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Where AWS monitoring tools fall short

AWS has a rich set of management APIs, automation tools and a central management console, but it doesn't provide end-to-end performance and troubleshooting data.

AWS has an overwhelming list of services, but piecing together a multi-tier application design and then monitoring...

and managing it can be vexing. There are many choices, many with similar or overlapping features, making it difficult to find the best option.

AWS' complex mix of services only exacerbates system management, particularly when most cloud-based enterprise applications don't exist in isolation -- their entire lifecycles are spent in the cloud. These apps pull data from internal and third-party sources and target many different user groups and platforms. This heterogeneous mix of services, networks and data sources makes comprehensive system and application management nearly impossible.

While AWS provides a good idea of what's happening in the cloud, its native tools don't measure the big picture of end-to-end performance and reliability. In addition, AWS management services are designed for use via the provider's management console instead of the system management platforms that enterprises are already using. This adds another level of management -- having to learn the ins and outs of a new tool.

The holes are apparent when you consider the complexity of trying to get a complete view of application performance, not to mention trying to troubleshoot anomalies. For example, at AWS re:Invent 2015, Coursera, the online education platform, discussed the data flow and ETL processes for its AWS-based data warehouse. The system pulls data from 15 sources, including client events, external databases and third parties, into a pipeline consisting of Elastic Compute Cloud instances, Amazon Simple Storage Service and Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Hadoop) processing that goes to a multi-terabyte Redshift warehouse. This warehouse combines that data with even more data from internal business intelligence applications to power recommendations, search and other Coursera data products.

As another example, if a company were running SharePoint on AWS, the challenges of managing composite applications consisting of many different server and storage systems would be evident. The AWS SharePoint reference architecture includes no fewer than six AWS servers and two databases spread across two subnets -- with both Amazon Virtual Private Cloud to an internal data center and public Internet connections. It would be difficult to manage the performance of an internal Excel application that pulls data from an internal database and AWS-resident SharePoint repository, crunches the data and writes a report back out to another SharePoint share. Each AWS SharePoint server would operate smoothly, but bottlenecks and resource contention at any point in the processing-and-communications chain could cause the application to fail.

Ops management roadmap

AWS currently relies on third-party marketplace suppliers such as AppDynamics, New Relic or Splunk, to offer more extensive AWS monitoring and troubleshooting features; multicloud management companies such as RightScale, Scalr, SevOne and Skeddly can augment or replace the AWS Management Console with software as a service.

AWS still has work to do to provide better tools for IT teams; enterprise admins must be calculated in their AWS monitoring approach, making sure to address these holes. Here's a look at what admins and AWS need to focus on to improve AWS management.

Enterprise administrators:

  • Monitor cloud and on-premises infrastructure from a single platform.
  • Track cloud and on-premises resource consumption, trend usage over time and trigger alerts on spikes or anomalies.
  • Measure the end-user application experience end-to-end across the entire application stack.
  • Integrate performance metrics, data flows and system/device logs into an aggregated view of the entire infrastructure.

AWS:

  • Provide better integration to popular enterprise management software from companies such as CA, IBM, Microsoft and VMware.
  • Augment existing cloud-only capabilities by tying usage to users, projects and budgets. Services must also tie into enterprise account and billing systems. This entails more thorough use of resource tags. AWS needs to make these easier to set up and use.
  • Develop, acquire or more seamlessly integrate tools for end-to-end system performance monitoring. Performance management features must also tie into troubleshooting software, including log and configuration analysis tools. AWS has a piece of this with the new AWS Config Rules, but it needs more.
  • Integrate cloud data with existing enterprise management systems to create a single version of the truth.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2015

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What tools do you use to monitor AWS?
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Great insight Kurt. I agree with your thesis of the varying holes that need plugging when it comes to eased management of apps in any cloud or multi-cloud environment. I'd invite you for a demo of the ScienceLogic platform since our vision was to plug precisely those gaps, hence our phenomenal growth in the industry.
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