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What Is AWS Monitoring? 8 Best Practices To Get You Started

This AWS monitoring guide will cover how to make your applications, infrastructure, and cloud costs more visible.

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Migrating to the cloud provides cost, scalability, performance, maintenance, and other engineering and IT benefits. Today, Amazon Web Services (AWS) stands out as the most popular cloud platform, offering an advanced public cloud with robust services that are easy to integrate with your existing workflows. 

While AWS strives to keep its tools simple to use, many users still require deep expertise to get their AWS environment set up properly and running smoothly. Yet, to discover what's working well and what needs improvement, you must first have a solid eye on how your environment operates.

It is here that AWS monitoring services, tools, and best practices come into play.  This AWS monitoring guide will cover how to make your applications, infrastructure, and cloud costs more visible — and the tools and best practices you can use to make it happen. 

Table Of Contents

What Is AWS Monitoring?

AWS monitoring consists of systematically observing, inspecting, and tracking the progress and quality of various AWS resources over time. Additionally, it involves being able to observe, in real-time, dynamic environments on the AWS public cloud. 

As part of this monitoring, you implement a set of services on an ongoing basis that verify your AWS assets are functional, secure, and perform at an acceptable level. 

Monitoring AWS resources involves generating, tracking, logging, and querying various metrics (covered further below). Monitoring and logging requires skill, time, and money to implement with confidence and success. So is it really worth the trouble to monitor your AWS resources?   

Why Monitor AWS Resources?

It is beneficial to monitor AWS for several reasons. The most important is to make sure your cloud environment works properly. You can examine your infrastructure, regulatory compliance, complexity, metrics, inventory, logs, and events.  

Then there is the AWS Shared Responsibility Model

Amazon is responsible for the platform's security under the agreement. In short, AWS is responsible for securing elements such as physical servers in its physical data centers as well as the hosting operating system and virtualization layer.        

You take care of everything else within the cloud service, from network traffic security and server-side encryption to client security.

AWS Monitoring Diagram

Credit: AWS 

That’s not all. Here are ten reasons why AWS monitoring solutions and best practices are worthwhile. 

  • By boosting your AWS visibility, you will have a way to monitor all of your AWS resources in one place. 
  • That can make it easy to detect anomalies in performance, security, and operational excellence. 
  • You can prevent service disruptions by identifying abnormal behavior early on. You can find and correct problems before customers notice them, rather than waiting until they complain. 
  • You can also manage your AWS stack efficiently without overlooking any of its components.
  • You can collect and log the correct data to provide insights that have solid business value.
  • You can maintain regulatory compliance even after switching to a cloud environment by improving observability. 
  • With the proper insight and tools, you can trigger automatic actions to correct abnormal situations quickly.
  • You can also monitor hybrid clouds and on-premises environments on top of the AWS public cloud.
  • You can also track the impact of scaling and other engineering decisions on your AWS costs, detecting anomalies so you can avoid overspending. 

Also, remember that you can only improve what you measure. Monitoring your cloud can prevent your infrastructure from overloading and scaling unnecessarily, thus reducing performance degradation. 

Ultimately, implementing monitoring best practices can reduce your AWS bill while increasing your return on investment.  

What Metrics Should Engineering Teams Monitor In AWS?

There are a ton of AWS resources you can and should monitor. AWS metrics and logs are available from over 200 Amazon web services, including these popular ones. 

But these are services; not the basic compute metrics that make them up. AWS's Well-Architected Framework pillars can help you understand the right metrics to monitor and avoid overwhelm. 

Those pillars are:

  • Performance efficiency 
  • Security
  • Cost optimization 
  • Reliability 
  • Operational excellence 

In this image, you can also see some key AWS metrics, logs, and events to monitor:

aws-cloudwatch-container-insights

Credit: Amazon CloudWatch Container Insights

Here are some AWS resources your engineers will want to monitor based on those guiding principles. 

