IT Monitoring as a Service software has gotten mixed reviews in the past, but some admin have begun to experiment with new services for cloud management, with promising results.
IT Monitoring as a Service (MaaS) tools come in several flavors and can serve many different purposes, but the broader motivations to use them are often the same: keeping up with the ever-increasing speed of new-application development and the agility of the infrastructure required to support it.
Cloud applications are developed and put into production more quickly than legacy apps, and are rewritten more frequently, often following the DevOps philosophy. Moving to a cloud infrastructure also requires new visibility into frequently-changing third-party architectures.
If you don't performance-manage, cloud computing is going to be a disaster -- you can't get around the need to monitor everything.
analyst, The Virtualization Practice LLC
In both cases, IT pros need consistent feedback on how apps and infrastructure perform, but they might find traditional on-site IT monitoring tools -- which often require multiple software agents and servers to run different components, as well as ongoing maintenance -- difficult to deploy and manage.
"If you don't performance-manage, cloud computing is going to be a disaster -- you can't get around the need to monitor everything," said Bernd Harzog, analyst with The Virtualization Practice LLC. "Vendors have made [traditional] monitoring software complex and difficult to use. … [T]he solution that's easier to implement is Monitoring as a Service."
MaaS is a natural fit, however, when every other part of IT is delivered as a public cloud service, as it is at BuyerZone, a lead-generation network for small businesses in Waltham, Mass. BuyerZone is also one of 15 private beta-testers for a company just that just emerged from stealth called Stackdriver.
BuyerZone moved its infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS), and its day-to-day operations to outsourced IT about two years ago, according to Robert Sieber, director of technical operations. The company needed some insights into how its infrastructure was running, as well as "checks and balances" on the outsourced IT staffers, he said.
Stackdriver lets Sieber keep an eye on a 40-instance AWS deployment, as well as on how his application is performing. Its reports on server performance have helped him spot errors including missed backups and glitches in application logic. This helps BuyerZone keep a lean, focused staff of developers who work on its core application rather than having to focus on day-to-day operations, including updating and managing monitoring software.
Still, the software comes from a very new, venture-backed startup, a fact that has led Sieber to carefully correlate some of Stackdriver's reports with those delivered by Amazon's native CloudWatch monitoring tool during his evaluation. "We probably will put Stackdriver into production, there's just no timetable for it yet," he said. "I see how a product like Stackdriver helps me, but are they priced accordingly with what they offer?"
Stackdriver officials said pricing for the product has not been determined yet.
IT pros charged with developing cloud apps in DevOps shops can also use services such as New Relic to get an end user's view of Web application performance, and some find it contains hidden gems that complement cloud infrastructure monitoring services like CloudWatch.
CloudWatch requires users to customize memory-monitoring metrics, which pushed Las Vegas-based CanvasPop, an e-commerce site that prints photos onto canvases, toward New Relic's free server-monitoring tool. "That's huge for us, because we run out of memory before I/O or CPU," said Pat Leckey, senior software developer at CanvasPop. "That's what tells us when we need to bring up or down new instances."
Weighing MaaS pros and cons
New MaaS offerings also appeal to IT pros who feel increased pressure in this era of cloud computing to make private infrastructure faster and simpler, and to manage it with fewer staff.
For Mangahigh, an online mathematics education software maker based in London, an internal infrastructure managed with cloud-based MaaS is the best of both worlds: traditional IT and cloud.
Mangahigh uses Boundary Inc.'s Software as a Service (SaaS) for network monitoring, New Relic for application monitoring, and another MaaS tool called Server Density for server monitoring on an infrastructure hosted by PEER1 Hosting. The company has also sent some workloads with AWS and Rackspace in the past, but generally, Chief Technology Officer John Webb said that at this point, he doesn't trust public cloud infrastructure for much more than transitory workloads.
When it comes to monitoring, however, Webb said that sending out monitoring data doesn't present a security risk for his company, and that on-premises monitoring software has been a challenge to use with a small staff. "If you've got a dedicated resource or team of people to look after those things, then they're brilliant, but quite often these things require quite a lot of management and configuration," he said.
There's also the cost factor. "We don't want to have to invest thousands of dollars into server hardware that's running monitoring systems, because that's taking the focus away from what our systems admins should be doing," Webb said.
Others remain on the fence about deploying a MaaS product. One issue is that it's impossible to customize these tools on the fly, according to Michael Ryom, a VMware specialist working in government in Europe who has tested a new MaaS tool from a startup called CloudPhysics that is currently in public beta. "If I see something missing from the product, I have to go to the vendor and say, hey, would you like to make this for me? I can't just write a script" he said.
There are also concerns surrounding control and latency. "If you can't tolerate monitoring data leaving the four walls of your company, it might not be a good idea," said The Virtualization Practice's Harzog. "Or if you need one-second-level fidelity in monitoring metrics, it takes far more than one second to get from one data center to the cloud and back."
IT pros cited other concerns about SaaS in general, including the possibility of losing the Internet connection to a service provider, the possibility of relatively disengaged vendor service and support, and downsizing of internal IT staff.
Traditional vendors embrace MaaS
One of the major makers of traditional monitoring tools has a new approach when it comes to monitoring for its Infrastructure as a Service offering. Hewlett-Packard Co. will develop new MaaS tools for monitoring the HP Cloud Compute and HP Cloud Storage services it launched last year. "It's essential for the end user of a cloud service to be able to get real-time data on what they're consuming as part of that cloud service, because that has a direct impact on billing," said Dan Baigent, senior director for business development at HP Cloud Services.
CA Technologies also has taken a service-based approach to IT monitoring associated with cloud computing in recent years. It acquired Nimsoft in 2010, just before it released its first SaaS product, Nimsoft Monitoring On Demand. CA Nimsoft officials declined to disclose the number of customers that use the service. While there are still privacy concerns, enterprises that have embraced cloud computing already tend to be more likely adopters of Nimsoft Monitoring On Demand, said Dan Birck, senior principal marketing manager for CA Nimsoft.
Other vendors with MaaS offerings include AccelOps, BMC, ManageEngine, LogicMonitor and IBM.