Microsoft Azure is the world’s second-largest cloud platform by market share
According to Statista, in the third quarter of 2021, Amazon Web Services captured 39 percent of the market, and Azure had a 21 percent market share. The third-placed Google Cloud Platform is a long way behind an 8 percent market share.
The concept of cloud computing is well understood. It is space on a remote server that can be used for storage or allocating CPU time for running software. There are three definitions of the services delivered from cloud servers. These are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Therefore, it is essential to understand the distinction between these definitions and how they relate to the Azure platform.
Most people will have experience with SaaS packages. However, when software providers move their products to the cloud, they change how customers access the packages.
Initially, if you wanted a piece of software, you went to a store, bought it on disk, and then installed it on your computer. However, once broadband became available, it became more efficient to deliver software through a download.
Software offered by download needs to be hosted on a server. That same server hosts a web page that processes the sale and then allows access to a client area, possibly creating a user account. The user then gets to read details about installing and using the software and can also raise a support ticket from the user account.
Under the SaaS model, the vendor creates a user account for the buyer on its server. However, rather than making a download available, the provider sets up an instance of the software that will run on the server without a download.
Most SaaS systems rely on supporting applications, such as databases and Web servers. These are all on the cloud, operating underneath the software users access.
IaaS and PaaS
Software providers can save time and money by outsourcing the hosting of their software packages. The software provider doesn’t run the cloud servers that run SaaS systems. Instead, those companies simply take out an account on a cloud platform. This is Platform-as-a-Service. You will discover that just about all of the cloud SaaS packages you use are resident on a platform, and most of them are on AWS or Azure.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service is a hosting package. The IaaS provider rents storage space and a compute service. This is purely renting space on a server. The user of an IaaS package is then in charge of all of the applications and systems that get installed on the cloud server. There aren’t any services included in the IaaS system except for the account structure, which can be further subdivided into customer accounts. While the provider manages the subdivision of the account, the subscribing company is responsible for setting up each sub-account and deciding how it should be constructed and what services it should contain.
Platform-as-a-Service is an application or service that the cloud service provider manages. In Azure’s case, an example of this structure is the Azure AD service, which provides a cloud implementation of Active Directory. PaaS offerings from Azure include its database services. You can get SQL Server, MariaDB, Cosmos DB, Apache Cassandra, Redis, and PostgreSQL as Azure services
When a company subscribes to an Azure service, the platform provides an environment. For example, with a database service on Azure, the DBA can create instances and set up objects within the database. The company then constructs software that accesses the database.
In the above example, the company maintains its software, which might or might not be hosted on Azure. However, Microsoft Azure technicians will maintain the database environment with the database, while the subscriber’s DBA is responsible for maintaining the database instances and their contents.
In the IaaS model, a subscribing company can install a database management system in its account and manage it. Under this scenario, the subscriber would ensure that the DBMS had access to sufficient resources, such as memory or disk space. With the PaaS scenario, that structural administration is taken care of by Azure technicians.
Access to Azure IaaS and PaaS accounts
Although Azure technicians are responsible for maintaining the physical servers and the environment software in an IaaS system, they cannot get into a user’s area and view the data stored there. This is because all accounts are encrypted and accessed with credentials.
In the PaaS scenario, account security is also created by the need for credentials and encryption enforcement. The technicians running services, such as databases or Active Directory, don’t need to access the user’s area to maintain the environment, even update the provided software.
Even in the PaaS delivery model, Azure technicians can’t access the data held within their maintain applications.
Subscribing to Azure IaaS or PaaS
The decision over whether to subscribe to an Azure service or to just get Azure processing time and install and maintain the equivalent application software yourself is a big issue.
You might think that data confidentiality is the primary concern. However, it shouldn’t be because data security is just as strong with Azure PaaS services like the IaaS system.
The leading choice over whether to pick a PaaS service rather than taking up an IaaS account and installing the equivalent software yourself comes down to whether you have the technical expertise on staff. You also might decide that you must have a specific application offered by Azure.
When deciding on whether to use an Azure service, you might need to adjust your plans and adapt to a specific product offered by Azure to reap the benefits of a PaaS system. The advantage of this compromise is that you get the management of those services included with the subscription price.
Monitoring Azure IaaS accounts
You decide what software will be installed on your Amazon IaaS account, and so you are also responsible for managing those systems, which also means you need to monitor them.
You can’t just open an Azure account, install software, and then leave it. A big issue with cloud platforms is the capacity you subscribe to. So first, you need to know how much processing power your chosen software requires. After that, you need to check whether that capacity is enough.
