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Responding to Events in the Cloud

Published: at 03:15 PM
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Whether you deploy workloads on-premises or in the cloud, you will at some point encounter the need to manage and respond to events across your infrastructure. This becomes important and challenging as workloads become highly interconnected, which makes it harder to detect, diagnose, and resolve issues efficiently. Having a well-defined process for responding to events is essential for maintaining operational excellence and ensuring business continuity. This post will outline a framework for effective event response aligned with AWS Operational Excellence best practices along with a real-world scenario along the way.

The Framework for Response

When it comes to responding to events in the cloud, having a standardized approach is critical to ensure consistency and efficiency with your team. The following framework outlines the key steps and considerations for effective event response.

Event, Incident, and Problem Management

Before proceeding, we need to define and understand the differences distinctions between events, incidents, and problems in the context of cloud operations:

Event: An event is a change of state or occurrence within your cloud environment, detected by monitoring and alerting systems. Events can be informational, warning, or error-level, and may or may not require action.

Incident: An incident is an unplanned disruption or degradation of service that impacts business operations or users. Incidents often arise from one or more related events and require immediate attention and resolution.

Problem: A problem is the underlying cause of one or more incidents. Identifying and resolving the root problem is crucial to prevent recurring incidents and ensure long-term stability.

Monitoring and alerting mechanisms help with detecting events and triggering the appropriate response processes.

Process Per Alert

When an alert is triggered, a well-defined process should be followed to ensure consistent and efficient handling. This process may include the following steps:

1. Triage: Assess the severity, impact, and urgency of the alert, and categorize it accordingly.

2. Diagnosis: Gather relevant diagnostic information, such as logs, metrics, and system state, to identify the root cause.

3. Remediation: Based on the diagnosis, execute predefined or ad-hoc remediation steps to resolve the issue or mitigate its impact.

4. Verification: Verify that the remediation steps were successful and that the issue has been resolved.

5. Documentation: Document the incident, including details about the root cause, remediation steps taken, and any lessons learned.

Documenting these processes for different alert types and severity levels can streamline the response effort and ensure consistency across teams.

Prioritize on Business Impact

Not all events or incidents have the same level of impact on your business operations. Some may be simple and informational, while others may cause an outage. It’s important to prioritize response efforts based on the potential business impact of an event. This impact can be measured in terms of customer experience, revenue loss, compliance violations, or other relevant factors specific to your organization.

By defining and measuring business impact, resources are allocated appropriately, and critical issues are addressed with the highest priority.

Define Escalation Paths

With all the events occurring in your infrastructure, you need to figure out who will receive those alerts and when. For events or incidents that require additional resources, expertise, or authority, it’s essential to have well-defined escalation paths in place. Escalation paths should outline the appropriate teams, individuals, or third-party vendors to involve based on the event severity, impact, and available skills.

Clear escalation paths help ensure that issues are addressed promptly and that the necessary expertise is engaged when needed, minimizing delays.

Define Communication Plan

Effective communication during event response is extremely important to ensure that all stakeholders are informed and aligned. A comprehensive communication plan should outline:

1. Stakeholders: Identify the individuals or groups that need to be notified, such as customers, business leaders, and support teams.

2. Communication Channels: Determine the appropriate channels for communication, such as email, messaging platforms, or status pages.

3. Frequency and Timing: Establish guidelines for the frequency and timing of communication updates based on the event severity and impact.

Regular and transparent communication helps maintain trust, align everyone’s expectations, and verify that all parties are aware of the steps being taken to resolve the issue.

Communicate Status via Dashboards

In addition to direct communication channels, providing real-time visibility into ongoing events and response efforts through centralized dashboards or status pages can be invaluable. These dashboards should display relevant information, such as:

- Current status of incidents and events

- Impact and severity levels

- Estimated time to resolution

- Actions being taken

- Contact information for support or escalation

Centralized visibility helps coordinate decision-making, making sure that all teams have access to the latest information and can respond accordingly.

