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What Is Cloud Monitoring? 13 Best Practices For Complete Visibility

Discover exactly what cloud monitoring is, its benefits, what you should monitor, and best practices for effective monitoring.

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Cloud computing offers several undeniable benefits to businesses. Some of the biggest ones are agility, cost savings, data recovery, and developing new apps and services to meet changing customer needs. 

Despite these benefits, the cloud can be complex, demand specialized skills, and require companies to follow up-to-date cloud security best practices. Why is that a problem?  

A 2020 report shows that 68% of companies cited misconfiguration as their biggest cloud architecture challenge going into 2021. If engineers do not configure their cloud environment properly, it becomes vulnerable to cyberattacks, performance issues, and cost implications.  

Other issues have persisted for several years now. As an example, companies struggle with:

  • Improving cloud cost visibility and monitoring cost metrics like COGS and unit cost
  • Gathering timely data to identify potential issues before they affect staff or customers
  • Measuring the right metrics to optimize an application's performance in the cloud   
  • Compiling, analyzing, and acting on metrics, logs, and transactional traces relevant to regulatory compliance and other criteria    

So, how do you overcome these observability challenges to take full advantage of your cloud environment? Enter cloud monitoring and its best practices.

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly what cloud monitoring is, its benefits, what you should monitor, and best practices for effective monitoring. We’ll also cover specific cloud monitoring tools you can use to get started, no matter what metrics you need deeper visibility into.

Table Of Contents

What Is Cloud Monitoring?

Cloud monitoring is the process of observing, evaluating, and managing the health, performance, and availability of cloud-based applications, architecture, and services. 

Monitoring cloud computing often involves using automated or manual techniques and tools to determine if your cloud infrastructure is performing as expected. 

Cloud monitoring is a vital component of cloud security and management. This process often involves observing your cloud environment in real-time and continuing to identify any issues that may affect service availability.    

However, experienced engineers can do more. 

What are the capabilities of cloud monitoring?

Through cloud monitoring, engineers can:

  • Utilize cost anomaly alerts to avoid cost overruns and overspending 
  • Monitor data flowing through multiple locations via various devices 
  • Get visibility into user, file, and application behavior to improve the performance of their cloud environment 
  • Identify potential vulnerabilities before they become a significant issue
  • Prepare security audit reports for compliance purposes
  • Scale observability capabilities as architecture grows
  • Use monitoring insight to make informed engineering and product decisions

With proper execution, cloud monitoring capabilities can yield powerful, practical, and sustainable benefits for engineers and the entire organization.  

The Benefits Of Cloud Monitoring: Why You Should Monitor Your Cloud Environment?

Overall, cloud monitoring provides engineers with a greater level of visibility into their cloud environment. Further benefits include the ability to: 

  • Reduce the cost of fixing security issues that might cost thousands or even millions of dollars. Cloud monitoring enables DevOps to mitigate risk continuously. 
  • Identify and minimize issues that can lead to cost overruns which can eat into your margins over time. 
  • Resolve architectural problems, such as misconfigurations that may affect customer service. 
  • Get a better understanding of your application's performance. You can use the insight you collect to improve user experiences and avoid losing customers to your competitors. 
  • Analyze how your cloud-based services perform on different devices so you can optimize their performance.
  • Ensure the most relevant people are made aware of a cloud architecture problem so they can fix it ASAP.
  • Enhance visibility and managing cloud environments through automation
  • Identify the root cause of cloud problems so engineers can patch them efficiently and thoroughly.

How does cloud monitoring help with all of these? 

How Cloud Monitoring Works

Different cloud environments require unique monitoring methods. However, the basic principles remain the same. 

Still, the complexity of a cloud environment makes it difficult for some engineers to execute a structured cloud monitoring strategy. Start by assessing these five different types of cloud monitoring.   

