“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 , Chief Security Officer at AWS Consulting Partner ClearScale.
By Mikhail Ruchkin
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 presenter Ron Popeil said those words, he was referring to the Ronco Showtime rotisserie and barbecue. 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 awaiting positive results in the end.
Although some cloud service providers (CSPs) will argue otherwise, this approach does not work in cloud terms. 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.
Certainly, AWS makes it easy to get started on its cloud platform with a huge range of resources. Nevertheless, performance issues occur in the cloud. They can range from those resulting from network latency or application processing delays to poorly designed APIs and infrastructure configuration issues.
[READ A RECENT CHANNEL ANGLE COLUMN: IT Service Provider, MSP Or MSSP? Who Am I?]
Security issues also arise. Cybercriminals are relentless. They are constantly looking for new attack vectors and vulnerabilities. Their tactics for breaching even the most hardened cloud environment continue to grow in sophistication and frequency. Human issues also come into play, from lax attitudes toward timely fixes to cloud misconfigurations.
The point is, nothing in the cloud is static, which is why continuous monitoring — including monitoring delivered as a managed service — is essential.
The cloud monitoring trifecta
Cloud monitoring covers three areas:
On the performance front, cloud monitoring provides visibility into the speed, reliability, availability, and overall health of cloud infrastructure and cloud-based applications. It is usually performed as part of an overall cloud management strategy, allowing IT administrators to examine 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 goal of cloud security monitoring. It continuously assesses the behaviors of data, applications and/or infrastructure to detect potential security threats. This minimizes the risk of costly data breaches and helps ensure that the cloud infrastructure and platform is performing optimally. Advanced cloud monitoring solutions analyze and correlate collected data for abnormal activity, alert designated parties, and enable incident response.
A company’s IT resource usage and demands can also be monitored to help control spending on cloud services. For example, cloud cost management software can help companies reduce waste by alerting users to a drop in demand or automatically adjusting usage to optimal rates. Cloud cost monitoring and management solutions often provide reporting capabilities to describe waste and redundancy.
Why You Should Consider Cloud Monitoring
The reasons for cloud monitoring seem obvious, but as a reminder, it offers:
* Data security. Monitoring helps ensure data security by alerting you or your provider to potential threats that could lead to data loss or theft. Most services encrypt data traffic between monitored endpoints and hosted management infrastructure.
* Greater insight. Depending on the solutions used, you can get important system performance and usage data to help with planning, budgeting, resource allocation, and other tasks.
* Lower and more predictable costs. With service provider monitoring, you get monitoring and management services from a team of experts for a predictable monthly fee with no capital investment required. This alone makes a strong argument for outsourcing.
* Simplified 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 resolve a problem without having to travel on site. This facilitates faster service and reduces the cost of service time. These tools also provide technicians with valuable information at the click of a button, further improving service delivery.
* Save time and money. Monitoring tools can automate many maintenance tasks, such as applying patches and updates to operating systems and software. This saves valuable time and can help keep your users productive. Patches and updates can also be scheduled and applied consistently at less disruptive times, so there’s less risk of downtime.
There are a host of manual and automated tools, most available as software as a service (SaaS), that allow internal teams to self-monitor their cloud environments. This do-it-yourself (DIY) option allows IT staff to stay on top of potential computer issues and be more proactive in preventing problems. This results in greater efficiency and greater productivity.
There are, however, several drawbacks. Visibility into public clouds is limited and CSPs do not grant customers direct access to shared infrastructure. Traditional surveillance infrastructure, in many cases, will not work in the cloud.
Although CSPs can provide customers with cloud monitoring tools, customers need to purchase other monitoring software. The other issue with the tools provided by CSP is that, in the case of hybrid environments, they may not integrate well with private cloud monitoring tools. Learning how to best use these tools – provided or purchased by CSP – 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 go the DIY route, as well as integrating them successfully. Monitoring management also takes staff members away from their many other IT responsibilities.
Cloud monitoring can also be provided by a CSP or managed service provider (MSP). Security-specific monitoring can also, but is also available from Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs).
Cloud monitoring outsourcing
One of the biggest benefits of outsourcing the monitoring function is that it frees up internal IT staff to focus on other responsibilities such as revenue-generating strategic initiatives. There’s also the benefit of deep expertise that many in-house teams can’t afford to develop or maintain. Third-party companies, such as MSPs and MSSPs, often specialize in providing monitoring services, so they are 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 are experienced in various cost and utilization optimization strategies. And their customers benefit from the lessons learned.
Additionally, MSPs and MSSPs typically stay up-to-date with the latest releases, updates, and best practices. They get various certifications and skills that prove their abilities and successes. Few internal IT teams have the time to do this.
In terms of cloud security, MSPs and MSSPs are also familiar with the shared responsibility model and are well positioned to help their customers adhere to it. In this model, the cloud provider is responsible for the security of the platform, 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 in the cloud service, from network traffic security and server-side encryption to customer security. MSPs and MSSPs know which monitoring tools to use – as well as other required tools – to make sure 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 cloud applications and infrastructure. Remember, it is the combination of expertise and services that will provide the best possible cloud monitoring for your environment.
Mikhail Ruchkin is Director of Security at Amazon Web Services Consulting Partner ClearScale, based in San Francisco.
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