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7 Best Amazon Web Services (AWS) Monitoring Services

Everybody knows Amazon these days. The company, which was once nothing but an online bookseller has grown to become the world’s largest online retailer and marketplace. In order to support its phenomenal growth, Amazon had to become a master at deploying IT infrastructures. Once they were, it wasn’t too long before it made sense for them to rent unused parts of their infrastructures to clients having a need for them. This is—highly simplified—how Amazon Web Services came to life. Part hosting, part virtualization, part content distribution, Amazon Web Services is a complex beast. And with complexity comes a need for proper monitoring. Today, we’re having a look at some of the best Amazon Web Services monitoring services and tools.

Before we begin, we’ll do our best to better describe what Amazon Web Services are. You’ll be in a better position to fully appreciate our products review and we’ll all be on the same page. We’ll then dig a bit deeper and discuss AWS monitoring. More specifically, we’ll review what AWS monitoring entails. Then, we’ll talk about the different types of monitoring services and tools. Oddly enough, despite the fact that AWS is a cloud-based virtualization platform, some prefer to use on-premises physical tools for monitoring. Armed with all this background information, we’ll be ready to tackle the review of some of the best services and tools available for monitoring Amazon Web Services.

Amazon Web Services In A Nutshell

Amazon Web Services was launched back in 2006 by Andy Jassy as a platform offering online services to third-party websites and client applications. Most services that are hosted on AWS are back-end services which are not directly exposed to end users but instead, they offer functionalities that can be used by developers through APIs. Today, Amazon Web Services offers more than 90 services which include computing, storage, networking, database, data analysis, application services, deployment, system management, mobile application management, and tools for developers and for the IoT. The most popular services are called Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3).

You can think of AWS as a cloud-based virtualization platform. AWS offers its clients a virtual cluster of machines which are constantly available via the Internet. Those virtual machines emulate all the physical characteristics of a real computer including the physical hardware, a choice of operating systems, networks, pre-loaded applications such as web servers, databases, management tools, etc. Furthermore, Amazon ensures the security of its client’s systems.

The AWS technology is implemented on server farms based throughout the world and maintained by AWS. Charges are based on usage, hardware and software features, network, and chosen operating system as well as availability, redundancy and security options.

Monitoring AWS – What Is There To It?

Since AWS is nothing more than cloud-hosted servers, it’s easy to imagine that monitoring it is quite similar to monitoring servers. More specifically, it is almost identical to monitoring virtual servers. But there are not only servers in a typical AWS setup. It will often include databases and other applications and will also often include at least some networking components. Let’s look in greater details at the different types of monitoring which can be applied to AWS environments.

Availability

Availability monitoring is the most basic form of monitoring. It is often a simple matter of verifying that a given resource is responding. In an on-premises environment, this is the kind of test which is typically done using ping. But with since AWS environments are typically only reachable via the Internet and considering that ping is often blocked by Internet routers and firewalls, other ways of verifying have emerged. With them also came the possibility to verify that machines are not only running but that certain specific services are too. For instance, testing for a response on port 80 could validate that the web server component is running.

Operational Metrics

The next things one might want to monitor are the devices’ various operational metrics. The same basic techniques used for local monitoring can often be used and when they don’t, several alternatives exist. As for what operational metrics are to be monitored, we can think of things such as CPU load and memory usage, for example. Other metrics that are closer to the physical system—such as CPU core temperature—are often left out as they pertain to the part of the environment that is managed by AWS.

Performance

The last element that is often monitored is performance. By that, we are referring to the end to end performance of the system as a whole. Some will refer to this as user experience monitoring. It has to do with validating that all the various components are communicating correctly and that each one is responding in a timely manner, offering acceptable end-to-end performance.

Different Types Of Monitoring Services And Tool

Monitoring tools can be differentiated based on several criteria. One of the most important differentiating factors is the data gathering method employed. Some tools do rely on the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to fetch operational parameters from the systems and devices they monitor. Other rely instead on the Windows Management Instrumentation, a somewhat similar technology this is reserved for Windows Operating systems. But for the ultimate in granularity and variety of monitorable parameters, agent-based tools can hardly be beaten. They rely on a local agent that is always running on the monitored systems and that is responsible fir the gathering of data. There is one major drawback to agent-based monitoring, though. It tends to put an additional load on system resources which can sometimes be limited.

