5 things to look for in a third-party monitoring tool
A key finding from Redgate’s last State of Database Monitoring Survey of over 2,500 IT professionals was that 79% of respondents reported using either a third-party or in-house monitoring tool. It’s notable because it was an increase of 10 percentage points from the same survey the previous year – and the satisfaction rate with third-party monitoring tools also saw an increase of 18 percentage points to 86%.
But when should you use an in-house tool, and when should you take the plunge and invest in a third-party monitoring tool like Redgate SQL Monitor?
At Redgate, we’ve found that manual, in-house monitoring tools are more common in companies with under 100 employees, with fewer than ten servers, when they deploy changes to the database only a few times a year. However, companies often struggle to scale these solutions as the number and size of their databases and servers grows.
For larger estates where there are likely to be different database versions as well as instances in the cloud, it saves time and resources to use a third-party monitoring tool. It removes the heavy lifting of data collection and management, and reduces daily checks from hours to minutes by bringing together a host of disparate metrics, alerts and performance data into one tool that is always current and never needs valuable internal resources to maintain.
How does your database monitoring measure up?
At the heart of monitoring any database estate is the requirement for tailored alerts specific to your particular requirements, fast insights into performance and other measures, and baselines to spot trends over time and help with future capacity and infrastructure planning. It should also offer a customizable at-a-glance overview of activity, issues and alerts across all of your monitored servers.
A good third-party tool can do all of this and more, and should also support hybrid cloud environments and large estates, whether on-premises or in the cloud, and provide guidance on any performance issues that arise and how to resolve them.
More specifically, when you reach the point where your in-house monitoring capability is leading to resource issues or ongoing problems managing your server estate, there are five factors to consider.
1. What does it monitor and how does it provide alerts?
The first thing you’ll want to know is that it provides the coverage you need. Aim for 95%, because the other 5% will come from processes like backups and restores, agent jobs, and reporting failures.
The solution will need to highlight queries having the biggest impact and feature a focused set of performance metrics, along with customizable alerts for the most important operational and performance issues. A nice-to-have is alerts that can be grouped to avoid the alert ‘noise’ scenario that is common when first introducing a monitoring tool.
If you’re deploying changes more frequently, look out too for a solution that marks on the performance timeline when deployments were made and which database they were made to.
2. Does it provide baselines and trending information?
Baselines are important because they provide a quick guide to understanding the significance of events like performance spikes and whether they need attention. Trends are also valuable because they can show, for example, the probable point in the future when new resources will be required, which is essential for effective planning.
3. Does it have a global overview?
Database estates everywhere are growing and becoming more complex. As they do so, a global overview on one central web-based interface can provide a handy way to check the status of every server in seconds, not hours. It’s also worth checking if the monitoring tool you’re looking at offers a way of grouping servers so that you can, for example, group servers with business-critical or sensitive data.
4. Does it offer distributed monitoring?
Connected to the growth of estates is the changing nature of those estates, with servers in different data centers, or on different networks with distinct security protocols. Any third-party monitoring tool should be able to handle this, and also be able to monitor servers, instances and databases on-premises, on Virtual Machines, Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud at the same time, on the same screen.
5. Does it pose a risk to performance?
A significant problem with legacy and in-house monitoring solutions is the performance overhead. They often execute complex data collection queries, set trace flags to capture ‘verbose output’, request specialist metrics that are complex to interpret, and so on. This can lead to the observer effect, where actions required to collect the monitoring data degrade the performance of the monitored server.
A good third-party monitoring tool should limit the data collection to lightweight, efficient operations, exploiting frameworks such as Extended Events. The installation should also not require agents on each monitored server instance. This minimizes their exposed surface area and reduces risk, and all data processing is done on a separate server. Finally, it should be easy to view the actions taken by the tool itself, to capture the monitoring data.
We started with a key finding from the State of Database Monitoring Survey about the high adoption rate of monitoring tools. There are many connected insights from the survey about why satisfaction with estate monitoring is at an all-time high, who else in the organization now wants access to data and why, and what added value DBAs can offer with a competent third-party monitoring tool in place.
If you’d like to find out more about Redgate’s database monitoring tool, SQL Monitor, watch our Business Leaders webinar, The ultimate guide to choosing and implementing the right monitoring tool and, if you have a couple of minutes right now, grab a coffee and watch our short introduction video:
This post was updated on February 23, 2023
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