I’ll risk dating myself a bit with this, but here goes. I can recall a time when operations alerts happened via pager.
Think of this. At 3 AM, you’re understandably fast asleep. You hear an angry buzzing, slap at your nightstand, grab this small, rectangular device, and see a number staring back at you. Then you call this number, and you hear about how the phone switchboards are lighting up with customer complaints about an outage.
Time to put on some coffee, because you need to drive into the office to figure out what’s happening.
The 3 AM part might not have changed in the interceding years, but just about everything else has. And the most important change revolves not around “pager versus iPhone,” but around organizational proactivity.
These days, it seems positively barbaric to have customers with outages trigger you to take action. We have extensive tools to log, monitor, analyze, and alert us to changes in our systems, (hopefully) long before users have critical problems.
In fact, we now have an embarrassment of riches with such systems. 15 years ago, we would have felt amazement at the existence of these tools. Now, we face problems like, “wow, there are so many, which ones should I use” and “I have Jira, Slack, OpsGenie, all working for me, but what’s the best way to integrate all of these?”
Well today, I’m going to do my part to help demystify a slice of this landscape, focusing specifically on alerting apps. Let’s take a look at some of your choices.
VictorOps describes itself as, “a hub for centralizing the flow of information throughout the incident lifecycle.” More colloquially, they say “our mission is to make being on call suck less.”
Pros: A set of killer features, like the “Transmorgifier”, that allows you to add contextual information to a comprehensive incident timeline. VictorOps has many integrations, including ZenDesk and HipChat. It also has a “Forever Free” option, offering a subset of its features.
Cons: You’re going to pay a premium, price-wise, particularly if you want the Transmorgifier. Some folks on GetApp report clunkiness/datedness on the mobile app side.
PagerDuty is an alarm aggregation and dispatching service.
Pros: Really does well with integrations, including things like Slack, StatusPage.io and Azure. Supports many monitoring platforms. Straightforward to use and powerful.
Cons: Like VictorOps, there’s a definite pricetag associated, but unlike VictorOps, there is no “forever free.” Reporting at the lower end is geared toward operations and you’ll need to pay more for management-friendly reports.
OpsGenie offers alerting and incident management for dev and ops teams.
Pros: Offers a strong API. It’s also relatively less expensive than competitors, and feature rich. People like it as a less expensive alternative that gets the job done.
Cons: Fewer alerting options, somewhat less mindshare than the previous two,
OpenDuty’s motto is simple: “get alerted any time, when anything breaks.” This is an open source alternative.
Pros: As its name indicates, it is totally free to use, since it emerged as an open source alternative to PagerDuty. If you have the skillset and interest, you can also take the code and modify to your needs.
Cons: As with any free tool, you’re not going to get paid support. It’s also technically in Beta state, which means you may have to absorb significant, breaking changes to your workflow.
Slack comes to most organizations primarily as a collaboration tool. But it certainly allows you the capability of alerts.
Pros: You can get a lot of mileage out of the free version of slack, integrates with a wide variety of other tools and your own custom integrations, very easy to get started.
Cons: You need to upgrade (pay) to avoid caps on integrations and message history, alerting may suffer from signal to noise ratio with heavy, general organizational use.
Cabot also has a simple motto: “get alerted when services go down or metrics go crazy.” It is another open source tool that emphasizes ease of setup.
Pros: Free, as in beer. Emphasizes simple setup (“5 minute deploy”). Founders eat their own dogfood and developed it to scratch their itch. Modify the code if needed.
Cons: No enterprise support, take it as it is. All self-hosted, so there’s no cloud option for you. Obviously won’t have all of the integrations of its paid counterparts.
Papertrail provides alerting with a niche specifically in the logging space. It will keep an eye on log files and notify you with relevant events.
Pros: The pricetag is not hefty. This tool also aims at its niche and hits well. Simple, elegant, easy to understand and setup. Integrates with a lot of alerting paradigms, including Slack and Hipchat, as well as products here like VictorOps and PagerDuty.
Cons: It mainly deals in text, so you won’t get management-ready dashboards or anything like that. Very log focused, so if you’re looking for a general purpose alerting service, this may not be a fit.
AlertOps bills itself as “a collaborative incident management solution.”
Pros: AlertOps positions itself as a much less expensive alternative to some of its competition, such as PagerDuty. As its name would indicate, it offers a rich set of alert options and customizations.
Cons: Appears to be relative newcomer. While the company has been around since 2012, the site is new, and it appears not to have a lot of mindshare, reviews, or help guides outside of its own site.
The xMatters motto is, “intelligent communications for smart business.” It’s site indicates that it definitely targets the enterprise, so if that fits your profile, you should strongly consider them.
Pros: Has an impressive client list, including 3M, Hubspot, and Box. Integrates with a whole lot of applications. Pricetag is pretty affordable, given that they target the enterprise.
Cons: Seems to be more of a general purpose communications solution, so if you’re looking for a focused, alerting app, you may need to weed through a lot of capabilities.
Sentry offers real time error tracking and offers alerting that simply lets you “know when things break.” This solution really targets application errors, so you’ll be most interested if you’re looking for alerting around your own software products.
Pros: An impressive client list that includes AirBNB, Dropbox, and Uber. Integrates with Slack, HipChat, and plenty of others, including some of the pure alerting tools mentioned here. You can start using it for free when you’re small. Open source.
Cons: Since it’s focused on application errors, specifically, it will likely not be a fit if you’re not doing this. You may have to filter alerts for personally identifiable information. Limited documentation.
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