Monitoring Strategies: An Introductory Guide With 5 Examples

Andreas Prins

Andreas Prins

VP Product Management

12 min read

Monitoring is an integral part of most organizations. The monitoring process usually consists of several tools that, combined, show you information about whatever you're monitoring - applications, infrastructure, networks and so forth. While monitoring may seem like an obvious practice to some, it can be challenging to establish the best monitoring strategy for your organization. 

This post will define monitoring, briefly cover various aspects of monitoring and then give five examples of monitoring strategies. We’ll then provide some standard best practices. Lastly, we'll also plant some seeds for advancing your monitoring practice to observability and why observability provides even deeper insights into the health of your IT environment.

What is monitoring?

Digital transformation is transforming the speed at which enterprise IT organizations move. For example, with DevOps, the expectation is to develop faster, test consistently and release frequently while increasing quality and reducing expenses. To help accomplish this, monitoring tools provide automation, expanded measurement and visibility throughout the development lifecycle. With frequent code changes being the new normal, teams need monitoring because it offers thorough and real-time insights into the production environment.

Features such as real-time streaming, historical replay, and visualizations are essential in any monitoring strategy. This is how developers can find incidents and issues they need to be aware of. And it's how site reliability engineers (SREs) can ensure that services run without hiccups. 

With a good monitoring strategy in place, you’ll get better transparency and visibility into your operations with a well-timed alert system. You can be on the lookout for software operation and performance issues and identify the root cause. This can help you remedy whatever problems arise that might otherwise cause damage to your uptime and revenue. You can also track how users take in updates to a particular feature or application. This could, in turn, enable you to gauge and further improve the user experience.

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With a good monitoring strategy in place, you’ll get better transparency and visibility into your operations with a well-timed alert system.

Key metrics to include in your monitoring strategy

There are a variety of critical metrics that organizations should include in any monitoring strategy. These metrics can help organizations track performance and identify areas of improvement. Some of the most vital metrics to include are:

  • Response time: This metric measures how long it takes for a system to respond to a request. It is essential to track response time to identify slowdowns and optimize performance.

  • Throughput: This metric measures the number of requests a system can handle over time. Throughput is critical to monitor to ensure that a system can handle the required load.

  • Error rate: This metric measures the number of errors that occur in a system. Monitoring the error rate can help organizations identify and fix problems.

  • Resource utilization: This metric measures the number of resources (e.g., CPU, memory) that a system is using. Resource utilization is essential to track to ensure that a system is not overloaded and to identify areas for improvement.

Five examples of monitoring strategies

Now that you understand what monitoring is and have read about some of the goals you might set for monitoring, let's look at five examples of monitoring strategies.

1. Business-critical apps monitoring

It's essential to monitor applications that are essential to the core functions of your business. This is also the best place to start with your monitoring strategy. Identify the apps that are most critical to your business, especially those that are vital to your customers' experience. To do this, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Which app activities are critical to the success of your business? 

  • What will happen if these apps stop working? 

  • What will happen if these apps experience issues? 

  • Which KPIs are most important for these apps? 

Once you know which apps are the most critical, you can start monitoring their performance. Monitoring is often the most helpful for integrated, mission-critical apps with a high risk of failure.

2. Performance monitoring

Next, you'll want to track the performance of the business-critical apps you've selected for monitoring. This is probably the most common use case for monitoring. You can do this by using tools that track and chart performance metrics, including the following: 

  • System loads and response times: How quickly are your systems responding? 

  • System resource usage: How much of your system's resources are being used and are there adequate resources to support acceptable performance? 

  • Logs: Are any errors or warnings popping up in your system logs? 

  • Data: Are you seeing any anomalies in your data?

3. Infrastructure monitoring

When setting up your monitoring strategy, it's essential to monitor your infrastructure. As you're tracking the KPIs for your business-critical apps, you should also keep tabs on the infrastructure that supports those applications. Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself to get started with infrastructure monitoring:

  • Are there any network issues that might be causing dropped connections or slowdowns? 

  • Is your network running optimally? 

