Agent-Based vs Agentless: Which Security Approach is better for Specialized Cloud Virtual Machine Workloads

Do you want to go agent based or agentless monitoring and security? That is the question most enterprises debate with. However, in the era of cloud computing, which is the approach to adopt, an agent-based solution which requires to install code on system under monitoring or, agentless solution which uses an API to communicate directly to information which we are seeking about the system.

Rapid transition to PaaS based services such as AWS, Google etc. agent-based solutions are not so compatible – in order to reap benefits in the form of scalability, reachability, agility and automation agentless approach is more preferred. 

Today we look more in detail about agent-based vs agentless approach towards security in cloud virtual machines, how both differ from each other and its benefits.

What is an Agentless Security Approach?

Agentless approach or technology operates without any requirement to install software agents on target devices. Agentless architecture is ideal for security or monitoring systems in distributed environments. Agentless architecture uses remote management APIs or protocols to access and control activity on systems under management scope. 

The agentless technology is easy to deploy and maintain as each system does not require any agent to be installed and maintained. It is secure as lesser the components; lesser is the vulnerabilities introduced into the system. Agentless systems come with tremendous benefits but with some limitations at the same time such as real time monitoring limitation, lesser details, API dependencies and automation is also limited to some extent.

Agentless Security and Monitoring 

This is a method of collection and analysis of security related details and information about an environment and workloads hosted in that environment without the deployment of additional agents and information is gathered using non-invasive technique using cloud APIs or log files processing. 

Agentless scans take resource snapshot and use APIs to assess the environment to gather metadata and storage information in runtime from virtual workloads in cloud. Information is processed using machine learning algorithms and inventory is built to analyze security risks across the environment. No software deployment happens to assess the risks and since no code deployment happens on workload it is considered a more secure and non-intrusive approach to achieve security and monitoring. 

Limitations of Agentless technique

Agentless technique has however some limitations which enterprises should be aware of before adaptation of this approach as under:

  • Real time monitoring limitations – agentless security rely on non-invasive techniques such as APIs or log files it will not give real time monitoring capability as compared to its agent-based counterparts
  • Level of details are not so in depth – level of details is high level as compared to agent-based monitoring techniques as it is less invasive and do not collect information at granular levels
  • APIs and log files dependencies – Relying on accuracy and availability of cloud APIs and log files which might not be accessible or current for all environments
  • Automation limitation – agentless monitoring has limited visibility . not having direct access to devices would mean automation scripts of higher granularity is not possible 
  • Issues of compatibility – APIs or log files used in agentless security monitoring might have compatibility issues with certain devices or systems hence impacting the capability of collecting the security information

What Is Agent-Based Security?

Agent-based security involves the implementation of software agents on every endpoint that enterprises must monitor and safeguard. These software agents have the responsibility of gathering data from the endpoints, as well as potentially enforcing security regulations or performing actions on these endpoints.

When network scanning is not feasible, security teams often resort to using agents. These agents operate within each active cloud virtual machine and provide reports on their findings.

Pros & Cons of Agent-based security


  • Real time monitoring and security related reporting.
  • More granular and detailed in nature about environment state and workloads.
  • Automation and enforcement of policies and controls is direct.
  • More efficient and effective to detect and respond to incidents. 


  • Additional software required to be installed and maintained on all systems. 
  • Additional software on systems introduces to performance or vulnerability issue.
  • Negatively impact device performance as agent consume resources on systems at times. 

Agent-Based vs Agentless Security: Comparison Table

Below table summarizes the differences between the two types of security approaches:

Download the comparison table: Agent-based vs Agentless

Which Security Approach is better? Agent-Based vs Agentless

There are some key considerations to be made to make a choice between agent based or agentless security and monitoring let’s look at some of those factors more in detail.

  • Control and visibility – Agent based systems have more control and visibility over devices 
  • Scalability – Looking for a scalable solution then agentless technique is more viable as this does not require additional software installation on each system. Very much beneficial in large distributed environments 
  • Integration – ease of integration is one of the key feature of agent-based solutions and provide more details about device state
  • Usage of resource – Agentless systems are ideal as there is no consumption of CPU and memory on end devices under monitoring 

Final Words

In conclusion, agent-based security is most effective for straightforward tasks that have minimal changes and involve standard configurations and operating systems. On the other hand, agentless security is well-suited for intricate, expansive environments where new workloads are continuously being created and removed.

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