Processing services on Azure are called workloads. In addition, the Azure system includes an integrated monitoring service called Azure Monitor. As a result, you can create customized views of system performance and set up alerts that will trigger under specific conditions.
Monitoring Azure PaaS accounts
Azure Monitor is also available for the services offered by the Azure platform. However, Azure PaaS users get more out of the Azure Monitor than Azure IaaS customers because most Azure services have associated Advisors, which offer tuning tips.
It is possible to export monitoring data from the Azure Monitor and send them as a stream to a third-party monitoring tool.
Consolidating system monitoring
The Azure Monitor is great, and it is free to use. However, you will likely be running systems on many platforms, not just Azure. In addition, you won’t be exclusively Azure-based, so the Azure Monitor won’t give you all of the observability you need.
The ability to stream monitoring data to another monitoring tool is a great benefit. However, that utility can be challenging to set up. You need to specify a stream to send out and where to send it and then organize another monitoring tool to receive that stream.
It just isn’t practical to start the monitor consolidation process from Azure. Instead, you need to work on the integration from the other end. Therefore, you need to find a third-party monitoring system that can manage the integration with the Azure Monitor stream.
Choosing a monitoring tool for Azure IaaS and PaaS
There are many system monitoring tools available on the market. When looking for a monitor for Azure, you need to look for a system that specializes in monitoring servers and applications or infrastructure.
Your other choice is to host the monitoring system yourself or look for a SaaS package. If you have an extensive physical system, you will probably be inclined to install the monitoring package on servers that you already have. In that case, you need to look for a software package that will run on the servers’ operating systems that you have on-site. Opting for a cloud-based monitoring system means you don’t have to worry about software and operating system compatibility.
A monitor for Azure
Getting a monitor for Azure IaaS and PaaS accounts is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. Therefore, it is essential to keep a clear list of requirements and apply that set of expectations to every candidate monitoring package.
What should you look for in an Azure monitoring system?
We reviewed the market for system monitoring packages and analyzed tools based on the following criteria:
- A monitoring package for infrastructure or applications and servers
- A tool that can interface to Azure Monitor to extract live performance data
- A system that can simultaneously monitor all of the major cloud platforms
- Monitoring capabilities for on-site servers as well as cloud resources
- Optional DevOps workflow integration
- A free trial or a demo system for a risk-free assessment opportunity
- Value for money from a tool that centralizes and consolidates monitoring for all of your systems, not just those on Azure
With these selection criteria in mind, we looked for a range of monitoring packages with different capabilities suitable for different types of organizations. Businesses that buy-in services for their use will have additional requirements to SaaS providers that develop and support their software based on an Azure service.
Here is our list of the five best monitoring packages for Azure IaaS and PaaS:
- SolarWinds Server and Application Monitor (FREE TRIAL) This package provides monitoring services for on-premises systems, and it can be extended by activating an extension for an Azure service. There is a list of attachments for Azure services in the SAM system and many for other cloud platforms. The setup process for adding Azure monitoring to the Server & Application Monitor is guided, and the monitor takes care of more of the work of specifying extracts. This gets live monitoring data from your Azure accounts into the SolarWinds dashboard. This system runs on Windows Server, and you can get it on a 30-day free trial.
- ManageEngine Applications Manager This on-premises package covers virtual and physical servers, and it can monitor cloud accounts, including Azure. The system needs to be set up, but once you have specified your Azure access credentials in the ManageEngine dashboard, this tool will automatically configure live data extracts and include them in its monitoring screens. This package is available for Windows Server and Linux, and you can assess it with a 30-day free trial.
- Datadog Infrastructure Monitoring This is a cloud-based system that monitors sites and cloud platforms in one dashboard. The system includes more than 500 integrations. You select the add-on package for the Azure services that you subscribe to get performance data pulled into the Datadog monitoring system. You can assess the platform with a 14-day free trial.
- Site24x7 Infrastructure This package is a cloud service similar to Datadog because you activate an integration to get Azure monitoring included in the monitoring system. The service also has integration capabilities for AWS and GCP. However, the pricing structure of this package is a little different because you get combined network and website performance monitoring in with your application and server monitoring package. Access a 30-day free trial to assess the system.
- Nagios XI This on-premises monitoring package runs on Linux, and it monitors networks, servers, and applications. The remarkable feature of Nagios is that it can be expended by plug-ins that add on screens and probes for specific technologies. There are thousands of free plug-ins available, and the list includes systems for Azure and other cloud platforms. Access a 30-day free trial for assessment.