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The best server monitoring tools for developers

Photo of David Mytton David Mytton

Last updated: 2021-09-15

From 2009-2018 David was CEO at Server Density, a SaaS server monitoring startup. He has been a developer for 15+ years and is now co-founder of Console.

✦ Disclosure: All reviews are editorially independent and partners must meet our selection criteria. Where indicated, we work with some partners to provide extras to our audience, but do not accept payment for reviews.

The best server monitoring tools have lots of high quality integrations and plugins, have highly flexible graphs, and provide advanced alerting functionality so you can be notified when things go wrong.

We tested 18 server monitoring services using our independent selection criteria and the requirements described below. The best server monitoring tools for developers and devops engineers in 2021 are:

  1. Datadog
  2. New Relic
  3. Grafana + Prometheus
  4. InfluxDB + Telegraf

In this article, we explain why. We assessed the key features all server monitoring tools should have - plugins, graphs and alerts - and also considered features like dashboards, events, incident management, runbooks (usually part of alerts) and team collaboration.

This review will help you decide whether to pick hosted SaaS server monitoring or self-hosted monitoring, and then recommend which monitoring product is the best based on our 15+ years of development experience.

Best hosted SaaS server monitoring tools

Best self-hosted server monitoring tools

FAQ

What is server monitoring?

Server monitoring is a type of computer system monitoring that focuses on collecting metrics from servers and the applications running on them. This is usually by installing a software agent onto the server which then collects server metrics like CPU usage, disk space, memory usage, and network traffic. The agent integrates into other software in the tech stack, such as databases, web servers, mail servers, queues, etc, so every aspect of your infrastructure can be monitored.

How does server monitoring work?

Server monitoring works by installing a software agent onto the server that can then collect system metrics like CPU usage and network traffic. The agent usually works on different operating systems such as Windows, Linux and macOS, integrating into the full tech stack to allow you to monitor databases, web servers, application servers, etc. Data is reported back to the monitoring tool which then saves the metrics in a time series database so that you can visualize the data on graphs. Alerts are triggered based on the reported data to notify you when there are problems.

Does server monitoring need an agent?

Most server monitoring products have options to use both an agent and agentless monitoring. An agent must be installed onto an operating system such as Linux or Windows, or inside a container, but this is not always possible such as for cloud products like load balancers and managed databases. Agentless monitoring connects to the APIs offered by the software or cloud vendor so that data can be collected even without a monitoring agent.

Why do we need server monitoring?

Server monitoring is essential for any production infrastructure so that you know when things are going wrong, what happened, and how to fix problems. Without server monitoring, you will not know whether your servers are running, how they are performing, and what is causing issues.

What are the best open source server monitoring tools?

Open source monitoring tools are usually self-hosted because you get access to the source code to deploy it yourself. In our review above, the best open server monitoring tool is: Grafana + Prometheus. We also like: InfluxDB + Telegraf.

The main benefit of open source server monitoring is that you can write your own plugins and integrations. Most developers will not want to modify the core product, which is why SaaS monitoring tools usually have an open source agent - so that their users can contribute new integrations. For example, the Datadog monitoring agent is open source and the source code is available on GitHub. The Datadog service itself - the dashboards, alerts, web UI, etc - is closed source.

How much network traffic do server monitoring tools generate?

How much bandwidth server monitoring tools use is important if you have a lot of servers. It can be a problem when using a hosted SaaS monitoring service because you have to pay for outbound traffic. In cloud environments, data egress fees can be expensive so you end up paying not just for the monitoring product but also for sending data into it.

The amount of data used will depend on how many metrics you are collecting, but starting at tens of megabytes per month per server for basic system monitoring. More plugins generate more metrics which generates more network traffic.

In most cases, this will not be a problem until you have thousands of servers, but this can change if you are also using log monitoring. Logs can easily reach hundreds of gigabytes per month per server, especially if the server is doing a lot of work. The trick is to tweak the log verbosity settings and then ensure that the monitoring agent can filter out the unimportant logs on the server before they are sent back to the SaaS monitoring service.

Alternatively, you can use self-hosted monitoring to keep all the traffic within your internal network. For most cloud providers, zone-based traffic is free or very cheap.

David Mytton
About the author

David Mytton is co-founder of Console. From 2009-2018, David was CEO at Server Density, a SaaS server monitoring startup used by hundreds of customers to collect billions of time series metrics from millions of servers. He is also a researcher in sustainable computing at Uptime Institute and affiliated with Imperial College London. David has been a developer for 15+ years.

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