Another common distinguishing factor between various monitoring tools related to their location. Some tools are locally installed on a server and will operate their monitoring from within your local networks. Other systems—and they are getting more and more popular—are cloud-based and offered in a Software as a Service model. Many people tend to prefer cloud-based monitoring services these days. In fact. Some organizations run complex IT environments without owning a single server by moving all the services—including monitoring and management—to the cloud.

The Best Monitoring Services And Tool

Enough theory, let’s now have a look at some of the best AWS monitoring service and tools we could find. Our list contains an array of very different tools, each offering a different take on AWS monitoring. Many of the tools can also be used to monitor any type of virtual or physical, on-premises or cloud-based servers.

1. SolarWinds Server And Application Monitor (Free Trial)

SolarWinds is a well-known publisher of some of the very best network and system administration tools. The company has been around for about twenty years and its flagship product, called Network Performance Monitor, consistently scores among the top SNMP monitoring tools. To make things even better, SolarWinds also makes quite a few free tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrator. The Advanced Subnet Calculator and the Kiwi Syslog Server are two examples of those free tools.

The SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor was designed to help administrators monitor servers, their operational parameters, their processes, and the applications which are running on them. It can easily scale from very small networks to large ones with hundreds of servers—both physical and virtual—spread over multiple sites. The main reason why this tool made it to our list—other than being so feature-packed—is that it is perfectly suited to monitor cloud-hosted environments such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.

SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor - Summary Dashboard

Among the features we love the most about the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor is how easy it is to set up. The initial configuration is just as easily done with the help of its two-pass auto-discovery process. The first pass discovers every server and the second one finds the applications on each discovered server. Although this process can take time, it can be sped up by supplying a list of specific applications to look for. Once the tool is up and running, the user-friendly GUI makes using it a breeze. The tool’s personalizable dashboard will let you display information in either a table or a graphic format.

Price for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor starts at $2 995 and is based on the number of components, nodes, and volumes monitored. A free 30-day trial version is available for download, should you want to try the product before purchasing it.

2. SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor (Free Trial)

Next on our list is another product from SolarWinds called the Server Configuration Monitor or SCM. The specific type of monitoring it performs is quite unique: it monitors devices and applications configurations for changes and for compliance to various standards. It is also a powerful troubleshooting tool which can give you the necessary information about configuration changes and their correlations with performance slowdown. This can help you find the root cause of some performance problems caused by configuration changes.

SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor Screenshot

The SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor is an agent-based tool, with the agent deployed on each server being monitored. One advantage of such an architecture is that the agent keeps gathering data even when the server is disconnected from the network. The data is kept locally and then sent to the tool as soon as the server is back online.

Feature-wise, this product leaves nothing to be desired. The tool’s auto-discovery feature will automatically detect servers that are eligible for monitoring. It also comes with out-of-the-box configuration profiles for the most common servers. It can be used as a basic asset management tool and it will let you view hardware and software inventories and report on them. The SCM can be integrated into your system monitoring solution thanks to the Orion Platform on which most SolarWinds monitoring tools are based. It is a great tool to use in conjunction with the previous one to monitor your AWS environment.

Contrary to most other SolarWinds products, pricing information for the Server Configuration Monitor is not readily available. You’ll need to contact SolarWinds’ sales. However, a 30-day evaluation version is available for download.

3. Amazon CloudWatch

Wouldn’t it make sense to use an Amazon tool to monitor AWS infrastructures? Amazon CloudWatch, our third entry, is a monitoring and management service built for developers, system operators, site reliability engineers (SRE), and IT managers. The tool provides you with data and actionable insights. You use them to monitor your applications, detect, understand, and respond to system-wide performance changes, optimize resource utilization, and get a unified view of operational health. It is a very thorough tool that offers pretty much all the monitoring you need.

Amazon CloudWatch Screenshot

Amazon CloudWatch collects monitoring and operational data using several techniques such as log collection and analysis as well as metrics and events monitoring. You are provided with a unified view of AWS resources, applications and services that run on AWS, and on-premises servers. You can use this tool to set alarms, visualize logs and metrics side by side, take automated actions, troubleshoot issues, and discover insights. The product is also well-suited for optimizing your applications, and ensuring they are running smoothly.

