Monitoring tools leverage expertise, not replace it

Advanced monitoring tools enhance your value as a skilled devops practitioner; they’re not a threat to replace you.

That’s not the impression many executive-level decision-makers have, of course; they truly believe that the next dashboard or console will substitute for expertise, and allow them to staff datacenters with entry-level screen-watchers. From their perspective, “deskilling” is a reasonable expectation for digital products, and many don’t have enough background in software to understand why it doesn’t work that way.

Consider a model incident: because you have analyzed your needs well and prepared wisely, when a particular mission-critical application starts to slow down for several of your branch offices, you immediately see an alarm on your desktop that alerts you to the problem. The “disconnect” comes in interpretation of what happens next. Even if the monitor is advanced enough to diagnose a root cause, and the particular symptom at hand is sufficiently standard to permit such a diagnosis, it’s a mistake to believe that anyone can repair the damage and restore functionality throughout the organization. Suppose the monitoring product detects a Java resource leak, or a transient SQL slowdown, or a partial failure in one of your RAIDs. Even in this ideal circumstance, when the monitoring product is operating at its best, it still requires expertise, insight, and judgment to determine whether the RAID should be re-built with resources at hand, or it’s better to order replacement components and define a new storage array.

That’s typical of real-life situations. Monitoring products can help slash the time to detect and occasionally diagnose problems from hours and days down to seconds and minutes. Naive responses to the diagnosis can create bigger problems that demand additional days and weeks to repair, though. The big win comes when good automated monitoring is paired with seasoned experience.

Automated monitoring is good for you, too: more of your time goes to solving hard problems, and creation of thoughtful solutions, with less of it going to tedious, mundane detection tasks such as calling different sites to ask what they’ve seen, or distinguishing between network and storage slowdowns.

As “The Programmers Shall Always Be With You” explained earlier, this is not about whether executives or entry-level operators or anyone else has the capacity to read manuals, configure monitors properly, and decide on remedial action. That’s not what they’re best at, though; you are. Better monitoring tools only accentuate your advantage in core devops skills.

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