Part hosting, part virtualization, part content distribution, Amazon Web Services is a complex beast. It all started when, in order to support its phenomenal growth, Amazon had to become a master at deploying IT infrastructures. They quickly succeeded and it wasn’t too long before it made sense for them to rent unused parts of their oversized infrastructures to clients having a need for them. This is—highly simplified—how Amazon Web Services came to life. It is now a ubiquitous service and, more than ever, organizations using the service are seeking ways to monitor their AWS environment.
This is the subject of today’s post as we explore the top 9 AWS monitoring tools and services.
We’ll begin by trying to better describe what Amazon Web Services are. It will let you better appreciate our product reviews and will ensure we’re all on the same page. We’ll then dig a bit deeper and discuss AWS monitoring. Then, we’ll talk about the different types of monitoring services and tools. And once we’re all familiar with AWS and how to monitor it, we’ll review nine some of the best services and tools available for monitoring Amazon Web Services
What is AWS
The Amazon Web Services (AWS) were launched back in 2006 by Andy Jassy as a platform offering online services to third-party websites and client applications. Originally, most services that were hosted on AWS were back-end services that were not directly exposed to end users but instead, offered functionalities that can be used by developers through APIs. It is still the case to a certain extent and 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 that 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.
The Ins And Outs of AWS Monitoring
As we’ve seen, AWS is not much more than cloud-hosted servers. It is then 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 might even include at least some networking components. Let’s look in greater detail at the different types of monitoring which can be applied to AWS environments.
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 that 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 webserver component is running.
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.
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. Others rely instead on the Windows Management Instrumentation, a somewhat similar technology that is only available on 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 for 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
Let’s leave the theory behind and have a look at some of the best AWS monitoring services and tools we could find. We’ve included a mix of very different tools, each offering a different take on AWS monitoring. And since monitoring AWS is very similar to monitoring other types of systems, most of the tools on our list can also be used to monitor any type of virtual or physical, on-premises or cloud-based servers.
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.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/server-application-monitor/registration
One of 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 highly customizable dashboard will let you display information in either a table or a graphic format.
Prices for the SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor start at $2 995 and are based on the number of components, nodes, and volumes you need to monitor. A free 30-day trial version is available for download, should you want to try the product before purchasing it.
Next on our list is another product from SolarWinds called the Server Configuration Monitor or SCM. This tool performs a somewhat unique type of monitoring: it monitors devices and applications configurations for changes and for compliance with various standards. It is also a powerful troubleshooting tool that 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.
- FREE TRIAL: SolarWinds Server Configuration Monitor
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/server-configuration-monitor/registration
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 next tool, 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 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. PRTG Network Monitor
The PRTG Network Monitor, from Paessler AG, is a Windows tool that is ideal for monitoring your AWS environment. It is one of the easiest and fastest tools to set up and Paessler claims you could be up and running within minutes. It is true that setting up the product is impressively fast, thanks in part to its auto-discovery feature which scans your network and automatically adds the components it finds.
The user interface (or rather interfaces) is another one of the software’s strong suits. You can choose between a native Windows console, an Ajax-based web interface, or mobile apps for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. One of the unique mobile apps features will let you scan a QR code label affixed to your equipment to quickly view its status.
PRTG can monitor almost anything—not just Amazon Web Services— thanks to its innovative sensor architecture. You can think of sensors are add-ons to the product. However, the sensors are already built into the product. And when it comes to monitoring AWS, PRTG works alongside Amazon CloudWatch and actually uses CloudWatch data to provide you with performance information on your Amazon Cloud environment. Several CloudWatch sensors are included with the PRTG Network Monitor. They include:
- Amazon CloudWatch Alarm Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch EBS Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch E Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch ElastiCache Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch ELB Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch RDS Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch SNS Sensor
- Amazon CloudWatch SQS Sensor
Each of these sensors has its own unique metrics and they combine to help you monitor the performance of your AWS environment. For example, if you’re using the AWS Elastic Cloud Computing (E) service, you would then use the Amazon CloudWatch E Sensor. This sensor would tell you the CPU utilization, disk I/O, network load, status, and read and write speed of your hosted resources.
The PRTG Network Monitor’s pricing is based on the number of sensors you’re using where a sensor is any parameter or metric you need to monitor. For instance, each HP device interface monitored via SNMP uses up one sensor. Similarly, each HP server uses a sensor. The product is available in a full-featured free version which is limited to monitoring 100 sensors. For more sensors, paid licenses are required. Their price varies according to sensor capacity starting at $1 600 for 500 sensors. A free, sensor-unlimited 30-day trial is available for download.
Dynatrace is a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) that can detect, solve and optimize applications automatically. Discovering and mapping a complex application ecosystem is simply a matter of installing the Dynatrace OneAgent. The tool will give you a high-fidelity view of your entire application stack, from the performance of applications, cloud infrastructure, and user experience. It will help you effortlessly detect problems along with their business impacts and root cause.
Dynatrace claims to have the broadest coverage of any monitoring solution in terms of languages supported, application architectures, cloud, on-premise or hybrid, enterprise apps, SaaS monitoring, and more. The tool automatically discovers and monitors dynamic microservices running inside containers. It shows you how they’re performing, how they communicate with each other and it helps you quickly detect poorly performing microservices.
Dynatrace allows you to thoroughly monitor the performance of your AWS resources. You can use the service to view their performance data and health status. A big advantage of this tool is that Dynatrace is actually affiliated with AWS as an AWS APN Advanced Technology Partner. Another of the product’s strong suits is how it uses machine learning to monitor AWS services and detect abnormal behaviour.
Pricing for Dynatrace is not readily available and can apparently only be obtained by first signing up for the free 15-day trial. Then, its only a matter of installing the agent on your servers and you could be monitoring within 5 minutes
6. 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) offerings from AWS and many other providers. It provides real-time application and business visibility. It is made of six highly intelligent performance engines—called iQs, hence the name of the product—each lending its specific talents.
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 a detailed quote. However, a free 15-day trial and an online demo are available.
7. New Relic
New Relic offers a suite of several different monitoring tools that 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.
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.
8. Logic Monitor
LogicMonitor is a cloud-based service that 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.
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 Amazon’s CloudWatch tool 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.
9. BMC TrueSight
Next 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 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 insight to plan and manage services and cost based on business priority and operational requirements.
As it is often the case with this type of service, pricing information for BMC TrueSight is not readily available and can be obtained by contacting BMC sales. A free trial can also be arranged.
There are many tools you can choose from to monitor your AWS environment and any of those we’ve just reviewed are excellent options. They are all very different tools, though, and trying comparing them can be challenging. Have a look at the detailed features of several tools and perhaps try one or two before you select one and you’ll be rewarded with a tool that is best for your specific needs.