  • Status Check provides the data that Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) collects via automated checks. That data reveals detailed information about issues that could be affecting each of your EC2 instances.
  • CPU Utilization is the percentage of allocated compute units you utilize. Monitoring can help detect whether a CPU is a bottleneck to performance, revealing if it is over or under-utilized.
  • Memory Utilization measures memory usage across various AWS services. Monitoring can help you determine if you need to scale your memory when memory usage is consistently high.  
  • Tracking Disk Utilization will help you see if the disk volume on your node’s storage capacity is sufficient for your workloads.
  • Latency is the time gap between a request from a customer and its response from your cloud provider. If you experience high latency, it may be caused by issues with network connectivity, web server dependencies, and backend servers. These issues could cause your application’s performance to drop and probably increase your AWS costs.    
  • Swap Usage describes the disk capacity devoted to holding data that should be in memory. High swap usage degrades application performance, defeating the goal of in-memory caching.    
  • AWS EC2 instance costs, unit costs, usage coverage, monthly growth KPIs, daily estimated cost, and Amazon S3 costs by storage class.
  • AWS Cost Anomaly Detection helps monitor unusual spend so you can avoid overspending. 
  • Some examples of potential security issues may include:
    • Multiple instances that start and stop programmatically 
    • Temporary security credentials that have long lives
    • Activity that erases CloudTrail logs
    • A new user account that deletes multiple users

These metrics could indicate a potential security breach is imminent.

You can also add custom metrics to monitor things that are not covered by native AWS monitoring solutions. CloudWatch, for instance, does not show memory utilization metrics by default. However, it supports additional AWS monitoring scripts to help with that. 

Scripts allow you to report a combination of various metrics such as memory used/available/utilization, disk used/available/utilization, and swap space used/utilization.   

8 AWS Monitoring Best Practices 

Now that you know some of the metrics to keep an eye on, here are some best practices for monitoring AWS resources to mitigate risk and maintain optimal performance.  

1. Define monitoring goals and set priorities 

Identify which AWS components are essential to monitoring. Your engineers should prioritize the alerts that pertain to critical operations to protect them. Monitoring policies can help engineers distribute their time and effort both during an emergency and during normal operations. 

Your plan will also need to define:

  • The resources to monitor and why    
  • The people in your organization who will monitor those resources 
  • The environments you want to monitor
  • Any regulatory compliance you need to monitor 
  • How to replace legacy agents with modern monitoring tools 
  • The AWS monitoring metrics you want to track
  • A straightforward procedure detailing what happens next if something goes wrong

Having a clear monitoring plan will guide engineers and empower them to take the right actions as needed.

2. Monitor everything you possibly can

Don't let anything slip by. It is crucial to have full visibility into your AWS environment. You will be able to detect, troubleshoot, and debug multi-point failures more quickly if you collect data from all of your AWS services. 

If you follow this next best practice, it won't seem so overwhelming.   

3. Start simple with native AWS monitoring tools

It is difficult to concentrate on everything when you are implementing multiple services at once. This is not what you want when setting up monitoring services. 

Amazon CloudWatch

You can begin monitoring AWS by activating native AWS services such as CloudWatch, CloudTrail, and VPC Flow Logs. This will give you space and time to digest how various data flows in and out of your AWS environments. Then you can roll out a phased implementation, prioritizing critical apps.  

4. Automate, automate, automate

You simply cannot monitor all of AWS’s data-rich and dynamic services using manual labor. Consider automating AWS monitoring so you can capture, analyze, and report as much data as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible, and from as many sources as possible.  

5. Resolve issues before they become major problems 

Organizations often set up AWS monitoring and neglect it when they should proactively engage the monitoring metrics they collect. An active monitoring system allows engineers to detect anomalies so they can prevent costly service interruptions and breaches before they occur. 

Some examples of potential security issues may include:

  • Multiple instances that start and stop programmatically 
  • Temporary security credentials that have long lives
  • Activity that erases CloudTrail logs
  • A new user account that deletes multiple users

These could indicate a potential security breach down the line.    

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6. Add owner tags to instances to boost accountability  

You can increase accountability by tagging the users who create instances in your organization. One way to accomplish this is to write a Lambda script that attaches owner tags to all instances. The script will have the instance creator’s value as IAM user-name and key as owner. 

In the event of an incident, the setup will create a notification with the following details:

  • Owner tag
  • Name tag
  • Resource ID
  • Launch time
  • Resource name

You can configure the setup so that you get other kinds of details as well. 

You can then create a Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed (RACI) Matrix that will enable you to gather the responsible people and troubleshooting engineers quickly.     

7. Monitor Costs 

Organizations that make code changes without monitoring how change affects their cloud spend, run the risk of accruing a high AWS bill or exhausting their AWS budget. From Snap to Twitter to Adobe, have all, at one point, created software that is cost inefficient or foot unexpected AWS expenses every quarter. 

Instead, using a credible AWS costs optimization tool to monitor how your engineering decisions impact cloud costs can help you take the right steps to reduce your AWS spend well before you run through your budget.     

CloudZero allows engineering teams to drill down and inspect the specific  costs and services driving their product, features, and more. Group costs by  feature, product, service, or account to uncover unique insights about your  cloud costs that will help you answer what’s changing, why, and what you can do  about it.Click here to learn more.

