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Open Source Cloud Monitoring Tools vs. Platform-dependent Solutions

Open Source Cloud Monitoring Tools vs. Platform-dependent Solutions

Grafana has become a popular open source tool for DevOps by providing dashboard-based visualizations within a user-friendly interface. Grafana dashboards allow for visualization of time-series-based data collected through a variety of back-end software interfaces. At the same time, Prometheus has emerged as the premier open source cloud monitoring and alerting toolkit for Grafana dashboards.

The combination of Prometheus and Grafana has helped site reliability personnel gain increasingly granular insights into complex systems. Monitoring should be a cornerstone of any DevOps strategy, and the Grafana suite can be a powerful asset for your team. An effective monitoring framework provides up-to-the-minute information, sends alerts when something goes wrong, and lends itself to customization based on the organization’s needs.

Many large cloud vendors offer proprietary, in-house monitoring solutions. One example of a vendor-supplied monitoring tool is Amazon’s CloudWatch. Designed to operate within Amazon Web Services (AWS), the CloudWatch is well-suited to virtual machine (VM) environments running exclusively on AWS or a combination of AWS with on-premises resources or other cloud resources, which AWS Systems Manager can manage.

If you have a hybrid cloud configuration that relies on AWS Systems Manager, CloudWatch lets you remain within the AWS bubble; however, many organizations prefer to plan for a future that isn’t reliant on AWS services. If you think ahead, the vendor lock-in associated with a proprietary solution like CloudWatch can become an obstacle to growth. 

The question of platform independence is one of the biggest reasons to consider an alternative to a vendor-controlled solution such as CloudWatch—especially for DevOps environments where the need for agility calls for a solution that can adapt to various cloud environments.

The movement to alternative cloud providers like Linode is about choice and fitting the solution to the situation. For instance, an organization with most of its cloud resources running on a big cloud vendor might still choose to use an alternative cloud for a specific project or branch office because of differing specifications, cost concerns, or the need for more personalized customer support. In that case, the cloud monitoring environment should be able to adapt without the need for starting over—and without the additional overhead of maintaining separate, dissimilar systems. 

If this kind of portability and flexibility matters to you, or if you think it might matter to you in the future, an enterprise-grade open source cloud monitoring framework such as Prometheus is a better option. Hyperscalers and alternative cloud services support Prometheus. AWS recently launched new managed Prometheus services in preview.

The cost question is the universal metric for any product comparison. In general, open source tools like Prometheus tend to cost less because a vendor doesn’t control them.

Of course, the real question isn’t the cost of the tool itself but the overall cost of ownership. In that context, open source tools also perform well. The software is usually provided at no cost; the vendor might charge for supporting the software. However, universal availability acts to limit support pricing—if you don’t like the price, you can get the same service elsewhere. On the other hand, proprietary software is subject to the exclusive control of the vendor and therefore tends to trade at a higher price. 

The details will vary depending on your goals and your cloud configuration. If you are building for agility and want the power of an enterprise-grade monitoring solution with minimal cost, consider an open solution like Prometheus before you lock into a proprietary monitoring tool like CloudWatch.


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