One of the biggest advantages of Amazon CloudWatch is how easy it is to get started. The product has no up-front commitment or minimum fee. Clients simply pay for what they use and are charged at the end of the month.

4. AppDynamics iQ

AppDynamics was acquired by Cisco in early 2017 and its AppDynamics iQ platform provides cloud-based monitoring tools that you can use for integrated monitoring of several Infrastructure or Platform as a Service (IaaS/PaaS) from AWS and most other providers. It provides real-time application and business visibility. It is made of six highly intelligent performance engines—called iQs—each lending its specific talents.

AppDynamics iQ Screenshot

The Map iQ helps you see and understand the complete customer journey. The engine will automatically create and dynamically update visual flow maps. The Baseline iQ engine lets the AppDynamics iQ monitoring platform automatically establish dynamic baselines your business transactions and metrics using self-learning, rather than static thresholds. The next engine, called Diagnostic iQ, isolates and resolves application performance issues efficiently by monitoring every line of code while activating deep diagnostic capabilities. The Signal iQ engine correlates massive amounts of metric data gathered from the performance monitoring solution and delivers an end-to-end view of application performance. The Enterprise iQ engine is used for application deployment and performance management. Last but not least, the Business iQ engine links all the other modules with the business requirements.

Pricing for the AppDynamics iQ platform is not readily available. You’ll need to contact AppDynamics sales for more details. However, a free 15-day trial and an online demo are available.

5. New Relic

New Relic offers a suite of several different monitoring tools which would satisfy most monitoring needs. Of particular interest in the context of this post are two products, New Relic APM, an application performance monitoring tool and New Relic Infrastructure, a more “traditional” infrastructure monitoring module.

New Relic Infrastructure Screenshot

When using New Relic APM and Infrastructure together, what you get is a comprehensive view of the health of your servers and hosts as well as the applications and services they depend on. As your applications scale and infrastructure changes, you can easily track the inventory configuration state and correlate changes with potential impacts on your system and application performance.

The New Relic platform is offered in a Software as a Service model and it is particularly well-suited for the monitoring of cloud-based infrastructures such as AWS or Microsoft Azure. The infrastructure monitoring component of New Relic is available in an Essentials version and a Pro version, the latter allowing integration with other New Relic modules. Prices are as low as $0.60/month per instance for the Essentials version and $1.20/month per instance for the Pro version. The pricing structure is actually rather complex but the New Relic website features a very good quote building tool.

6. Logic Monitor

LogicMonitor is a cloud-based service which provides in-depth monitoring of AWS resources while providing comprehensive coverage for existing on-premise infrastructure. It supports most AWS options such as EC2, RDS, ELB, EBS, SQS, and more. It will pull application-level metrics from EC2 instances running Nginx, MySQL, Kafka, and hundreds of other applications. You can use the tool’s built-in AWS SDK to get custom metrics, EC2 scheduled events, and Amazon’s service health statuses.

Logic Monitor Dashboard

The tool features automated discovery of all AWS resources and also discovers and monitors all your on-premise infrastructure. It also has pre-configured monitoring templates, compatible with over 1000 technologies. It can pull OS-level and application-level metrics which are unavailable using CloudWatch alone. It is a comprehensive platform with built-in alerting, reporting, and dashboards which consolidates the need for multiple tools, allowing you and your team to do more with fewer resources.

Logic Monitor is available in three tiers of increasing features starting at $15 per device per month for the Starter version and at $23 per device per month for the top-tier Enterprise version. A free 14-day trial is available and so is a demo.

7. BMC TrueSight

Last on our list is the BMC TrueSight platform, another cloud-based Software as a Service offering. You can use the platform to run, and optimize AWS, Azure, OpenStack and other clouds, applications, and services, accelerating innovation through greater operational efficiency.

BMC TrueSight Screenshot

BMC TrueSight provides control of IT infrastructure resources and costs, application performance, and end user experience for multi-cloud environments and applications. It provides visibility across the IT environment and uses algorithmic analytics. This lets application and infrastructure managers gain the insight to plan and manage services and cost based on business priority and operational requirements.

Pricing information for BMC TrueSight is not readily available and can be obtained by contacting BMC sales. A free trial can also be arranged.

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