8. Capturing logs helps

Logging is the process of tracking and storing data to support application availability. In addition, it provides insight into how state transformations impact an app's performance. Monitoring, on the other hand, involves tracking metrics to alert engineers to system-related issues. 

However, capturing logs can help monitor compliance and troubleshoot performance issues. 

AWS CloudTrail

You can capture and display logs with CloudWatch and CloudTrail. But if you want better search capabilities or aggregate and analyze logs from any source, use a log analysis tool such as Loggly by SolarWinds.

The Best Tools For Monitoring AWS 

Various AWS resources and services can be monitored both natively and through third-party tools. Using monitoring solutions can save you time, money, and talent needs by automating monitoring processes.  

Monitoring tools powered by AI can also help you monitor any app or stack, at any scale, and anywhere.  Tools with well-organized dashboards make it easier to track and manage cloud resources in one place. 

Here are some of the best AWS monitoring tools for engineers who want greater visibility into their AWS environment. 

1. Amazon CloudWatch - Native AWS Monitoring Service

CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and management service that you can use to provide data for your AWS, on-premises, and hybrid cloud applications and architecture. CloudWatch is Amazon's observability service for developers, DevOps engineers, IT managers, and site reliability engineers (SREs).  

It collects metrics, logs, and events from services, applications, and other resources running on the AWS platform and on-premises servers. With CloudWatch, you can monitor anomalous behavior, visualize metrics and logs side-by-side, set alarms, troubleshoot issues, and take automated actions so that your workflow isn't disrupted.        

2. CloudZero - AWS Cost Monitoring Solution

CloudZero

CloudZero is a cloud cost intelligence platform that provides deep visibility into your AWS cloud spend in the context of your business — even if you use Kubernetes, microservices, or multi-tenant architecture.

CloudZero lets your engineering team to drill into cost data from a high-level down to the individual components that drive your cloud spend — and see exactly what AWS services cost you the most and why. Automated cost anomaly alerts also notify your team of any important cost fluctuations so can prevent expensive cost runs.

Ultimately, CloudZero empowers engineers to monitor changes to the cost of their work, explore, and become literate in their cloud cost without specialized knowledge.

3. AWS Security Hub - AWS Security Monitoring Tool

AWS Security Hub

AWS Security Hub provides a central place for aggregating security alerts and data from the entire range of AWS security services and apps. 

AWS Security Hub Diagram

It can, for example, pull insights from AWS GuardDuty, Amazon Macie, and Amazon Inspector. You can then use a custom dashboard to organize and prioritize what needs to be done. 

4. DataDog - AWS/Azure Hybrid Cloud Monitoring

datadog

DataDog may be an appropriate solution if you need an all-in-one monitoring tool for AWS and Azure. It can monitor servers, apps, metrics, clouds, and even teams across full DevOps stacks. DataDog can also monitor security, network, performance, and real users, as well as incidents. 

5. SolarWinds AppOptics - All-in-One AWS Monitoring Platform

AppOptics

AppOptics by SolarWinds is a solid performance monitoring solution for applications and infrastructure. 

AppOptics provides continuous visibility into your serverless, host, and container environments. Besides custom AWS metrics, it can monitor Windows, Linux, .Net, Kubernetes, and IIS performance. It also offers dozens of AWS services for monitoring your AWS account. SolarWinds also provides database and server monitoring solutions.     

6. Paessler PRTG - Network Monitoring 

Paessler

With PRTG Network Monitor, you can monitor any device, system, app, or traffic across all your IT infrastructure. You can also monitor your local network and all cloud services from anywhere, determine how much bandwidth the apps are using, and identify sources of bottlenecks. It can integrate with a variety of monitoring technologies and comes with great visuals to boost productivity.

Monitor Cloud Cost And Engineering Impact 

Your engineers can predict AWS performance, eliminate bottlenecks, and optimize your AWS spend by monitoring your AWS services, applications, and architecture. 

This is not an exhaustive AWS monitoring checklist. But using the best practices and tools shared here can help your team solve issues before they become problems. Engineers have difficulty predicting monthly costs associated with CloudWatch, for example.

CloudZero can help. CloudZero's cost intelligence platform enables engineering teams to measure and monitor cloud spend across all AWS services in real-time and in the context of business values such as cost per team, customer, unit, or product. 

CloudZero also automates cost anomaly alerts and notifies engineering teams so they can address any issue before they cost thousands of dollars. Request a demo today to see how CloudZero captures and displays rich insights that matter to your organization.

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