing. With AWS CloudWatch, for example, users must pay for custom metrics beyond the first ten; in organizations with hundreds of thousands of metrics, these costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars each month.
  • Benchmark metrics against industry standards and customer expectations: What is “normal” in your cloud monitoring environment will depend on the specifics of your cloud infrastructure, customer expectations and your tolerance for risk. Determining an appropriate baseline level for each metric via industry benchmarking and user testing will help you better calculate what a normal operating environment should look like.
  • Mitigate alert overload by understanding what represents a true crisis: A good cloud monitoring solution should help the user differentiate between routine alerts and potentially major problems, preventing human managers from becoming overloaded by irrelevant or useless information. Set meaningful thresholds to trigger alerts only when action needs to be taken.
  • Constantly strive to improve your operations: Operations change over time, and your monitoring solution needs to adapt along with those changes, either through changing what you are monitoring, shifting alert thresholds or implementing new types of automation. Better metrics can lead to lower monitoring expenses and personnel overhead, as well as more intuitive and relevant results.
  • Leverage automation as much as possible: Availability monitoring tools have embraced automation as a prime way to solve routine problems, and cloud monitoring solutions are no different. Make heavy use of any automation features in your monitoring platform to automatically remediate minor problems. Take advantage of the breadth of offerings from your cloud service providers, allowing your own IT staff make better and more productive use of their time.
  • Don’t ignore security with your monitoring solution: It’s easy to assume that a cloud monitoring solution can only keep tabs on performance and availability. Good cloud monitoring solutions can alert you to vulnerabilities and data breaches, helping you limit damages related to cybersecurity incidents.

How do you get started with cloud monitoring?

If you’re already a cloud service user, you probably have access to cloud monitoring tools, such as Azure Monitor, Google Cloud and AWS CloudWatch, which are an excellent way to get started exploring the features and benefits that cloud monitoring services can offer.

Although cloud monitoring is designed to let you manage multiple projects (and even multiple environments or organizations), start by setting up monitoring for a single cloud project to learn the ropes. Determine a small number of metrics that you want to monitor, then work with the provider’s monitoring console to set these up. Avoid overloading the system with too many metrics or API requests to avoid a huge, unanticipated bill at the end of the month. (Remember that most providers offer a few free credits to get you started, so take advantage of these first.) You can contact your cloud provider sales rep to provide examples, help you get started and provide custom metrics without running up your bill.

Monitoring uptime or availability of one of your web services is a fairly painless way to get started. Then you can move to more advanced virtual machine monitoring or container/microservices monitoring, collecting things like performance metrics or application stability data. What you choose to monitor ultimately depends on the specifics of your organization’s infrastructure.

The next step is to set up notifications or alerts so you can receive proactive information about services that are having trouble. Determine thresholds for these alerts — in the case of uptime monitoring, this is easy; your alert should be set to notify you if the monitored system goes offline. Application alerts can be more nuanced, so experiment — and study industry benchmarks — to find the best threshold for your notification. Alerts can also be integrated into third-party tools such as Slack or PagerDuty.

Over time, your monitoring system will generate data that can be plotted via charts and other graphics. These can be instructive in helping you see long-term performance and stability trends that you can use to plan improvements and upgrades.

These basic examples are limited to a single-vendor cloud monitoring solution, all designed to help you get started. In a multicloud or hybrid environment, your next step will likely be to explore third-party monitoring solutions, following a similar path as outlined above to find your footing on what will offer a considerably different user experience. Additionally, most third-party solutions provide robust support for application performance monitoring, which is increasingly essential in complex microservice-based applications.

The Future of Cloud Monitoring

What is the future of cloud monitoring?

The future of cloud monitoring is closely tied to the rise of multicloud and hybrid environments. Workloads continue to shift from data centers to cloud services and back, and they often move from one provider to another. Keeping track of workloads within a single organization and architecture is increasingly complex, leading to the increased need for third-party monitoring providers to fill the holes that the cloud providers themselves have been unable to do.

Without a platform-agnostic cloud monitoring solution, organizations run the risk of data silos, problem resolution delays, and data governance and compliance issues. Also, the risk of developing security vulnerabilities increases due to reduced visibility and increased complexity in monitoring cloud services. Again, all of these issues underscore the need for a monitoring solution that has been tailored to multicloud environments.

The Bottom Line: If your business is in the cloud, it’s critical to master cloud monitoring.

Increasingly complex multicloud and hybrid cloud architectures have led the vast majority of organizations — 83 percent of them — to source new ways to monitor their cloud-based workloads. These tools are increasingly vital for managing operational costs, minimizing complexity, reducing security risks and improving the customer experience. Failure to monitor cloud workloads introduces myriad blind spots and opens up the organization to substantial risk. As with any IT asset, cloud services must be closely monitored, despite their inherently virtual nature.

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