IT infrastructures are in a constant state of change. From centralized mainframe systems to distributed serverless multi-cloud environments, these changes have happened relatively quickly. And nothing is stopping it.
Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 90% of IT organizations will have most of their staff working remotely. This is largely due to companies shifting to using more cloud services.
IT operations teams have had to find ways to keep up by implementing effective IT infrastructure monitoring. And with some having to do more with fewer resources, it’s important to make the most of monitoring by having the right tools and best practices in place.
Read on to learn about some best practices you can put in place, along with the situations when you can use them to better monitor your infrastructure.
Understanding IT Infrastructure Monitoring
Infrastructure monitoring is the process of collecting and analyzing data from all of your IT resources. Because of the many changes to IT infrastructures over the years, complexity has increased dramatically.
Best Practice Considerations
To help you handle all of this complexity, here are ten best practices to translate monitoring data into useful information and quicker troubleshooting.
1. Create a Checklist
It’s nice to know that your infrastructure is being monitored. But when there’s a problem, you need to swing into action quickly to resolve them. So be sure to have a plan when something does go wrong.
Link failures happen, there are sudden response time increases, and systems go down. What’s the next step you take when your monitoring tool says that the DNS is down? You need to have a plan in place for the steps to take to resolve this problem before it is a problem. Have a checklist of steps, including who needs to know that this particular issue is being worked on.
2. Avoid Alert Fatigue
With all the data that gets collected in the modern IT infrastructure, monitoring gets noisy real fast. You can get overwhelmed with all the alerts about possible infrastructure problems. So make sure you reduce the possibility of getting false positive alerts or being inundated by alerts altogether. One way to do this is to ensure that your IT monitoring tool has intelligent alerting or implements an AIOps feature set to prevent you from being alerted to things that don’t matter as much or that can be quickly resolved.
But every organization is different in some way. So you may want to set some custom alert thresholds for your infrastructure monitoring. If so, another way to reduce alert fatigue is to make sure you configure specific and actionable alerts only. Focus on alerts that can lead to user complaints. This can help ensure you’re getting notices for potential issues that matter most to users.
3. Use Automation
Fixing infrastructure problems used to be something you could more easily get to when your infrastructure was a little simpler. But with the size and complexity of today’s infrastructure—spanning multiple clouds, both private and public—those days are gone. It wasn’t simple back then, but it was certainly simpler than it is now.
Ensure that your monitoring tool includes automation features that can help reduce some of the manual labor involved with managing and monitoring an IT infrastructure. It could be an infrastructure that includes thousands of server instances, routers, switches, firewalls, etc. If a new device comes online, you want to automate its data collection. If a server instance is low on disk space, your tool could automatically increase storage space to a specified amount. So don’t get bogged down and reduce your productivity with problems your monitoring tool can fix for you. Use automation to get out of firefighting mode all the time.
4. Get to Know Support
Every monitoring tool provider usually includes assistance from their support team to help troubleshoot issues with either your infrastructure or their product. A well-built IT infrastructure monitoring tool can reduce the need to contact their support team. The product has an easily understandable user interface that you can use to find and fix infrastructure issues. Or it automatically fixes those issues for you, with little or no involvement needed from you.
With these features in place, you may think you don’t need support. But there will come a time when you need or should reach out for assistance. Get to know your vendor’s support team. Solving problems is often a team sport, and your support team can be a valuable resource when you’re having issues. If they already know who you are when you need help, you’re more likely to have a good outcome much more quickly.
5. Monitor the Monitor
It’s 10 p.m. Do you know if your monitoring is working?
You need to ensure that your monitoring solution is doing its job. If you’re not getting any alerts, is it because the infrastructure’s all green, or is your monitoring not working? You want to trust, but always verify that your infrastructure monitoring is working as expected. Nobody wants to sit there watching a dashboard monitor with all green charts, but you should do that from time to time to ensure those green charts are accurate and expected. The last thing you need is for a user to be alerting you of an issue and not your monitoring solution.
6. Document Resolutions
Always document any changes made to your infrastructure. This one should go without saying, but with the constant and rapid pace of change sometimes, we can forget this one because documentation is often a pain. You want to simply fix the issue and move on to the next issue you’re seeing. But be sure to take some time for this.
First, documenting how you solved a specific infrastructure problem can help you later on. It’s similar to the checklist practice above. You won’t need to start from scratch solving the same problem because it’s documented. Second, it could help a team member follow the exact steps you took, which can help reduce MTTR and avoid SLA violations.
7. Deploy Everywhere
The purpose of monitoring your infrastructure is so that you can have the required visibility to quickly solve problems or prevent them. One of the best ways to do that is to deploy your monitoring everywhere or in as many places as you can.
A silo is a visibility killer. Your monitoring isn’t very useful for the entire infrastructure if you’re only looking at a portion of it. Whether a silo is due to security restrictions or a newly merged company, make every effort to monitor all of your infrastructure and deploy your monitoring capabilities everywhere you can get them.
8. Perform DR Testing
You should have a disaster recovery (DR) test plan in place for your infrastructure. That’s table stakes for business continuity. You should also include your monitoring as part of that plan.
Make sure to perform at least an annual DR test for what happens when your infrastructure fails. What happens to your monitoring when your primary router or an interface on that router fails? Are you getting the appropriate alerts about that failure? When traffic reroutes over your secondary path, do you notice the change in your dashboards? Doing DR testing can give you some peace of mind that if a failure does happen, your monitoring won’t fail along with it.
9. Implement Redundant Monitoring
If you follow the previous best practice of doing at least an annual DR test, you may encounter the problem that this next best practice prevents. Be able to also monitor your infrastructure from the outside for redundancy.
We all hope our infrastructure won’t fail. But we know it does. Whether you’re on-prem or cloud, things happen to cause your infrastructure to either outright fail or not perform as expected. We humans are error-prone. Most infrastructure issues are due to human error. And when that happens, it’s bad if your monitoring tool is deployed solely in that environment.
So make sure that you’re able to monitor your infrastructure from another environment in case your primary environment is not available.
10. Get Training
IT skills you had a year ago can quickly become obsolete. You need to stay up-to-date. You should do the same for your monitoring.
As your infrastructure changes, you may be dealing with new technology that your organization is implementing, like migrating to serverless functions. You may need some training to understand how you can best monitor a serverless environment. Get the vendor training to ensure you get their recommended methods.
Also, getting vendor training could uncover ways you’re underutilizing current monitoring capabilities. As they say, knowing is half the battle. With the appropriate training and tools, you can more effectively do the other half.
Point to Remember
As you’ve seen, infrastructure is an environment that has changed a lot over the years. IT infrastructure can also change quickly and drastically increase monitoring complexity. The key point to remember is that to get the most out of your IT infrastructure monitoring, you first must have the right tool in place. Using the best practices above with the right tool can make things simpler for you. The Netreo platform provides such a tool that includes features like using AI to help ITOps solve problems more quickly, even as the infrastructure continues to change.
This post was written by Jean Tunis. Jean is the principal consultant and founder of RootPerformance, a performance engineering consultancy that helps technology operators minimize cost and lost productivity. He has worked in this space since 1999 with various companies, helping clients solve and plan for application and network performance issues.