Five types of cloud monitoring

Each type of cloud monitoring focuses on a specific component of cloud architecture. Monitor the following components and areas:

  • Website monitoring is a type of cloud monitoring that helps administrators track various aspects of cloud-based websites, such as traffic, availability, and resource usage.
  • Monitoring virtual networks includes monitoring activities and components that involve virtual network connections, performance, and devices.   
  • Database monitoring analyzes data integrity, availability, querying, access, and how your application uses this data, as well as identifying any bottlenecks that could hinder efficient data transmission.   
  • Monitoring virtual machines include monitoring health, as well as traffic logs and scalability in response to fluctuating workloads. 
  • Monitoring cloud storage provides insight into performance, users, storage costs, bugs, and other key performance indicators. 

Those five areas are important to experienced cloud engineers, but what kind of insights do they look for?  

5 Factors You Should Monitor

Engineers can use various metrics, logs, and events to see how their cloud infrastructure is performing. In fact, using a third-party cloud monitoring tool can help you reduce Mean Time To Detection (MTTD) in deployment by 28% and Mean Time To Recovery (MTTR) by 22%, according to the 2020 State of Database Monitoring.   

Aspects worth capturing and analyzing include: 

Cloud security

One of the top concerns for engineers and CTOs today is the possibility that their organization will experience a cyber attack. 

The 2020 Cloud Security Report found that over half of respondents were concerned about account hijacking, insecure interfaces, and unauthorized access to their cloud environments.

Monitoring your company's cloud security can help you identify suspicious activity before it becomes an all-out attack. 

These observations may indicate an impending security breach, for example:

  • A new user account deleting other users 
  • Temporary security credentials having long lives
  • Seeing multiple instances that stop and start programmatically 
  • Activity that erases security logs and events

You'll also want to keep an eye on how your cloud architecture decisions affect your budget. 

Cloud costs

One of the most common goals for companies moving to the cloud is to reduce costs. Sadly, many businesses do not have adequate mechanisms to observe costs in a way that makes sense to their businesses. 

Because most companies do not know where, when, and how their cloud budget was used, they are unlikely to optimize cloud costs. 

But with a solid cloud cost monitoring platform, both engineers and finance teams can gather the insights they need to avoid overspending on their cloud infrastructure projects — and even improve COGS, cost per customer, and other important unit cost metrics.     

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.

Cloud-based application performance (APM)

Setting up a robust APM tool with monitoring and analytics capabilities can easily understand the logs, metrics, and alerts that cloud infrastructure generates. These include DevOps monitoring metrics that can track the performance of the underlying infrastructure. 

Performance issues in the cloud can range from disk utilization to latency and scalability challenges. Modern APM tools allow you to track these aspects in real-time so you can take a proactive approach to application performance optimization in the cloud.    

Application/service availability

This is especially important for companies that use the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. As your application depends on cloud-based servers to fulfill user requests, monitoring the health of your SaaS environment and components is vital to ensure issues like overloading do not impede service delivery. 

Cloud-based services are typically highly integrated so that they depend heavily on other services to function. So when a cloud infrastructure component is not monitored, it can lead to availability issues in many other parts of the cloud.

Infrastructure monitoring

Cloud infrastructure best practices include monitoring virtual machines, Kubernetes, storage, databases, and their health and dependencies. Monitoring will help you observe, track, and react to changes that could affect your environment’s security, performance, availability, and cost. 

By using solutions such as CloudZero, you can also find out which services, teams, products, features, and customers you spend the most on, why, and whether they are eating into your gross margins.   

CloudZero aligns cloud costs to key business metrics, such as cost per  customer or product feature. Our Cost Per Customer report allows teams to see  how individual customers drive their cloud spend and how much specific  customers cost their business. With cloud cost intelligence, companies can make  informed engineering, business, and pricing that ensure profitability.Click  here to learn more.

