Monitoring Those Hard-to-Reach Places: Linux, Java, Oracle and MySQL


Geraldo Dada
SolarWinds

Gerardo Dada is Vice President of SolarWinds.

Today’s IT environments are increasingly heterogeneous, with Linux, Java, Oracle and MySQL considered nearly as common as traditional Windows environments. In many cases, these platforms have been integrated into an organization’s Windows-based IT department by way of an acquisition of a company that leverages one of those platforms. In other cases, the applications may have been part of the IT department for years, but managed by a separate department or singular administrator.

Still, whether it’s a perception of required specialization, frustration over these platforms’ many version permutations or just general uncertainty and doubt, Linux, Java, Oracle and MySQL create mass monitoring confusion and are routinely considered “hard to reach” for even a seasoned IT professional. This problem goes both ways (when monitoring Windows is actually the unnatural element) but for the most part, IT shops are primarily Windows-based and consistently struggle to monitor these more niche platforms.

Of course, it’s certainly possible for IT professionals who are proficient in Linux, Java, Oracle or MySQL to successfully monitor these platforms with their own command line scripts or native tools—many even enjoy manually writing code and command scripts to monitor these instances—but this strategy will ultimately increase the organization’s likelihood of performance issues. Why?

First, should the IT professional tasked with creating unique code and scripts for these specialized instances ever leave the business, the organization will be vulnerable to downtime while another team member is trained on how to operate the native tool or also learns to develop command line scripts for these platforms.

This isolated technique also exacerbates the biggest challenge of monitoring in any environment: sprawl. It may seem easier to maintain the status quo and continue operating disparate tools for the hard to reach platforms, but it ultimately adds another layer of complexity to the overarching monitoring system. Having too many monitoring tools to manage increases the chances that some will be forgotten (especially the tools used to monitor Linux, Java, Oracle and MySQL instances), meaning performance issues or downtime will take much longer to remediate.

Not only that, but niche monitoring processes lack the type of sophisticated metrics that help create a more effective IT department. Here are several command lines for each specialized instance that will return basic metrics:

  • Linux command lines such as ‘top,’ ‘glances’ and ‘htop,’ for example, will provide basic metrics like performance, CPU, memory and any pertinent errors of which to be aware.
  • A ‘performance_schema’ command line for MySQL on Linux will display tables of wait states and information about sessions (how many executions, how many rows are examined, etc.) to uncover inefficient queries. Rather than run command lines on the server, Oracle also offers a built-in desktop workbench that works in a similar fashion.
  • J-Console, a built-in dashboard available with Java installation, provides an overview of all tools running on the platform. It looks at heat/memory uses, classes, threads (important to monitor for security leaks), as well as CPU usage.

However, more comprehensive features like advanced alerts, dynamic baselines, correlation and detailed application metrics and availability, which ultimately help enable a more proactive and effective method of managing infrastructure and applications, will be missing from these reports.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that administrators should not be spending more time configuring their command line scripts or monitoring tools than they spend taking advantage of the data. Whether an administrator is monitoring Windows or something more specialized like Linux or MySQL, an IT department will always be stuck on the reactive (troubleshooting) mode without better visibility into the health and performance of its systems and the ability to get early warnings.

By establishing monitoring as a core IT function deserving of a strategic approach, businesses can benefit from a more proactive, early-action IT management style, while also streamlining infrastructure performance, cost and security.

To create a more thoughtful, comprehensive monitoring strategy that incorporates those hard to reach places, here are several best practices IT departments should consider:

  •  Create an inventory of what is being monitored. The majority of IT departments have a broad set of monitoring tools for a number of different things. Are there applications in the cloud that are monitored by one tool? Are workloads being hosted in a different data center that leverage a separate tool? Before standardizing monitoring process, organizations should create an inventory of everything they are currently monitoring and the tools being used to do so.
  • Implement a set of standards across all systems. This should be done for every workload independent of what tool is being using, and especially if an IT department is running several different tools. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to optimize what isn’t being measured, so it’s in every IT department’s bet interest to create a standard set of monitoring processes, similar to creating runbooks. What are the key metrics needed from each system? What are the situations for which alerts are needed, and how will they be acted on? Having answers to these types of questions will allow even an IT department with distributed workloads and applications to successfully monitor and ensure performance and availability. This approach also helps IT departments avoid having a “weakest link,” where one team may have their own security protocol, their own network and their own firewalls that ultimately leave the organization open to security vulnerabilities.
  • Unify the view. IT departments should be have a comprehensive set of unified monitoring and management tools in order to ensure the performance of the entire application stack. Everything is important to monitor, even these hard to reach systems, and IT professionals should look to leverage tools that integrate monitoring for these non-standard Linux, Java, Oracle and MySQL instances within a Windows environment into a single dashboard in order to cultivate a holistic view of their infrastructure.
  •  Remember that monitoring should be a discipline. Traditionally, monitoring in the data center—even for more standard, Windows-based applications—has been somewhat of an afterthought. For most organizations, it’s been a “a necessary evil,” a resource that the IT department can leverage when there’s a problem that needs solving, and often a job that’s done with just a free tool, either open source or software pre-loaded by the hardware vendor. However, the concept of monitoring as a discipline is designed to help IT professionals escape the short-term reactive nature of administration, often caused by ineffective, ad hoc practices, and become more proactive and strategic.

In sum, despite the perception of Linux, Java, Oracle and MySQL instances as being “hard to reach places,” there are many ways in which administrators can receive data about the health and performance of systems running on these applications, from running manual command line scripts to leveraging comprehensive tools that integrate these instances in a single dashboard.

However, as the data center continues grow in complexity, and especially as hybrid IT increases, IT professionals should look to establish the practice of monitoring as a discipline. With this approach and unified monitoring that aims to turn data points from various monitoring tools into more actionable insights by looking at all of them from a holistic vantage point, rather than each disparately, coupled with the other above best practices, will allow IT administrators to ultimately increase the overall effectiveness and efficiency of their data centers.

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