Systems Monitoring – “Just a Bunch of Blinky Lights” -  Really?

Blog Post created by chrja08 Employee on Feb 1, 2018

To date, I have spent over 20 years working for several software vendors in the Systems Monitoring space. Sometime ago, at a different company, as I sat in our weekly Monday morning sales meeting, our regional director pointedly told us that “Monitoring is just a bunch of blinky lights. Go sell ‘X’.” In this context ‘X’ was the latest product acquisition. As one can imagine, being the technical pre-sales manager responsible for the “blinky lights” product, the statement certainly peaked my interest and raised my level of concern for the long-term viability of systems monitoring solutions. Needless to say, systems monitoring solutions are still being developed, sold, and deployed today. However, the question still remains in my mind as to whether these solutions are really just “blinky lights” that are considered just overhead to the business or do these solutions bring real value to the business.

Having spent the last number of years of my career in the services side of the business implementing systems monitoring solutions, my answer to the question I’ve posed is “It depends”. I’ve seen implementations that became from the outset just a bunch of red, green, yellow lights which were generally ignored and considered just “noise” by the intended end user community. I’ve seen others that provide meaningful alerting and data which consistently allowed the end users to get ahead of issues and proactively address and prioritize the remediation to ensure that the processes and applications that are business critical continue to run without interruption.

So, what’s the difference? How do you ensure that a systems monitoring solution provides the value intended/expected when the solution was purchased?

Personally, I believe it comes down to two words – Monitoring Governance. The teams that expressly and intentionally set aside and devote the time needed to plan and document how the solution is to be deployed and configured are the ones that successfully deliver the value to the business that the solution is intended to provide. This is not necessarily an easy task to accomplish. Particularly not with the depth and breadth required to implement a viable and meaningful solution. It requires time and effort and is often considered overhead as it takes people away from their day to day jobs to spend time in workshops/meetings to hammer out what is truly important to monitor, how the monitoring is to be configured (alerts, data metrics), and what the event management process needs to be so that the right people are notified. However, when done effectively, the time to implement the solution is shortened, monitoring standards are created, agreed on, and documented, standard templates can be created, daily administration time is lessened, and the onboarding of new systems into the monitoring solution is expedited.

All too often, there is a rush to implement the newly purchased solution and the installation and configuration is rolled out with just the defaults. Or worse, it gets rolled out with everything turned on, with the intent of paring it down at a later time as feedback (complaints) come in from the stakeholders. When this approach is taken, the risk of the solution becoming just a “bunch of blinky lights” and ignored is extremely high.

So the question is – Will your systems monitoring solution be a “bunch of blinky lights” or will it provide real business value and be a trusted source of alerting and metrics?

IMHO – invest the time and resources in the upfront planning (Monitoring Governance) and your systems monitoring solution will be a successful implementation and as a critical part of the business systems environment.