Inventory and visibility in cloud management

Operational management has a clear dependency on data. Consistent management requires an understanding about what is managed (inventory) and how those managed workloads and assets change over time (visibility). Clear insights about inventory and visibility help empower the team to manage the environment effectively. All other operational management activities and processes build on these two areas.

A few classic phrases about the importance of measurements set the tone for this article:

  • Manage what matters.
  • You can only manage what you can measure.
  • If you can't measure it, it might not matter.

The inventory and visibility discipline builds on these timeless phrases. Before you can effectively establish operational management processes, it's important to gather data and create the right level of visibility for the right teams.

Common customer challenges

Unless inventory and visibility processes are consistently applied, operational management teams can suffer from a higher volume of business interruptions, longer time to recovery, and greater amounts of effort required to troubleshoot and triage issues. As changes adversely affect higher priority applications and larger numbers of assets, each of these metrics grows even faster.

These challenges stem from a small number of questions that can be answered only through consistent data/telemetry:

  • How does the current-state performance deviate from standard operational performance telemetry?
  • What assets are causing the business interruptions at the workload level?
  • Which assets must be remediated to return to acceptable performance of this workload or business process?
  • When did the deviation start? What was the trigger?
  • Which changes have been made to the underlying assets? By whom?
  • Were the changes intentional? Malicious?
  • How did changes affect performance telemetry?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to answer these questions without a rich, centralized source for logs and telemetry data. To enable cloud management by ensuring the consistent configuration that's required to centralize the data, the baseline service must first start by defining the processes. The processes should capture how such a configuration enforces data collection to support the components of inventory and visibility in the next section.

Components of inventory and visibility

Creating visibility on any cloud platform requires a few key components:

  • Responsibility and visibility
  • Inventory
  • Central logging
  • Change tracking
  • Performance telemetry

Responsibility and visibility

When you establish commitments for each workload, management responsibility is a key factor. Delegated responsibility creates a need for delegated visibility. The first step toward inventory and visibility is to ensure that the responsible parties have access to the right data. Before you implement any cloud-native tools for visibility, ensure that each monitoring tool has been configured with proper access and scope for each operations team.

Inventory

If no one knows that an asset exists, it's difficult to manage the asset. Before an asset or workload can be managed, it must be inventoried and classified. The first technical step toward stable operations is a validation of inventory and classification of that inventory.

Central logging

Centralized logging is critical to the visibility that's required day to day by the operations management teams. All assets deployed to the cloud should record logs to a central location. In Azure, that central location is Log Analytics. The centralization of logging drives reports about change management, service health, configuration, and most other aspects of IT operations.

Enforcing the consistent use of central logging is the first step toward establishing repeatable operations. Enforcement can be accomplished through corporate policy. When possible, however, enforcement should be automated to ensure consistency.

Change tracking

Change is the one constant in a technology environment. Awareness and understanding of changes across multiple workloads is essential to reliable operations. Any cloud management solution should include a means of understanding the when, how, and why of technical change. Without those data points, remediation efforts are significantly hindered.

Performance telemetry

Business commitments about cloud management are driven by data. To properly maintain commitments, the cloud operations team must first understand the telemetry about the stability, performance, and operations of the workload, and the assets that support the workload.

The ongoing health and operations of the network, DNS, operating systems, and other foundational aspects of the environment are critical data points that factor into the overall health of any workload.

Processes

Perhaps more important than the features of the cloud management platform, the cloud management processes will realize operations commitments with the business. Any cloud management methodology should include, at a minimum, the following processes:

  • Reactive monitoring: When deviations adversely affect business operations, who addresses those deviations? What actions do they take to remediate the deviations?
  • Proactive monitoring: When deviations are detected but business operations are not affected, how are those deviations addressed, and by whom?
  • Commitment reporting: How is adherence to the business commitment communicated to business stakeholders?
  • Budgetary reviews: What is the process for reviewing those commitments against budgeted costs? What is the process for adjusting the deployed solution or the commitments to create alignment?
  • Escalation paths: What escalation paths are available when any of the preceding processes fail to meet the needs of the business?

There are several more processes related to inventory and visibility. The preceding list is designed to provoke thought within the operations team. Answering these questions will help develop some of the necessary processes, as well as likely trigger new, deeper questions.

Responsibilities

When you're developing processes for operational monitoring, it's equally important to determine responsibilities for daily operation and regular support of each process.

In a centralized IT organization, IT provides the operational expertise. The business would be consultative in nature, when issues require remediation.

In a cloud center of excellence organization, business operations would provide the expertise and hold responsibility for management of these processes. IT would focus on the automation and support of teams, as they operate the environment.

But these are the common responsibilities. Organizations often require a mixture of responsibilities to meet business commitments.

Act on inventory and visibility

Regardless of the cloud platform, the five components of inventory and visibility are used to drive most operational processes. All subsequent disciplines will build on the data that's being captured. The next articles in this series outline ways to act on that data and integrate other data sources.

Share visibility

Data without action produces little return. Cloud management might expand beyond cloud-native tools and processes. To accommodate broader processes, a cloud management baseline might need to be enhanced to include reporting, IT service management integration, or data centralization. Cloud management might need to include one or more of the following during various phases of operational maturity.

Report

Offline processes and communication about commitments to business stakeholders often require reporting. Self-service reporting or periodic reporting might be a necessary component of an enhanced management baseline.

IT service management (ITSM) integration

ITSM integration is often the first example of acting on inventory and visibility. When deviations from expected performance patterns arise, ITSM integration uses alerts from the cloud platform to trigger tickets in a separate IT service management tool to trigger remediation activities. Some operating models might require ITSM integration as an aspect of the enhanced management baseline.

Data centralization

There's a variety of reasons why a business might require multiple tenants within a single cloud provider. In those scenarios, data centralization is a required component of the enhanced management baseline, because it can provide visibility across each of those tenants or environments.

Next steps

Operational compliance builds on inventory capabilities by applying management automation and controls. See how operational compliance maps to your processes.