Cloud Monitoring Best Practices To Implement Now

The following best practices can help you to improve your cloud monitoring strategy:  

  1. Establish goals for your cloud monitoring investment so that you can measure progress.
  2. Set up a process for continuous monitoring and improve it as you gather more information. 
  3. Collect different teams’ insights about metrics are important to monitor and what to do with the data.
  4. Map monitoring metrics to actual business outcomes within your organization.
  5. Monitor as many of the components that directly affect your business’s bottom line as possible. 
  6. Monitoring tools provide engineers with the ability to observe what happened during multi-point failures, allowing them to troubleshoot and debug them.
  7. You need to set thresholds that inform engineers when to react to issues and fix them before they become huge problems for your end-users.
  8. Start with simple, native tools that your cloud service provider provides before integrating a more robust cloud monitoring solution.    
  9. Centralize your monitoring data and display it via unified dashboards and charts. This reduces the need for using multiple tools, services, and APIs to monitor different data.  
  10. Automate cloud monitoring. It is possible to conduct monitoring manually. However, the process can be time-consuming and prone to human error.
  11. Monitor your cloud costs. Many tools lack complete cost visibility, especially within public and hybrid clouds. Implement a cloud-based cost intelligence solution to see the what, why, and how of your cloud investment. A tool that displays data in a way that makes sense to your business, such as cost per customer, team, or product, is even better.
  12. Monitor end-user experience. Crash reports, response times, network requests, and page loading details are some metrics that can help you do so.
  13. Run regular chaos tests on your cloud monitoring strategy and tools. Improve your cloud-based applications, services, and architecture as you collect, analyze, and gain insights from more data.

So, what are some of the best cloud monitoring tools available today to use with these best practices?   

11 Cloud Monitoring Tools To Get Started

More than two dozen tools provide cloud monitoring as a service. Cloud monitoring tools offer many similar features, but some will offer features that are more tailored to your organization's monitoring strategy than others.

Let's take a look at the top cloud monitoring tools available right now. 

1. Sematext

sematext

Sematext is a comprehensive infrastructure monitoring tool designed for DevOps teams to view all of their logs, metrics, and events in one unified dashboard. Sematext can monitor everything in real-time, including applications, servers, networking, and real-life users. It also keeps a history of your stack's metrics. 

In addition, now that Sematext has been open-source since 2018, you can better integrate it with your technology stack. Several sources are available for collecting metrics, such as REST APIs, JMXs, and SQL databases.

Sematext offers anomaly detection and alerting for hybrid, private, and on-premises environments so that you can stay ahead of failures everywhere.        

2. Dynatrace

dynatrace

Dynatrace also offers full-stack monitoring, including app, cloud, and hybrid environment monitoring. You can also monitor real-user behavior on your online assets with it, so you can tailor your digital strategy to provide more fulfilling customer journeys. 

Dynatrace also shows real-time and historical logs and events for microservices, containerized, application, services, serverless, and Kubernetes. 

With Dynatrace's open source project support on GitHub, you can easily connect it to your stack and improve cloud observability using over 400 integrations. Dynatrace is available as both a SaaS offering and as an on-premises solution. 

3. Amazon CloudWatch

Amazon Cloudwatch

For running cloud-based applications and services in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem, CloudWatch is a great place to start. It provides a big picture view of AWS services, metrics, logs, and events, such as Amazon EC2, Amazon RDS DB, and Amazon EBS Volume instances. 

CloudWatch was developed to respond to customer complaints about lack of visibility, particularly into AWS resource utilization. You can therefore expect it to offer proactive resource utilization. 

4. SolarWinds

solarwinds

One of the best SolarWinds features is it provides a unified visual monitoring dashboard for various components. The interface makes it simple to follow, zoom in and out of specific areas, or view how a cloud component affects the rest of your technology stack.

SolarWinds is also interesting in that you can use it as an all-in-one cloud monitoring platform or monitor specific items with one or more of its tools. 

  • Loggly for aggregating and analyzing logs
  • Pingdom for monitoring websites and other digital experiences/assets
  • Papertrail to grab quick views of your logs
  • AppOptics for monitoring and analyzing application and infrastructure health, performance, and networking.

SolarWinds offers comprehensive networking monitoring tools within and across clouds, such as Azure and Google Cloud.       

5. Datadog

datadog

Datadog may suit you if you want to do large-scale application performance monitoring (APM) and boost visibility into your infrastructure with end-to-end tracing. Additionally, Datadog can also track, view, and analyze logs, metrics, and events from networks, containers, databases, third-party tools, services, and more.

