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What Is Infrastructure Monitoring & How Does It Work?

Myra Nizami
SRE Fundamentals

We explain what infrastructure monitoring is, how it works, how to overcome the challenges in complex systems, best practices for monitoring, and the tools you need.

What is infrastructure monitoring?

Infrastructure monitoring is the process of collecting data across IT infrastructure and using that data to analyze and address the root causes of problems in the system with the goal of avoiding and minimizing incidents.

Keeping the infrastructure running smoothly can become immensely challenging as a network grows. Teams need deep insight into the different components of the infrastructure and how they operate individually and together. In addition, some networks might be incredibly extensive, while other networks may be smaller. However, manually monitoring infrastructure quickly becomes unfeasible in each of these situations. Trying to keep track of every component within the network without any software solution in place means that it’s too easy to miss gaps and issues, which could be costly in the long run. 

Why is infrastructure monitoring critical?

Infrastructure monitoring is important from both a DevOps and SRE perspective. Because it involves diagnosing performance and availability issues, it touches on what DevOps teams are working on. By looking for weaknesses in infrastructure, it aligns itself with the goals of SREs. Without the right infrastructure monitoring tools, DevOps and SRE teams won’t have the information needed to ensure everything is working as it should be – especially as the infrastructure grows and becomes increasingly complex. The tools are there to facilitate incident response and provide a level of automation needed so that DevOps and SRE teams can focus on larger issues. The real-time awareness is crucial, as is collecting and reviewing key infrastructure monitoring metrics. 

Without infrastructure monitoring, the risk of issues is far too high for teams to deal with daily. Servers can end up idling and wasting resources, and customers may experience a less-than-ideal experience if there are constant performance issues. In addition, the risk of malware infiltration and other security issues becomes a more credible threat if infrastructure monitoring is not in place. 

Infrastructure monitoring ensures a laser-focused proactive approach that addresses the issues at hand. Teams are better placed to solve issues when they know exactly what they’re looking for, and their labor is used to solve issues rather than waste time manually monitoring. 

What are the best practices for infrastructure monitoring

The exact setup for infrastructure monitoring will vary based on your organization’s size and needs, but some fundamental elements of infrastructure monitoring should be part of the overall strategy. The first step is to have a baseline of what you’re trying to accomplish and what the data collected enables the teams to do. It then comes down to refining what you’ve agreed on and keeping key principles in mind, such as:

  • Prioritization: What is important and what can wait? Having some kind of system in place to understand how much labor and time should be devoted to different issues is vital.
  • Alert resolutions: Avoiding alert fatigue is necessary, but so is ensuring teams get the messages they need. Teams can collectively develop a system for fast and efficient alert resolutions, including priority and potential escalation.
  • Create a blameless culture: Incidents will happen, monitoring tools may not perform the way you expect, and lots of other issues may come into play. But, throughout it all, creating a blameless culture and focusing more on learning from mistakes will create a much better environment. 
  • Keep testing: Alert systems are one part of the process, but teams do need to have some internal processes in place to test before releases. An alert system is an immensely useful tool, but it shouldn’t be the only thing in place to ensure everything is running smoothly. Continuous testing can reduce much of the risk for infrastructures even before it’s pushed out to customers. 

What are the use cases of infrastructure monitoring?

The way infrastructure monitoring will occur will depend on the structure of the team and what’s needed. Generally, a team of DevOps engineers, SREs, and operations teams will be involved in some capacity. Together, they’ll establish the infrastructure monitoring tools, infrastructure monitoring metrics, and infrastructure monitoring best practices based on what currently exists and what the teams are building. 

Use cases for infrastructure monitoring may include:

  • Performance issues: Troubleshooting is a large part of infrastructure monitoring to ensure that small issues don’t escalate to major outages. Infrastructure monitoring tools may be used to monitor various parts of the network and send alerts as needed. Setting up the tool ensures that engineers aren’t rooting around blind trying to spot the issue and can triage in a more targeted fashion. 
  • Infrastructure optimization: Infrastructure monitoring isn’t just fighting fires. It’s also about determining where improvements can be made to increase performance and enhance the customer experience. This could include analyzing metrics such as server load, idle times, and peak usage to understand how teams should distribute resources and workloads. 
  • Forecasting: As part of optimization, teams will also use infrastructure monitoring tools and metrics to understand future demand better and prepare accordingly. The metrics needed for optimization can also be used for forecasting, such as whether more servers are needed, how much load can be expected with new launches and features, and other performance behavior. 

What are the challenges of infrastructure monitoring?

For teams looking to implement best infrastructure monitoring practices, there are a couple of challenges that need to be addressed from the beginning. Think of it as building a solid foundation for infrastructure monitoring – that way, teams are empowered with the right tools and knowledge from the start.

Agreeing on infrastructure monitoring requirements

Dev teams and Ops teams may be looking at different areas of performance. Throw in the SRE teams, and it becomes even more challenging to establish the right infrastructure monitoring metrics to track. Once a tool is selected, teams must come together to agree on what needs to be measured and why. Creating workflows for each of the metrics collected by DevOps monitoring tools is also crucial so that responsibilities are evenly assigned, and there’s a plan for addressing weak spots. 

Some metrics that should be part of data collection include:

  • CPU utilization
  • Frequent errors
  • Memory utilization
  • Customer reports
  • Open vs. closed tickets, including frequency of tickets and time to resolution
  • Server load
  • Storage use

Metric review process 

Another aspect to consider is metric review. How often should they occur, and how will progress be measured? That might be an ongoing process as the teams get comfortable with the tools and data, but it should be a standing consideration. If you don’t ensure that the metrics are still reflecting the health of your infrastructure, they’ll drift into being meaningless targets that you’ll waste energy meeting.

Finding the right infrastructure monitoring tools

The first challenge is selecting the right infrastructure monitoring tools. It’s essential to take out time to research and choose a tool that offers qualities like automation, streamlined integration with other tools the team may be using, and ultimately, helps reduce team workloads. There are many tools available, but it’s about finding the right fit for the entire team. 

How to choose the right infrastructure monitoring tool

There are several factors to evaluate for when looking at infrastructure monitoring tools. For example, how it operates with cloud infrastructure is an increasingly growing concern that needs to be factored in when evaluating infrastructure monitoring tools. How does the tool scale as the business scales? With increased load and developing infrastructure, the tool should be able to evolve alongside the business. 

Key features of an infrastructure monitoring tool include:

  • Automation
  • Cloud-native support
  • Autoscaling support
  • Metric collection, including data visualization and custom dashboards
  • Flexibility with alert customization

How can Blameless help?

The Blameless SRE platform combines engineering and DevOps teams using the right data. From incidents to retrospectives to pattern detection, teams have all the data in one place to improve service delivery and create an amazing customer experience.  With powerful automation features and integrations, Blameless fits seamlessly with other tools to ensure there is no disruption to current work.  Blameless empowers teams to eliminate manual work, accelerate development velocity, and improve performance - all in one place. Schedule a demo today to learn more!

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