How to choose the right monitoring solution for any business

Monitoring is crucial as it helps to reduce downtime. And downtime… Well, you know the story: revenue loss, angry customers, upset bosses.  

But what is the right solution? How do you find the best monitoring solution for you?

What do you really want?

You need to be able to follow through on this fundamental command: “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Ask yourself what the main purpose of your monitoring is. There are two general types of monitoring.

a) Traditional universal monitoring

Is your main goal to be alerted if something fails? Do you want reliable notifications to take action and prevent a disaster?

Traditional solutions like PRTG, Nagios, Zabbix and WhatsApp Gold, for example, are perfect for alerting and ensuring that everything is running as expected. (That is to say, well.) They also have graphs for performance analysis. The vast majority of cloud-based solutions are of this type.

But deeper performance analysis is their weakness. They are all based on SQL databases, and they cannot process extensive performance metrics.

b) Performance monitoring

Instead of an overview of your systems, do you need a fine-grained performance analysis? Do you need to drill down to the last, hidden corner of a CPU? Almost every monitoring solution claims to do both: give a broad view of  your systems’ performance and a detailed performance analysis. But that is not true. While all solutions can do both, they can only one job well.

For the second type of monitoring, solutions like Prometheus come to mind. They are based on so-called time-series-databases and they can store and process billions of data points. However, they come at the cost of a complicated setup and only very limited alerting options. And due to the large volume of data, they mostly need to be installed on-premise.

Is cloud-based an option?

Once you have determined the kind of monitoring you (really, really) need, you must consider another question: Is a cloud-based solution an option?

If your environment allows you to work with cloud-based solutions, this is a fast and easy way to start monitoring. The market has changed a lot in the last two years, and there are excellent and affordable products out there nowadays. Set-up can be done almost instantly, and you don’t have to worry about maintenance, high-availability, back-ups or updates.

Thanks to high competition, vendors are fighting to produce the most user-friendly solutions. (A battle that took many out early on. A look at the first user interfaces reveals frumpy design.)

But many cloud-based monitoring solutions are thoroughly modern - and not just in terms of their appearance. They come pre-configured, with thresholds based on common use-cases.

It should be noted that you always need an agent to send data from your servers to the cloud. But the agent makes the difference. Check if an agent is available for all operating systems, and choose a solution that discovers almost everything automatically.

Some vendors say that you can finish the set-up in a few minutes, and keep that promise. Serverdensity.com is a great example of this batch of solutions.Always use the free-trial and set up a realistic scenario with some of your key servers, network devices and web-assets. A single host is not enough.

If you have a no-cloud-policy, you need an on-premise solution. The open source market offers many enterprise-ready software solutions. Put Zabbix on your shortlist. Depending on your familiarity with it, it can be complex to set up, but it is worth the effort. Commercial products, like BMC Patrol, offer pre-configured checks for a variety of software. This can save you a lot of time, but it comes at a high price. And veterans of the market, Nagios and Icinga, still do a perfect job.

Price

Price is the final, crucial factor in decision-making - in terms of total cost of ownership. When looking at the prices of commercial software, pay attention to time-limited licenses. They can become a trap. You start cheap and after a year or two, you have to renew the license at a higher price or lose it.

Open-source products are excellent, and you can save money on licenses, but the installation of any on-premise monitoring can turn out to be time-consuming if you are inexperienced.

Cloud-based solutions come at very different price points. Some are very specialised and cost as much as $15 per server per month- which has proven to be prohibitively high for many companies- while others go for as little as $1.20  per server per month.

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Author: Nicholas Thiede