The need for fast, high-quality software brought operations monitoring to the forefront of modern business’s IT strategy, these recent years. That’s because monitoring enables IT teams to proactively oversee the health — and other critical components — of environments and applications. Without this practice, issues with systems and applications would reach end-users first; and that would certainly be detrimental for a business, down the line.
In this article, we’ll discuss what operational monitoring of systems comprises, and explore some of the best practices regarding this far-reaching practice.
What does operations monitoring include?
Traditionally, operations monitoring refers to collecting and analyzing data related to the status and performance of a system; including IT services, and applications. This information, on one hand, helps reconfigure services — and their components — to meet current user requirements, based on feedback; and, on the other hand, it enables teams to promptly spot and resolve emerging issues.
In other words, monitoring ensures that services and applications are functioning as expected. At the same time, it helps teams keep a pulse on their health, availability, response time, and overall performance. For instance, if a slowdown or downtime occurs, the monitoring system notifies administrators, so that they can address the issue; ideally, before end-users take notice.
However, it’s also worth discussing an even more up-to-date system health monitoring approach, revolving around Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) principles. How does SRE come into play? Read on, to connect the dots!
How does SRE come into the operations monitoring picture?
SRE is all about foreseeing failures, in order to create systems that are predictable, reliable, automated, and scalable; naturally, aiming to satisfy and even exceed customer expectations. At its core, the SRE philosophy considers that errors will indeed happen, at some point along the process, and prepares teams to deal with them.
Being closely related to DevOps principles, SRE embraces standardization, and automation practices; while also sharing important system metrics with the appointed teams. The idea is for teams to have all the necessary information in their hands; that’s so that they can better manage systems, resolve issues immediately, and automate operational tasks.
To elaborate, drawing from these metrics, called Service Level Indicators (SLIs), teams measure the rates of successful and unsuccessful queries that produce a percentage on the availability of the system. In case of unsuccessful results, a “post-mortem” is conducted that leads to further action, towards minimizing errors.
With SLOs (Service Level Objectives), teams define the minimum availability requirements of a system or application. Then, they set an error budget, indicating the margin of error allowed for a system. Finally, they set SLAs (Service Level Agreements) that outline the reliability of a system in detail; and, the development team, on their part, are requested to provide evidence, through testing.
In short, the SRE teams set specific targets for system performance, while treating errors as opportunities for further improvement. Among other SRE practices, this helps developers design products that meet the minimum standards of excellence. At the end of the day, through the prism of operations monitoring, SRE management commits to providing optimal end-user experience.
4 Best practices for building an effective operations monitoring strategy
Without a doubt, there are countless metrics that can be analyzed. Be that as it may, IT teams should narrow down to the ones they really need; that is, the ones that focus on system and application health and performance. Everything else is superfluous, and can only complicate the monitoring process. Besides, vanity metrics and any overhead they result in, should be carefully avoided.
Overall, some of the best practices for effective operations monitoring planning can be broken down into the following 4 practical guidelines:
1. Use only a few monitoring tools
Using disparate monitoring tools can be very costly, both in terms of budget and time. It goes without saying, before choosing a monitoring toolkit, a manager should set clear objectives, and then share them with the designated IT teams. Besides, simplification is key here.
Ultimately, an effective operations monitoring strategy allocates IT resources more efficiently, minimizes costs, speeds up the troubleshooting and recovery process, and reduces the confusion — and, often, miscommunication — created by managing one too many tools.
2. Put a proactive monitoring approach into effect
If anything, a proactive operations monitoring approach aims to predict and prevent potential problems from occurring. Proactive monitoring depends on real-time monitoring, to collect data and create trends that will help spot and analyze recurring and abnormal events.
Notably, for proactive operations monitoring to be effective, one should ensure that processes are aligned with the chosen monitoring toolkit and, of course, the customers’ SLAs.
3. Embrace automation
When it comes to safeguarding systems and applications, automation is a company’s best friend. Indeed, automating operations monitoring enables the delegated IT staff to scan large volumes of data to detect and identify issues that require immediate attention. This will allow them to keep on top of sudden changes and act fast to prevent errors from wreaking havoc; including errors that we can’t be possibly anticipate beforehand with old-school monitoring.
4. Set up smart and actionable alerts
Surely, alerts are the first line of defense against system and application errors. That’s why it’s essential for managers to be selective with alerts, to prioritize them based on urgency, and carefully configure them according to monitoring goals. If anything, overwhelming staff with too many alerts will cause white noise and errors will be slipping under the radar.
To sum up
While operations monitoring is crucial for preventing unplanned outages, downtimes and, thus, end-user frustration, often IT teams fail to address issues before they reach production. Luckily, following a consistent strategy for effective system health monitoring — one that includes the aforementioned best practices — can greatly help anticipate any arising setback.
All in all, by allowing IT teams access to vital system information, using a common toolkit and following standardized processes, companies can prevent issues from getting out of hand and ultimately causing an off-putting user experience.