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September 26, 2017
Azure Cloud: Tips for end-to-end monitoring capability
By: Michael Mckeown

Companies migrating to Microsoft Azure for the inherent flexibility, agility and cost-effectiveness of cloud don’t have to sacrifice application monitoring or create a separate cloud-based Systems Center Operations Management (SCOM) group.

Instead they can establish an end-to-end monitoring capability for their Azure cloud-based applications and resources by choosing from a comprehensive menu of cloud-native Azure Monitoring services--available as Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models (see Figure 1).

The range of monitoring services is broad and covers areas like exceptions/faults, configuration changes, application and system events, security, auditing, application programming interface (API) performance, analytics, service management, performance and more.

Most importantly, Azure’s approach makes it easier for IT staff (including developers, testers and architects) to integrate and scale the proper monitoring services for their needs—all with no installation, licensing or maintenance steps.

This blog recaps the most commonly used Azure Monitoring services with some tips on how to expedite installation and usage. You can also contact the Accenture Azure Center of Excellence to learn how to integrate the Azure Monitoring tools into your Azure Cloud applications and operations.

E2E Monitoring Experience on Azure

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Figure 1:End-to-end monitoring experience on Azure. Copyright Microsoft.

Assessing cloud vs. on-premises tools

Before diving into the tools, it’s important to note that not all monitoring tools work in both on-premises and cloud environments. For instance, many companies have a mature Security operation located on-premises that uses preferred monitoring tools; however, these tools do not necessarily translate seamlessly to the cloud.

Depending on which applications a company is running in the Azure Cloud, or which Azure-deployed services are selected, it will be important to assess what Azure monitoring tools will support the monitoring needs of the application and organization. As part of a larger Azure cloud analysis and system architectural design, the Accenture Azure Center of Excellence team can help make this assessment and recommend monitoring tools.

Once the correct monitoring tools are selected, Microsoft has simplified the access and use of these tools. Companies simply need to log into the Azure portal with a subscription and then configure the selected tool(s) for a specific solution. A few of the tools can also be enabled in Microsoft Visual Studio by using a simple checkbox or by importing assemblies. And the Azure Marketplace offers a handful of third-party monitoring solutions that can be configured online via subscription.

Azure Tools Overview

Azure Monitor
As of early 2017, Azure Monitor is the new single-source entity for monitoring Azure resources. The tool is integrated with the Azure Application Insights and Operations Management Suite tools (see below) for end-to-end resource monitoring. Features include diagnostics for most Azure PaaS services; for example, Network Watcher shows IP flows, packet capture, network security group flow and diagnostic logs. Companies can also set up alerts on application insights and activity logs or track metrics for specific solutions. The Azure Monitor tool can also be integrated with other third-party Azure monitoring tools.

Azure Application Insights (AppInsights)
Integrated with the Azure Monitor tool, this application-level performance management service comes with Microsoft Visual Studio for monitoring web apps. Companies can run Azure AppInsights from anywhere, meaning it does not have to be hosted in Azure. They simply install a small instrumentation package in the application, and set up an AppInsights resource in the Microsoft Azure portal. The instrumentation monitors the app and sends telemetry data to the portal. In this way, users can view all configured AppInsights via their Azure subscriptions.

A key feature of the AppInsights tool is the ability to use Azure Machine Learning along with interactive data analysis to detect performance trends and usage patterns. In support of cloud-native development, the tool also streamlines integration and monitoring in the DevOps environment to identify issues with code, alerts and production.

Operations Management Suite (OMS)
Integrated into Azure Monitor, this SaaS app is available through Azure Marketplace. It has four main parts that makes it an “all-In-one” solution for many enterprises: backup and recovery, IT automation, security and compliance, and log analytics. The OMS tool is based on log analytics functionality, which collects and analyzes data generated by resources in all environments. OMS meets the need of most environments through 30+ solution packs, one of which is the SCOM Assessment Solution (see below). The newest feature is the ability to create an OMS workspace and launch the OMS SaaS dashboard from within the Azure Portal

System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) Assessment Solution (Preview)
Available separately in Azure Marketplace or as an OMS solution pack, this in-depth monitoring tool runs as a service and provides a prioritized list of application risk/health recommendations categorized by focus areas. Highly flexible, the solution works across multiple cloud and on-premises environments spanning multiple operating systems for both physical and virtual servers.

System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) on virtual machines
Best used for infrastructure-as-a-service workloads, the SCOM on Virtual Machines (VM) tool is a legacy way of monitoring both on-premises and cloud solutions. While it’s not as simple as a cloud-native monitoring service since companies must install and manage the VMs manually, it’s a good option if the company has already paid the SCOM licensing fee and intends to use it going forward. The best way to integrate on-premises SCOM is to add the OMS plugin agent to SCOM instances. This will populate data in OMS to perform log analytics, correlate data and create visualizations for hybrid integration.

Azure Operational Insights (OpInsights)
Recently rolled into Azure OMS (see above), OpInsights is an analysis service for gaining custom insights across on-premises and cloud environments. “Intelligence Packs” contain information for different scenarios. Once added, their rules are incorporated into the environment to collect logs and customs logs, then use built-in queries to apply analytics to data. Companies with an Azure subscription can add or create a new OpInsights account from the management portal or sign up separately at the OpInsights website.

Azure Portal Metric Alerts
Using this tool, companies can trigger alerts and send emails to service administrators and other employees when Azure metrics reach a certain threshold value for a condition (>, <, =, etc.) over a specified period or when specific types of events occur. There are multiple ways to configure this tool, in the Azure Portal, including by PowerShell, Azure CLI or Azure Monitor REST API. It can also call a Web Hook API.

Azure Events and Activity Logs
The Azure Resource Manager tool audits all operations on Azure Resources and logs them into the Azure portal, using Azure Monitor or a REST API. System administrators can click on an event log entry to see detail and choose the duration, categories of activities, level of filter, etc.

To learn more about integrating these and other Azure Monitoring tools into your Azure Cloud applications and operations, contact the Accenture Azure Center of Excellence.

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