  • Does your WAN circuit have enough bandwidth? 

  • Is your network configuration causing problems? 

  • Is there any unusual network traffic that I should investigate? 

4. Security monitoring

Security monitoring is the process of proactively identifying and investigating potential security threats to an organization. It involves continuously monitoring an organization's security posture and taking action to mitigate any identified risks. 

Security monitoring is a critical component of an effective security program because it helps to identify potential threats before they can cause harm.These are things you can monitor when implementing security monitoring:

  • Number of false positives

  • Time to detect the risk/vulnerability

  • Time to address the risk/vulnerability

  • Open-source packages for known CVEs

5. Change monitoring

Make sure you also track any changes to your IT environment. This includes changes to system configurations, code deployments, and app life cycles. If you notice changes that don't seem like they should be happening, you need to investigate them right away. Some of these changes may include the following:

  • Do any unauthorized applications or systems have access to your network? 

  • Are there changes to the way your systems are being used? 

  • Are people modifying their app life cycles without approval? 

In addition, you can monitor your version control, code commits, and CI/CD system. Following are a few key things to monitor:

  • How often are your developers making code commits? 

  • How often are you committing code to your version control system? 

  • Are code commits on schedule? 

  • Do your code commits pass code reviews?

Invest time building required dashboards and training your team members to use them effectively.

Best practices for implementing monitoring strategies

Having efficient and scalable monitoring strategies will help you gain insights into your application, identify loopholes early in the process, and mitigate them. Here are a few best practices that you can adopt.

  • If you want to make the most out of your data, you need to invest time in building the right dashboards and training your team members to use them effectively. However, most monitoring dashboards don't provide a holistic view of your IT environment, especially if you have multiple tools monitoring one specific component and, thus, multiple dashboards to try to correlate data between when something goes wrong.

  • Along with development, build appropriate, high-quality alerts in the code that significantly minimize mean time to detect (MTTD) and mean time to isolate (MTTI). To build effective alerts, developers need to consider the type of issue being monitored and the potential impact of the issue on system performance. For example, developers might want to build alerts that trigger when a system is overloaded or when a critical component fails. 

  • Allocate resources to document previous incidents and outcomes. Build missing monitors and automation to help alert when a certain threshold is reached, but before an actual incident occurs.

  • Focus on automating a response to the detected alerts earlier in the process. This can be done by configuring systems to automatically take action in response to certain alerts or by setting up alerts to trigger automated workflows. For example, you could set up a rule that automatically notifies the relevant team when an alert is triggered. This way, the team can start working on a solution as soon as the alert is detected.

  • Continuously measure how your monitoring KPIs are being met. If they are being met, congratulations! If they aren’t, time to analyze why and remediate issues impacting those KPIs or to adjust the KPIs, if they are unrealistic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, monitoring is undoubtedly an essential part of any operations strategy. A successful monitoring strategy will help you identify and solve issues before they become significant. To build a successful monitoring strategy, you'll want to start by identifying the most critical applications or infrastructure to monitor. From there, you can determine the most important performance metrics to set KPIs around, start monitoring your systems and tracking the agreed-upon KPIs to ensure everything is working as expected.

Monitoring is a good initial step to building a reliable IT system. However, monitoring only gives you basic information, such as are my individual monitored components working or not? Is performance acceptable, or not? Monitoring doesn’t answer questions such as, Why is my system not working? What change caused an incident? How did that change impact a component and propagate through my stack, based on component interdepencies? How can I proactively prevent incidents? 

If you need more insights than monitoring, alone, can provide, consider observability, a natural next step to take to mature your IT reliability.

If you need more insights than monitoring, alone, can provide, consider observability, a natural next step to take to mature your IT reliability. StackState provides a complete picture of the state of your stack at every moment in time, alerting when issues occur, pinpointing root cause and helping you resolve issues quickly - even prevent issues - and speed your path to becoming a zero downtime enterprise. Book a demo today if you want to learn more and see StackState in action.

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Andreas Prins

Andreas Prins

VP Product Management

12 min read