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Monitoring Your Systems in the Cloud

What happens to our applications and infrastructure when we place them in the cloud?  Have you ever felt like you’ve lost insight into your infrastructure after migrating it to the cloud?  There seems to be a common complaint among organizations that at one point in time had an on-premises infrastructure or application package. After migrating those workloads to the cloud, they feel like they don’t have as much ownership and insight as they used to. That is expected when you migrate an on-premises workload to the cloud: it no longer physically exists within your workplace. On top of your applications or infrastructure being out of your sight physically, there is now a web service (depending on the cloud service) that adds another layer of separation between you and your data. This is the world we now live in; the cloud has become a legitimate option to store not only personal data, but enterprise data and even government data. It’s going to be a long road to 100% trust in storing workloads in the cloud, so here are some ways you can still feel good about monitoring your systems/infrastructures/applications that you’ve migrated to the cloud.

Cloud Systems Monitoring Tools

Depending on your cloud hosting vendor, you may have some built-in tools that you can utilize to maintain visibility into your infrastructure and applications. Here’s a look at each of the big players in the cloud hosting game and what built in tools they have for systems monitoring:

Amazon Web Services CloudWatch

AWS has become a titan in the cloud hosting space and it doesn't look like they're slowing down anytime soon. Amazon offers a utility called Amazon CloudWatch that offers you complete visibility into your cloud resource and applications. CloudWatch allows you to see metrics such as CPU utilization, memory utilization, and other key metrics that you would define. Amazon’s website summarizes CloudWatch as the following: “Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and management service built for developers, system operators, site reliability engineers (SRE), and IT managers. CloudWatch provides you with data and actionable insights to monitor your applications, understand and respond to system-wide performance changes, optimize resource utilization, and get a unified view of operational health. CloudWatch collects monitoring and operational data in the form of logs, metrics, and events, providing you with a unified view of AWS resources, applications and services that run on AWS, and on-premises servers. You can use CloudWatch to set high resolution alarms, visualize logs and metrics side by side, take automated actions, troubleshoot issues, and discover insights to optimize your applications, and ensure they are running smoothly (AWS CloudWatch).”

Microsoft Azure Monitor

Azure Monitor is a monitoring tool that allows users to navigate different key metrics gathered from applications, application logs, Guest OS, Host VMs, and activity logs within the Azure infrastructure. Azure Monitor visualizes those key metrics through graphics, portals views, dashboards, and different charts. Through Azure Monitor’s landing page, admins can onboard, configure, and manage their infrastructure and application metrics. Microsoft describes Azure Monitor as follows: “Azure Monitor provides base-level infrastructure metrics and logs for most services in Microsoft Azure. Azure services that do not yet put their data into Azure Monitor will put it there in the future (MS Azure website)… Azure Monitor enables core monitoring for Azure services by allowing the collection of metrics, activity logs, and diagnostic logs. For example, the activity log tells you when new resources are created or modified.”

Full-Stack Monitoring, Powered by Google

Google Cloud has made leaps and bounds in the cloud hosting space in the last few years and is poised to be Amazon’s main competitor. Much like Microsoft and Amazon, Google Cloud offers a robust monitoring tools called Full-Stack Monitoring, powered by Google. Full-Stack works to offer the administrator complete visibility into their application and platform. Full-Stack presents the admin with a rich dashboard with metrics such as performance, uptime, and health of the cloud-powered applications stored in Google Cloud. Google lays out a great explanation and list of benefits that Full-Stack Monitoring provides to the end-user: “Stackdriver Monitoring provides visibility into the performance, uptime, and overall health of cloud-powered applications. Stackdriver collects metrics, events, and metadata from Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, hosted uptime probes, application instrumentation, and a variety of common application components including Cassandra, Nginx, Apache Web Server, Elasticsearch, and many others. Stackdriver ingests that data and generates insights via dashboards, charts, and alerts. Stackdriver alerting helps you collaborate by integrating with Slack, PagerDuty, HipChat, Campfire, and more (Google Cloud website).”

Trust but Verify

While there are several great proprietary tools provided by the cloud vendor of choice, it’s imperative to verify that the metrics gathered are accurate. There are many free tools out there that can be run against your cloud infrastructure or cloud driven applications.  While it’s become increasingly acceptable to trust large cloud vendors such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, the burden rests on the organization to verify the data they are receiving in return.
Greg Stuart
Greg is a technologist at heart. He has spent the last 20 years supporting various information technology projects in both the private and public sector.…
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