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Best Practices for Stronger Visibility Into Cloud Deployments

Written by Jay Botelho, Director of Engineering at LiveAction

According to a recent survey of IT professionals, 42% report spending too much time on troubleshooting tasks. Additionally, they cited the cloud as the second most-common place in which they encounter significant IT issues. These findings aren't too surprising for most in networking - a lack of visibility into cloud infrastructure and applications forces network operations (NetOps) teams to fly blind, unable to predict issues proactively or troubleshoot quickly. Ultimately, this negatively impacts user experiences and stokes frustration among employees and customers.  To access the level of visibility necessary to prevent or mitigate these issues, IT and NetOps need to prioritize monitoring and incorporate the right network management solutions into cloud deployments from the beginning. This allows NetOps to keep business-critical applications running smoothly as they transition to the cloud, pinpoint the root cause of issues with cloud applications, negotiate effectively with service providers and reduce finger-pointing while troubleshooting.

The exact details of this process depend on the type of cloud deployment you're dealing with. Let's walk through two examples step-by-step to illustrate these best practices.

Software as a Service

Organizations moving from applications running on a local server to a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider (i.e., moving from a local Microsoft email server to Office 365) have limited options for visibility. IT teams can't install monitoring software in Microsoft or Salesforce, so these applications can often seem like black holes or networking blind spots. In the past, many businesses gave up trying to monitor SaaS applications, but now that IT departments are increasingly held accountable for their performance, they must find workarounds. Luckily, there are ways to get at least partial visibility into this traffic. Here's how:

  1. Before transitioning to a SaaS application, use a network analysis tool to categorize the performance of the application running in the data center. Measure how much traffic is flowing back and forth, network response times, application response times, etc.
  2. Write these specifications into your contract with the SaaS provider. Make it clear that you expect your users to get the same application response times as they did locally, or better yet, see an improvement.
  3. After moving to the SaaS application, place a monitoring point at the firewall or connection to the internet, and monitor the round trip to that SaaS application. Measure the overall delay and compare to before the cloud migration.
  4. Monitor this over time. You may not be able to troubleshoot the SaaS application directly, but with this method you can see if performance is changing over time and will be aware of any significant degradation.
  5. Using the data collected, negotiate with your SaaS provider as necessary. For example, if you have data from the past six months showing the average application response time for Office 365 going from 200 ms to 500 ms, and the SLA says 200 ms, you can ask Microsoft for a refund and to address the performance issues so you're getting what you pay for.

Infrastructure as a Service

Conversely, organizations using infrastructure as a service (IaaS) that have set up their own cloud applications and architecture have more options when it comes to gaining detailed network visibility. Here are the key steps any organization going this route should follow to ensure maximum visibility:

  1. Follow steps one and two in the SaaS example above - dig into the current application performance on the local server and set specifications for performance with your IaaS provider.
  2. Place a monitoring point in your cloud infrastructure to monitor your north-south traffic. This allows you to track network and application response times from your users to your cloud architecture through the Internet Service Provider (ISP). This step is very important because it allows you to determine if an issue with an application is the result of the application itself, a mistake in how you've set up your cloud architecture, or an issue with the ISP.
  3. This may be all that some companies need to monitor. For others, especially those with more complex cloud deployments (such as moving an entire data center to the cloud), it makes more sense to expand and add additional monitoring points. This enables them to monitor the east-west traffic between different applications and between applications and databases within your cloud deployments, allowing for more detailed and effective troubleshooting. If a NetOps team determines that an application slowdown is the result of an issue within the cloud, they need this level of visibility to pinpoint the error. 

Remember, when using IaaS, IT departments are simply renting "gear." It's up to them to use it correctly and troubleshoot their own design. While you can rightly take your SaaS provider to task for delivering poor service, you can't shout at AWS if their cloud-hosted applications aren't running as fast as you need them to.

What happens in the cloud doesn't stay in the cloud. Regardless of the visibility challenges, cloud issues can have a major impact on business operations. Organizations should ensure that they have a unified Network Performance Monitoring and Diagnostics platform that offers full end-to-end visibility into all fabrics of the network, including the cloud, to speed troubleshooting and put the data they gather from the monitoring methods explained above in the context of the entire network.

Overall, the best cloud monitoring setup depends on each individual organization's unique needs, but all businesses should at least monitor traffic in and out of the cloud to their corporate users. Whether using SaaS or IaaS, every IT and NetOps team needs to pinpoint the location of application issues quickly and efficiently and be able to verify that they are receiving the performance they're paying for. With the techniques explained above, IT will be well-equipped to support business-critical applications as they move to the cloud and keep the business running smoothly through ongoing network transformation initiatives as well.

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About the Author

Jay Botelho is the Director of Engineering at LiveAction

Published Monday, June 03, 2019 7:32 AM by David Marshall
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