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by Assaf Resnick | October 26, 2015

How to Use the 80/20 Rule to Turn Noisy Alerts into Actionable Intelligence

If you work in tech, you’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle, or, as it’s more commonly called, the 80/20 rule. According to the 80/20 rule, for many events, 80 percent of the results are generated by 20 percent of the inputs.

A little background: back in the late 1800s the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noticed that approximately 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Not long after, Pareto also observed that 20 percent of the peapods in his garden generated 80 of the crop’s yield – and thus the 80/20 principle was born. 

How to Use the 80/20 Rule to Turn Noisy Alerts into Actionable Intelligence

If you look around you, you’ll see this pattern played out time and again. 80 percent of a company’s revenues typically come from 20 percent of its customers. 80 percent of your company’s sales probably come from 20 percent of your sales reps. And when it comes to severe weather, 80 percent of damage comes from 20 percent of the natural disasters, and on and on.

For BigPanda, this principle has profound effects. You see, when it comes to the many IT alerts that your various monitoring tools generate, 80 percent (or more) of them are just noise. Or to put it another way, 80 percent of your Ops or NOC team’s time is wasted on false alarms, minor problems, and noise.

If only you could flip those numbers. . .

Today, it’s no longer enough to simply get alerts. Ops teams get far too many of them already. In fact, the steady stream of alerts is training Ops to ignore them. This is the dark side of the 80/20 rule, one that is often overlooked. If 80 percent of your efforts just plain do not matter, it’s pretty easy to round that number up to 100 and feel like every alert is just noise that should be ignored. It’s pretty hard to keep Ops pros motivated when they feel like Sisyphus, or to use a more modern example, Milton, shuffled off to Storage B.

When there is so much noise, it’s natural to start tuning it out. That’s how the human brain is wired, but, of course, this perverse relationship with IT alerts puts your organization at risk.

When a real alert comes in, will you be ready?

For most organizations, the answer is no. It’s hard enough just to stitch together the many alerting tools they use, let alone make sense of them. So, the status quo is that the alerts don’t lead to action. It’s the downtime and inevitable customer complaints that do.

If the reason you have all of this monitoring in the first place is to avoid downtime and help desk calls, then status quo monitoring tools just aren’t doing their jobs.

Turning 80/20 to your advantage

Fortunately, there is a way to turn the 80/20 principle to your favor. You see, what is missing from these many IT alerts is meaning. What Ops teams need are holistic solutions with built-in intelligence. They need tools that automate the mundane, mind-numbing, error-prone tasks, tasks that have grown so numerous that they’re scaling beyond what is humanly possible to keep up with. At the same time, Ops also needs solutions that offer enough actionable intelligence, so that when you get an important alert, you know what to do with it.

In short, Ops needs 80/20 inspired tools to tame the 80/20 nature of noisy alerts.

This is exactly what BigPanda was founded to do, and here’s how we shift the 80/20 rule from a problem to an advantage:

  1. We start by centralizing alerts. Much time is wasted shuffling between various consoles with different interfaces and jargon. Now, you get everything in one place.
  2. Next we normalize alerts from your various monitoring tools getting them to all speak the same language
  3. Then, we auto-correlate alerts. BigPanda intelligently clusters IT alerts into high-level incidents, so you can automatically reduce noise and spot critical issues faster.
  4. Next, we help you gain insights faster. It’s not enough to know that you have a problem. You also need to know why it’s happening and what to do about it. We correlate alerts with code deployments and infrastructure changes, and we add contextual data to alerts, such as metrics, runbooks, and relationships.
  5. Since there is no such thing as a one-size fits all IT infrastructure, we enable you to build out customized monitoring views. We help you programmatically mash-up alerts from multiple monitoring tools in customized environments for any app, team, or cloud.
  6. We also enable smart ticketing, so you can avoid noisy on-call pages and ticketing clutter. With BigPanda, you can build smart notification logic based on consolidated incidents, not noisy alerts.
  7. Finally, we provide robust reporting and analytics capabilities. We’ll help you discover insights that are buried deep inside your stream of noisy alerts. We’ll help you learn about your top problematic apps, services, and machines.

That’s it. Seven steps away from chaos and towards IT order. This is how we turn the 80/20 rule from a problem to a competitive advantage. So, the next time your Ops team is complaining about the fact that their mobile phones literally vibrate themselves off the table due to the endless stream of alerts, think about the 80/20 rule. If you’re wasting 80 percent of your time chasing IT noise, now is the time for change.

Assaf Resnick - CEO at BigPanda

Assaf Resnick is CEO of BigPanda. He enjoys uptime, freetime and cheesecake. Previous to founding BigPanda, Assaf was an investor with Sequoia Capital. He lives in California with his wife and two beautiful kids.