In addition, you can monitor synthetics, security, and real users in real-time. You can also set up alerts using its incident management tool to tell when your cloud environments aren’t functioning correctly.    

6. Redgate

redgate

For those who do not need a comprehensive tool, but need performance, availability, and security capabilities for their database, Redgate can help. Redgate is compelling for DevOps teams that use .NET, Azure, and SQL Server environments. You can use Redgate in the cloud or on-premises. 

With Regate, your engineering team can run realistic database tests, monitor entire databases, and quickly secure sensitive data. 

Then again, if you want to monitor more than your databases, here are a few more cloud monitoring tools you can use. 

7. New Relic

newrelic

New Relic is a modern, top-to-bottom, and visually stunning tool for monitoring your mobile, web, cloud, and on-premises environments. It also supports real-user, synthetics, logs, distributed tracing, and multi-cloud monitoring.

New Relic offers elegantly visual insights with Grafana Dashboards. It also displays the specific method calls for different app sizes to help discover incidents’ root causes. 

The tool provides one of the most powerful querying languages (NRQL), as well as a comprehensive free plan to test it in a live environment before you subscribe.       

8. Azure Monitor

Azure Monitor

Azure Monitor is a native monitoring tool for workloads running on the Microsoft Azure Cloud. It also supports custom metrics for external monitoring. With it, engineers can collect, analyze, and use telemetry-based insights to optimize Azure and on-premises environments.  

You can expect a platform well-specced for gathering insights about infrastructure, apps, and services. The tool also monitors your application’s networking layout, services, and activity and will alert you when something is off. If you enjoy BI support, you'll be pleased to see that it is included here, along with powerful workbooks for dashboarding. 

9. Sumo Logic

sumologic

With Sumo Logic's cloud monitoring tool, you can capture and analyze all three types of telemetry (events, logs, and transaction traces) for security, operations, and business intelligence. 

Sumo Logic can collect indicators of compromise (IoC), machine learning analytics, and real-time user activities so you can identify any security or operational issues before they affect your end-users. Its ability to analyze over 200 petabytes of data and complete over 20 million searches daily makes Sumo Logic ideal for enterprises or fast-growing startups. 

The solution has multi-cloud support, and while it doesn't offer as many integrations as the likes of New Relic, AppDynamics, and Datadog, it still provides enough to meet most needs with more than 150 integrations.      

10. AppDynamics

appdynamics

AppDynamics provides robust monitoring and analytics for cloud-native environments. Like several other tools here, it is also a cloud monitoring tool and can be used on-premises. 

Check it out if you're interested in application performance management (APM), infrastructure health data, and enterprise-grade business analytics. You can also use it for monitoring Internet of Things (IoT) environments, web apps, mobile devices, and synthetic monitoring. 

But AppDynamics goes even further to show DevOps engineers and executives the connection between their entire technology stack and actual business transactions. Expect it to support all the popular cloud providers, including Azure, Google Cloud, AWS, and on-premises workloads.    

11. CloudZero

CloudZero

The vast majority of cloud monitoring tools track performance, security, networking, and dependency issues. But many don’t show how an item's metrics, logs, and events relate to specific areas of your business and how they directly affect your bottom line. 

This is where CloudZero comes in.  

Using CloudZero's cloud cost intelligence platform, you can detect, observe, and track changes in your cloud environment and see how those changes affect your cloud costs. Additionally, CloudZero allows organizations to see spend in the context of their business, such as how much specific customers, products, features, teams, and more, cost their company.

CloudZero’s automated cost anomaly alerts also help companies control their cloud budget and prevent cost overruns by detecting cost issues before they spiral out of control.

Ultimately, CloudZero gives organizations the visibility they need to monitor, control, optimize, and reduce their cloud spend — while also translating cloud costs to business metrics they care about, like unit cost, COGs, cost per customer, feature, product, and more.

Request a demo today to see how CloudZero can give you holistic visibility into your cloud and AWS costs.

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