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The Channel Angle: Why You Need Managed Services And Monitoring For The Cloud

CRN Contributor

‘It would be great if you could set up a cloud environment and expect your workloads to run smoothly and without security or performance issues. However, things don’t work that way,’ writes Mikhail Ruchkin, director of security at AWS consulting partner ClearScale.

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By Mikhail Ruchkin

[Editor’s note: The Channel Angle is a monthly CRN guest column written by a rotating group of solution provider executives that focuses on the triumphs and challenges that solution providers face. If you are a solution provider executive interested in contributing, please contact managing editor David Harris.]

“Set it, and forget it!”

When inventor and pitch person Ron Popeil uttered those words, he was referring to the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ. Since then, the phrase has been applied to everything from investment strategies to marketing strategies. The idea is that you establish a way of doing things. You then leave it alone with the expectation of positive results in the end.

Although some cloud services providers (CSPs) will say otherwise, this approach doesn’t work in terms of the cloud. It would be great if you could set up a cloud environment and expect your workloads to run smoothly and without security or performance issues. However, things don’t work that way.

Granted, AWS makes it easy to start on its cloud platform with an extensive array of resources. Nonetheless, performance issues happen in the cloud. They can range from those resulting from network latency or application processing delays to poorly designed APIs and infrastructure configuration problems.

[READ A RECENT CHANNEL ANGLE COLUMN: IT Service Provider, MSP Or MSSP? Who Am I?]

Security issues arise as well. Cybercriminals are relentless. They constantly seek out new attack vectors and vulnerabilities. Their tactics for breaching even the most hardened cloud environment continue to grow in sophistication and frequency. Human issues come into play as well, from lax attitudes towards timely patching to cloud configuration errors.

The fact is nothing about the cloud is static, which is why continuous monitoring ─ including monitoring delivered as a managed service ─ is critical.

The Cloud Monitoring Trifecta

Cloud monitoring covers three areas:

* Performance

* Security

* Costs

On the performance front, cloud monitoring provides visibility into speed, reliability, uptime, and the general health of cloud infrastructure and cloud-powered applications. It’s generally performed as part of an overall cloud management strategy, enabling IT administrators to review the operational status of cloud-based resources. It also provides a holistic view of cloud metrics, customer flow, log data, and more.

Identifying security issues is the specific focus of cloud security monitoring. It continuously assesses data, application, and/or infrastructure behaviors for potential security threats. This minimizes the risk of costly data breaches and helps assure that the cloud infrastructure and platform function optimally. Advanced cloud monitoring solutions analyze and correlate gathered data for anomalous activity, alert designated parties, and enable incident response.

A company’s resource usage and computing demands can also be monitored to help control cloud services-related spending. For example, cloud cost management software can help companies reduce waste by alerting users of lowered demand or automatically scaling usage to optimal rates. Cloud cost monitoring and management solutions often provide reporting features to outline waste and redundancies.

Why You Should Consider Cloud Monitoring

The reasons for cloud monitoring seem obvious but just as a reminder, doing so offers:

* Data security. Monitoring helps ensure data security by alerting you or your provider to potential threats that can result in lost or stolen data. Most services encrypt data traffic between monitored endpoints and hosted management infrastructure.

* Greater insights. Depending on the solutions used, you can get important data on system performance and utilization to help in planning, budgeting, resource allotment, and other tasks.

* Lower, more predictable costs. With monitoring from a service provider, you’re getting the monitoring and management services from a team of experts for a predictable monthly rate with no capital investment required. That alone makes a strong case for outsourcing.

* Streamlined support. Monitoring tools help your service provider accomplish more tasks remotely. The technician can use a remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool to access a system and address an issue without having to come onsite. That facilitates faster service and reduces the cost-of-service time. These tools also provide technicians with valuable information with basically a click of a button, further enhancing service delivery.

* Time and cost savings. Monitoring tools can automate numerous maintenance tasks, such as applying patches and updates to operating systems and software. That saves valuable time and can help keep your users productive. Patches and updates can also be scheduled and applied systematically at less disruptive times, so there’s less risk for downtime.

DIY Monitoring

There’s an abundance of manual and automated tools, most available as Software as a Service (SaaS), that enable internal teams to monitor their cloud environments themselves. This do-it-yourself (DIY) option empowers IT staff to stay on top of potential IT issues and be more proactive in preventing problems. That translates into greater efficiency and more productivity.

There are several downsides, however. There’s limited visibility into public clouds, and CSPs don’t grant customers direct access to shared infrastructure. Traditional monitoring infrastructure, in many cases, won’t work in the cloud.

While CSPs may provide customers with cloud monitoring tools, customers must purchase other monitoring software. The other issue with CSP-provided tools is that, in the case of hybrid environments, they may not integrate well with private cloud monitoring tools. Learning how to optimally use these tools – CSP-provided or purchased – can take time.

The sheer number of monitoring tools and technologies also makes it difficult for internal IT teams to select the right ones if they’re going the DIY route, as well as successfully integrating them. Dealing with monitoring also takes staff members away from their many other IT responsibilities.

Cloud monitoring can also be provided by a CSP or a managed service provider (MSP). Security-specific monitoring can as well, but is also available from managed security services providers (MSSPs).

Outsourcing Cloud Monitoring

One of the biggest benefits of outsourcing the monitoring function is that it frees up internal IT staff so they can focus on other responsibilities such as strategic, revenue-generating initiatives. There’s also the benefit of in-depth expertise that many in-house teams can’t afford to build or maintain. Third-party companies, such as MSPs and MSSPs, often specialize in providing monitoring services so they’re more likely to invest in the latest tools and technologies.

They also invest in and continuously train their in-house monitoring experts, and can offer 24/7/365 monitoring and support. In the case of performance and security monitoring, they have the expertise to prioritize incidents and alerts and respond accordingly. In terms of cost performance, they’re experienced in various strategies for cost and usage optimization. And their customers benefit from the lessons learned.

In addition, MSPs and MSSPs typically stay on top of the latest releases, updates, and best practices. They earn various certifications and competencies that prove their capabilities and successes. Few internal IT teams have the time to do that.

In terms of cloud security, MSPs and MSSPs are also familiar with the shared responsibility model and are well-positioned to help their customers abide by it. In that model, the cloud provider is responsible for the platform’s security, including the physical servers in its physical data centers as well as the hosting operating system and virtualization layer. Customers take care of everything else within the cloud service, from network traffic security and server-side encryption to client security. MSPs and MSSPs know which monitoring tools to use – along with the other required tools – to ensure everything is covered.

The MSP Advantage

In terms of managed services, look for a partner that offers 24/7/365 support, management, and monitoring to optimize your applications and infrastructure on the cloud. Remember, its the combination of expertise and services that will ensure the best cloud monitoring possible for your environment.

Mikhail Ruchkin is the director of security at Amazon Web Services consulting partner ClearScale, based in San Francisco.

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