How to implement proactive system monitoring

The end customer of any technology solution expects a seamless service delivery. They shouldn’t be the ones to alert you to problems with your website or other applications. Whether it’s an error message or a more serious issue resulting in system downtime, technology glitches at the user interface are not a good look. Worse, they could lead to a loss of business and damaged reputation. In large organisations, even seemingly small faults can quickly multiply and become a high-profile problem. Here are some steps to establish proactive monitoring of your IT systems so you can be the first to know about any underlying issues.

1. Include monitoring in original set-up plans or budget

If you don’t know whether proactive monitoring was part of the original scope of any aspect of your service, it probably means it wasn’t. There is a misconception around IT that today’s backup systems are foolproof and that the people implementing your systems have already thought about monitoring. And many have learned otherwise, the hard way. For new projects, don’t treat monitoring as an afterthought, it is up to you to ensure that proactive, comprehensive monitoring is part of the scope. Accept that a monitoring program is a critical element of any new implementation and invest in it accordingly – trying to cut corners is false economy. Any monitoring program you try to implement once the project is handed over to the operations program will not be as effective as it could be – while being significantly more challenging and costly to implement.

2. Ensure monitoring covers the four levels of functionality

IT platforms, services and systems operate at several different levels. They are like links in a chain, and forgetting to keep an eye on just one element can leave you in a problematic position. Here’s some examples of what to look out for in the four key levels of functionality.

Infrastructure layer

Are the servers up and running and consuming CPU memory at the expected rate? Are they responding as expected? Are the load balancers distributing data loads in an expected fashion?

Platform layer

How is your database functioning? Are new connections and regular transactions happening as expected? If you have integrated platforms, is the schedule of events occurring as needed and expected, including arrival rates, load rates and cyclical activities?

Application layer

How are you monitoring your ERP or CRM applications? How do you know that website shopping cart transactions are working (and not delivering the error page messages of doom)? How do you know what your end user is experiencing when they access your site from different browsers or devices and at times of vastly different traffic?

Business process layer

This is such a common layer to get missed. The link between the technology and the key business process it supports. How do users within your organisation get alerted if key steps in a process are not being completed in the time-frames expected?

3. Keep on top of your DevOps

As DevOps environments become the norm, you may find that you are less involved in the overall process and assume that proactive monitoring will have been picked up or just naturally incorporated into a new project plan. However, most projects concentrate on functionality and the user experience and often developers will not consider what happens if there is an issue with any of the supporting layers – leading to a number of potential ‘blind spots’ and a dangerous lack of control. This isn’t to place blame. It’s simply a reminder that you cannot assume proactive monitoring has been automatically included in the development and implementation phases – not even in a DevOps world. As an IT business leader, you need to place it at the top of your list.

4. Use separate tools and networks for monitoring

A common scenario is finding out too late about failing or under-performing applications. End users may alert you when something goes wrong, but, worse, some problems can go undetected for some time, slowly causing a chain reaction of other issues that are not dealt with. For example, a problem with outgoing emails can be hard to detect. The email program won’t be the one to raise the alarm. Your clients or business partners won’t necessarily call to tell you they haven’t heard from you – unless it’s got to an urgent stage, at which point the issue is out of hand. Despite the sophistication of today’s backup environments, they are not foolproof. To ensure your monitoring is always one step ahead, you must put your monitoring tools on different networks, ones that will still be running if your infrastructure dies or other downtime or performance issues occur.

5. Use dashboard reporting

Finally, don’t forget reporting. Your monitoring program is only as effective as the information it provides. Implement a dashboard that provides an easy to understand snapshot of how everything is tracking in real time.

Make sure you are the first to know

In today’s fiercely competitive business world you do not want your end users to be the first to detect a problem. The message is simple. Don’t risk poor system monitoring, but more than that, be proactive so that you detect any issues early.

If you suspect that your technology monitoring processes are incomplete, we can help you develop a clearer picture of what’s missing, from assessing your current set-up to recommending steps to close the gap. Get in touch to find out more.

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