Agent-based versus agentless data collection: what’s the difference?

Agent-based versus agentless data collection: what’s the difference?

In the quest for a secure and reliable method to monitor their infrastructure, enterprises and service providers often find themselves exploring various agent-based and agentless solutions. Grasping the nuances between these two approaches is essential to select a monitoring service that aligns with your unique business requirements. 

A comprehensive monitoring strategy may encompass cloud, network, and server monitoring, or even a blend of all these elements. An exceptional monitoring platform scrutinizes every facet of the infrastructure, enabling swift troubleshooting and insightful data analysis. Dive into this blog to uncover the fundamental distinctions between agent-based and agentless monitoring, empowering you to make an educated decision for your infrastructure needs.

What is agent-based monitoring?

Agent-based monitoring is a method of observing and managing the performance of IT systems, such as servers, applications, network devices, and other infrastructure components, by installing specialized software (known as an “agent”) directly on the target system. These agents are responsible for collecting data, such as system performance metrics, logs, and configuration information, and sending it to a central monitoring server or platform for analysis and reporting.

Agents must be kept up to date and configured correctly to work correctly, which can be time consuming especially when dealing with large environments. Many agent-based systems are specific to certain platforms or software, which can result in a common “death by agent” problem. So many agents monitoring different things can take up such a significant amount of resources that they end up causing the very same problems that they are designed to monitor.

Some agent-based solutions, however, are vendor agnostic, which provides a little bit of flexibility.

What is agentless monitoring?

Agentless monitoring refers to a method of observing and managing the performance of IT systems, such as servers, applications, network devices, and other infrastructure components, without installing any monitoring software (known as an “agent”) directly on the target system. Instead, it collects data remotely using standard protocols and built-in functionalities of the monitored systems. 

Methods of agentless data collection

Data collection for agentless monitoring usually occurs via protocols such as:

  • SNMP
  • WMI
  • ICMP (Ping)
  • HTTP
  • JDBC

These protocols work to create a remote monitoring system using proxies embedded in the agentless monitoring platform. This negates any need to install agents onto an enterprise’s own infrastructure. The data is normally collated and displayed in a single user interface. This may bring together multiple, if not all, aspects of infrastructure, including cloud data, network performance, and server information.

Agents sit on the enterprise or service provider infrastructure and collect data about the service they link to. This data is then pushed to a central platform to monitor.

Embracing agentless monitoring in the cloud era

As businesses increasingly adopt cloud-based and ephemeral infrastructures or applications, agentless monitoring becomes an ideal solution. Users benefit from a streamlined, unified view within their agentless monitoring platform – providing insights into networks, servers, and cloud services – without the need to install extra software or deploy probes to remote devices.

The inherent adaptability of agentless monitoring allows it to expand effortlessly alongside a growing infrastructure. As new devices or virtual machines come online, agentless platforms detect and begin monitoring them according to predefined parameters. This low-maintenance approach ensures full scalability, equipping businesses to handle the dynamic demands of today’s ever-evolving landscape.

Opting for cloud-based monitoring platforms alleviates the burden on an organization’s infrastructure, as the management and maintenance responsibilities fall to the service provider. This advantage makes such platforms highly appealing to enterprise IT teams and service providers seeking to ensure scalability without overloading their infrastructure with additional resources. Embracing agentless monitoring in the cloud era enables organizations to efficiently and effectively monitor their systems while minimizing overhead and complexity.

Agent-based vs. agentless monitoring: security

Both agentless and agent-based monitoring have security pros and cons, which may depend on how they are set up and how enterprises use them. Because users install agents individually on the components they want to monitor, no agent has access to a business’s entire infrastructure. This automatically gives some peace of mind for anyone worried about outside access to their servers or networks. However, this “feature” also limits the functionality of individual agent clients.

Agentless monitoring, by its very nature, allows access to the whole infrastructure. This includes all networks and cloud-based systems and any servers the system is monitoring. However, most agentless systems have extremely high security standards to cope with this. For example, the security at LogicMonitor has a range of security best practices that run through the entire technical architecture.

Some key factors include:

  • TLS 1.3 encryption for securing network communication between the two infrastructures
  • AES-256 encryption for the protection of device credentials
  • Robust identity and access management (IAM)

A great agentless monitoring solution should allow users to set their own network allow-lists and netblocks. Agentless monitoring has the scope for more advanced security that’s designed for use on the modern cloud.

Agent-based vs. agentless monitoring: speed

Agent-based systems are always using resources from whatever system they’re deployed upon. This means that their speed and reliability relies, in part, on the resource supplied by the user and their infrastructure. Setting up agents in the first place can be time-consuming, depending upon the system in use.

