Friday, September 23, 2011

Email and SMS alerting policy

In a regular production environment there are normally three types of monitoring events and corresponding notification methods:
  1. Critical alerts requiring immediate attention; for example, a host is down, web service is not responding, disk is almost full, application response time is high, etc. Critical alerts should be dispatched to responsible on-call engineers and escalation list via email and SMS
  2. Non-critical alerts which can be handled later; for example, alerts about problems with staging/pre-production servers, newly configured monitoring checks which are still in fine tuning process, etc. The alerts should be dispatched by email only
  3. Informative events like expected high server CPU usage during peak time or special events. The alerts may appear in the monitoring system's web interface (for the ones who is watching the screen), but should not be dispatched by email or SMS (or require any acknowledgment)

Someone may argue - "Why do I need to use SMS alerting, and in some cases even pay for SMS gateway service (like in Israel), when in Gmail client for Android I can mark different types of email alerts with different labels, and configure sound alerts only for labels with critical events?" Whereas I do agree that this is technically possible, the Gmail/Android/labels/ringtone solution will not scale for the following reasons:
  • It introduces a requirement that every on-call/escalation person will use an Android smartphone. Whereas for a small team this is not a big deal nowadays, I always have at home a regular mobile phone as a backup device should the primary smartphone get lost or broken, and should I rely only on email alerting a temporary switch to the backup phone will take me out of on-call/escalation loop. Also, when you will need to organize an 24x7 on-call process to handle customer support tickets using almost all technical staff of your company (and not only the operations guys), and requirement will be more difficult (or even impossible) to implement
  • Since every email account and connected smartphone should be individually configured with proper filtering/alerting settings, this decentralizes the configuration of your monitoring and alerting service, and will not scale more than a few very responsible operations engineers
  • SMS alerting is still more reliable than emails (especially when you travel internationally)

The following links provide some information how to send SMS via email for the most popular cellphone carriers:


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