Automate Responses

While human and manual intervention is often necessary for complex or critical events, automating certain aspects of your event response strategy can significantly improve efficiency and reduce mean time to resolution (MTTR). AWS provides various services and tools that can facilitate automation, such as:

- AWS Lambda: Execute serverless functions to gather diagnostic information, perform remediation tasks, or trigger downstream actions.

- AWS Step Functions: Orchestrate multi-step workflows for event response, integrating with other AWS services and external systems.

- AWS Systems Manager: Automate the execution of scripts, commands, or configuration updates across your cloud resources.

Identifying and automating repeatable tasks, allow you to reduce the potential for human error, improve response times, and free up resources to focus on higher-value activities.

Real-World Scenario

Previously, I worked as an MSP consultant and one of the biggest challenges I faced was staying on top of the constant barrage of alerts across all our client environments. With monitoring tools ingesting data from hundreds of customer networks and applications, the sheer noise would quickly become deafening. I remember one particular incident where critical alerts got buried under an avalanche of lower-priority events, leading to a costly service disruption that could have been avoided with better processes.

Event, Incident, and Problem Management 

It started with a seemingly innocuous event from a client’s VPN appliance - just an informational message about a configuration change. Little did we know, this was the first domino that would set off a chain reaction of related events as VPN tunnels became unstable and remote users got disconnected. Before long, we had a full-blown incident on our hands, with the client’s systems becoming inaccessible to their remote workforce. The underlying problem? A botched firmware upgrade that went uncaught.

Process Per Alert

Our standard alert handling process involved ingesting events into our centralized MSP platform, which would then automatically categorize and assign them based on severity and the impacted client. For higher priority alerts like this VPN issue, our level 1 triage team would dig into the client’s documentation, run diagnostic + troubleshooting commands, and open a case with the vendor’s support team. However, this process broke down when multiple high-severity alerts started snowballing.

Prioritize on Business Impact

With a flood of incoming events, it became crucial to prioritize our response efforts based on the potential business impact to each client. For example, an issue affecting a small accountant’s office would take a backseat to an incident impacting a multinational corporation’s core operations. We had to constantly re-evaluate priorities, looking at factors like the number of impacted users, the criticality of affected systems, and the client’s own business requirements.

Define Escalation Paths 

Our escalation policies mapped different tiers of support based on the client’s service level agreement and the technical expertise required. A routine Windows update issue may only require escalation to our level 2 desktop team, while a complex network or cloud infrastructure event would initiate an escalation to our senior architects and vendor partners. Defining and continually refining these escalation paths was critical to resolving issues efficiently.

Define Communication Plan

Clear and proactive communication was paramount, especially when major incidents affected multiple clients simultaneously. Our client success managers served as the primary conduit, keeping customers informed across various channels like email, status pages, and messaging apps. We also had established protocols for notifying our internal teams and engaging vendor support channels to ensure full coordination.

Communicate Status via Dashboards

Our network operations center (NOC) team relied heavily on customizable dashboards that provided a consolidated view of ongoing incidents across all client environments. These dashboards visualized key metrics like the number of impacted sites or users, open support cases, escalation statuses, and estimated time to resolution. Having this level of operational awareness helped us manage chaos and allocate resources effectively.

Automate Responses 

While our MSP platform automated certain alerts and routing tasks, we also leveraged provider APIs and scripting tools to trigger automated remediation actions where possible. For example, Azure Automation could be used to reset an unresponsive VM. Employing automation reduced manual effort and minimized the potential for human errors during stressful incident response scenarios.


Responding effectively and efficiently to events in the cloud is crucial for maintaining operational excellence and overall business continuity. By implementing a well-defined framework, prioritizing based on business impact, defining clear escalation paths and communication plans, leveraging real-time dashboards, and automating responses, organizations can enhance their ability to detect, diagnose, and resolve issues promptly.

However, it’s important to remember that event response processes should be continuously evaluated and improved based on lessons learned and evolving best practices. Regular reviews and adjustments to your processes can help your organization remain resilient and adaptable to cloud environments and operational challenges.