A professional agentless solution is built for fast deployment. For example, effective server deployment should need users to enter a single IP address, then the platform can use that information to assess and report on a range of functions and features including:

  • CPU usage
  • Network performance
  • Operating System Metrics for Linux, Windows, and more
  • Latency

Having access to all this information instantly, in a single, unified view, is generally preferable to working with single agents which may each be attached to a particular part of the infrastructure. Collating the data becomes a quick process, which speeds up data analysis and comprehension, allowing businesses to make profit-boosting changes much more intuitively.

Agent-based vs. agentless monitoring: compatibility

Compatibility and interoperability are critical factors to consider when comparing agentless and agent-based monitoring as they determine how well a monitoring solution can integrate with an organization’s existing systems, platforms, and infrastructure. 

Agentless monitoring typically offers broader compatibility, as it relies on standard protocols and built-in functionalities available across various devices and systems. This approach allows for seamless integration with multiple types of servers, network devices, and applications without the need for specialized configurations or additional software. As a result, agentless monitoring is often the preferred choice for organizations with diverse or heterogeneous environments as it can adapt to a wide range of systems with minimal effort.

On the other hand, agent-based monitoring may present compatibility challenges, particularly when dealing with an extensive variety of systems or platforms. Since agent-based solutions require the installation of agents on each monitored device, organizations must ensure that these agents are compatible with the target systems and can function without causing conflicts or performance issues. This process may necessitate expertise in various technologies and configurations and might require ongoing maintenance and updates to ensure compatibility with evolving systems and software versions.

Agent-based vs. agentless monitoring: resource usage

After considering several aspects of monitoring and infrastructure maintenance, it is clear that when it comes to managing and minimizing resources, the agentless approach wins. The only issue that agentless monitoring may come up against is network issues. Naturally, like any cloud-based system, if the network goes down, so does any monitoring. But, if the network is down, there’s very little to monitor, and with a professional system, as soon as those network connections are restored, so is the agentless monitoring service.

Agent-based monitoring relies very heavily on the resource the infrastructure provides. If an enterprise has a heavy-duty on-premises solution for network and server maintenance, this might never be an issue. However, the more complex and cloud-ingrained an infrastructure becomes, the more difficult it inevitably becomes to deploy agents across the relevant parts of any network or server. Any devices using an agent that is in the process of dealing with or storing data automatically take on a higher workload and take resources away from other aspects of the infrastructure. Also, when agents need to update, that means any duplicate agents on connected devices also need to update, potentially making this a resource-heavy process. 

Agent-based vs. agentless monitoring: connecting with third-party services

Agents are often very vendor-specific. This means that an agent can provide specific, detailed, and highly beneficial insights only about data provided by its own software or platform in relation to the infrastructure aspect it is connected to. This data is often vital and can be an important aspect of business reporting. However, it cannot replace a detailed look at the entire infrastructure, displayed in a way that’s digestible by both IT professionals and executives alike.

Agentless monitoring is able to work with a range of third-party software and applications, making it much more accessible and useful for modern enterprises and service providers. When professionals think about all the data they digest on a daily basis, that includes messaging services, Slack, ETL services, input from customers, GCP, server performance, and so much more. While it’s useful to have detail on any one of these features, nothing can beat having instant access to performance data on all of these features and so much more. 

The ability to integrate with other cloud-based services, plus any devices connected to the network under monitoring, makes agentless monitoring so much more versatile. The ability to adapt to changes within the infrastructure, including the use of a new piece of software or a web application, makes agentless not just more modern, but future-proof. As enterprises evolve and adapt to a more cloud-based way of working, it is inevitable that more cloud apps and solutions will become the norm. Agentless monitoring is already prepared to deal with that.

Agent-based vs. agentless monitoring: overall performance

Undoubtedly, agentless monitoring offers a simpler deployment process compared to agent-based monitoring. With just an IP address, an agentless solution can swiftly gather a wealth of data within minutes or even seconds.

An agentless monitoring service like LogicMonitor can deliver in-depth monitoring along with fast, reliable performance. Such a service can prioritize business-critical alerts, track performance trends, manage resources to prevent shortages, and present data in an easily understandable format. By integrating an agentless monitoring platform, you can create a comprehensive solution that maximizes data collection, analysis, and offers real-time alerts and troubleshooting.

Explore the benefits of LogicMonitor, an agentless monitoring solution that provides extensive support for third-party applications such as ServiceNow and Slack, as well as expanded coverage for Google Cloud Platform services and Microsoft Azure, among others. As a fully automated, cloud-based monitoring platform that offers 24/7 professional support, LogicMonitor is built to help you monitor any infrastructure. Discover how LogicMonitor can enhance your monitoring capabilities with a free 14-day trial today.