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Identifying the Best IT Monitoring Software of 2020

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What’s the best IT monitoring software of 2020? It’s an interesting question. IT monitoring could mean a whole lot of things to a whole lot of different organizations. To some teams, a robust application performance monitoring (APM) solution might be more important than their network performance monitoring (NPM) tools. The “best” IT monitoring software depends completely on the underlying architecture and applications maintained by the business, as well as the structure and personnel of your software engineering and IT teams.

The DevOps mentality is driving more collaboration and transparency between development and IT teams, improving the speed of CI/CD pipelines and the resilience of production systems. No tool or software can replace an efficient process for software delivery, release and upkeep. But, monitoring software drives greater visibility into application and infrastructure health. Alongside automation and collaboration tools focused on the way your people work together, IT monitoring software becomes a necessary component for any highly-productive DevOps organization.

So, let’s break down IT monitoring into some of its core elements, identify useful tools and software and show how top-performing DevOps and IT organizations specifically use these tools to improve development and incident lifecycles in 2020.

Application Performance Monitoring (APM)

The core of your user’s experience lies in application performance and client-side service uptime/experience. End-users of applications and services are the most important aspect of any business which relies heavily on IT infrastructure and software performance for revenue generation. And, in the age of digital transformation for nearly all businesses, this means application performance and uptime becomes essential for nearly any successful business. Therefore, this makes IT operations teams, software engineers and the code and architecture they support, the most integral piece of any organization.

More and more engineering and IT teams are adopting DevOps philosophies in testing and QA to expose more bugs and errors before they reach production. But, they’re also leveraging a combination of APM solutions, real-user monitoring, synthetic monitoring, website monitoring, etc. to understand the impacts of traffic, load, ETL, etc. on user experience. This is where it becomes imperative to monitor application uptime and availability in a realistic way.

Sure, you could qualify uptime as a front-end service receiving a request response from the database within 10 seconds or less. But, users won’t wait that long. So, is your functional availability actually as high as you might be measuring it? APM tools can help you granularly understand what’s going on with your applications and the corresponding infrastructure, no matter if you’re working with a large monolith or if you’re working with cloud-based microservices.

So, what kind of software exists in APM to help engineers discover bugs, vulnerabilities and larger production incidents faster? Below, I’ll drop a shortlist of useful APM tools to explore in 2020 that help drive greater observability into end-user experiences:

Monitoring & Incident Response

Infrastructure Monitoring

On top of your APM software, you’ll need to have monitoring set up for your application’s underlying infrastructure. Log management and monitoring, as well as server monitoring, can help you detect exactly what’s going on with your hardware and infrastructure. For greater visibility into overall health, It’s important to track everything from the application through to the infrastructure in a streamlined way. This way, you can detect where problems actually happen, why they happen and how you can fix them.

Infrastructure monitoring, similarly to APM, is often thought of only in terms of uptime and downtime. But, infrastructure monitoring software can be used to expose performance and resilience opportunities to operations teams and infrastructure engineers. Service reliability isn’t always as cut and dry as “healthy” levels of error rates, disk usage, ETL or redundancy plans. For one thing, a “healthy” infrastructure really depends on your team’s DevOps/product maturity and business stage (startup, enterprise, etc.), as well as the team’s underlying tech stack (hybrid cloud infrastructure, programming languages, etc.).

Modern site reliability engineers (SREs) understand this – supplementing the NOC, the SOC and DevOps-centric teams by writing code and applying software engineering expertise to IT infrastructure. With greater context through improved monitoring and easy-to-consume visualizations in the form of dashboards and charts, SREs are able to use infrastructure monitoring data to improve the rest of the development and IT organization.

Here are a few great places to look for tools and software as you build out an IT infrastructure monitoring strategy:

Network Monitoring

sitting in between both camps of APM and infrastructure monitoring is your network uptime and performance monitoring stack. Tracking latency and errors at the network layer can help you understand where you have connectivity problems. A fast, resilient network is important for getting users the most out of your applications and infrastructure. Errors or slowness in application performance or infrastructure is often related to problems with your network.

Consistent, real-time metrics through network monitoring tools are a requirement for development and IT teams trying to understand the network’s impact on overall performance and speed. The following tools offer a ton of functionality around network performance monitoring as well as uptime monitoring to ensure applications and infrastructure can operate to their full potential:

Observability metrics and interpretation

Once you start collecting metrics, logs and traces across your applications, infrastructure and networks, you have the building blocks for an observability strategy. You have all the data at your fingertips – but how do you turn raw data into actionable insights? This is where creative thinking and talented DevOps-minded engineers and SREs can come together to determine the metrics that truly make their services observable.

So, the question remains – how do you measure pure availability for all of these different parts of your architecture? In our recent SRE webinar, we spoke with Splunk Cloud Platform SRE, Jonathan Schwietert, where he argued that you look at the ideal customer experience and work backward from there. What’s the most important aspect of your service for customers? This should determine how start building out your monitoring strategy and, ultimately, your observability strategy.

SREs, IT practitioners and infrastructure engineers should focus on how they take these metrics, traces and logs and interpret them for the rest of their engineering and operations organization. Then, how do you connect multiple KPIs and metrics across all components and applications to depict a real story of your system’s health? These are tough questions to answer – but the right IT monitoring and alerting solutions can help you get to a comfortable place of observability and reliability.

Alert automation and real-time incident management

All throughout your monitoring and observability journey, you’ll still need to detect incidents and fix them quickly. As you build out your IT monitoring and observability toolchain and learn more about your systems, don’t ignore your alerting and incident response strategy. Automation in the alerting and on-call management process can help you take the insights you gain from an observable system and turn them into actionable incident management workflows. Without skipping a beat, your system can pick up on a problem with response errors and automatically send an alert to the right person on-call for a certain service or team.

The combination of observability and a real-time incident management strategy allows developers and IT operations teams to feel comfortable with continuous delivery and integration. Testing can be done during the development lifecycle and code can be shipped to production faster. Because, not only can testing be conducted more quickly with more transparency, but if an incident is detected in production, the team knows they have the tools and process in place to quickly restore applications and services.

Start driving a holistic process for observability, alert management and incident response today. Combine the power of observability and real-time incident management – check out the SignalFx solution for APM or infrastructure monitoring and connect them with a free trial of VictorOps collaborative incident response.

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