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Containers / Observability

Docker’s New Microservices Monitoring Program Looks Like an OS-Style Approach

Jun 10th, 2015 8:05am by
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Docker is a container host, a multitude of corrections tell us, and not an operating system. But the “container host” took another huge step towards looking like an operating system, as Docker Inc. officially launched this week the first in what appear to be several ecosystem technology partner programs, this one geared toward certifying monitoring systems.

With a partner program, third parties build their supporting products to a specification published by the supporting party. When those products meet or exceed the given standard, the host agrees to help with promotional efforts. It’s all reminiscent of the era when a commercial operating system bestowed its blessings upon supporting vendors, giving them co-sponsorship logos and certifying them for product promotions. One foresees a “Built for Docker” whale badge in vendors’ future.

What Monitoring Should and Should Not Be

Monitoring is a critical function of microservices management, and it’s one of those service areas whose leadership Docker Inc. would like the market to sort out for itself. Although company executives issued formal statements Tuesday morning stating the purpose of the partnership would be to ensure that monitoring products are properly integrated with Docker, the obvious truth is that the partnership’s charter members — AppDynamics, Datadog, New Relic, Scout, SignalFx, and Sysdig — are all well-known for having already integrated with Docker quite admirably.

What the partnership creates, more than just a specification or a bar to aim for, is a genuine economy. The presence of six solid brands in just one segment of a technology, all being presented on an equal playing field, demonstrates to prospective adopters that healthy and competitive markets are being encouraged and nurtured, and that the road ahead for the underlying technology platform will never be so deep-grooved that passengers on that road can’t change course.

The extent to which the six charter members are capable of steering actual standards for microservices monitoring in Docker, however, has yet to be determined.

In a blog post last month, Jonah Kowall, vice president for market development at AppDynamics — one of the new group’s charter members — brought up the issue of how the task monitoring should definitely not be approached. He cited three examples outlined by architects with good standing in the community, calling them “broken” and “flawed,” and invoking the Twitter hashtag #monitoringsucks.

About a conceptual model offered by a lead technologist at Quicklizard Ltd., Kowall wrote, “Views which exist in silos do not provide the visibility required to understand the end-to-end transaction path. If there is a service failure that cascades to other service failures, determining root cause is virtually impossible due to the asynchronous nature of microservices. Services often call additional services, which means that there is an n-to-n relationship between services.”

Kowall advocates a model showing a single, end-to-end visualization panel that he says optimizes the traceability of all interactions between services. “Topology and application paths are key to managing complex architectures,” he wrote, “and with the addition of microservices and Docker, everyone will need these capabilities.”

It’s worth noting that, just weeks prior to the announcement of a Docker monitoring ecosystem, none of the three models Kowall cited come from charter members of the new partnership ecosystem.

By comparison, SignalFx emphasizes the analytics capabilities of its monitoring platform, revealing the underlying trends behind service interactions.

In a video demonstration last month with The New Stack’s Alex Williams, SignalFx CEO Karthik Rau showed the ability to drill down into a live heuristic graph of metrics regarding performance and interconnection data. Instead of showing services as nodes connected to other nodes with lines, SignalFx favors an aggregate view composed by way of algorithms.

It’s the type of visualization that you might think AppDynamics’ Kowall might have protested about at some length. Again, it’s hard to ignore the fact that AppDynamics and SignalFx now share a common host.

Opening Up a Level Playing Field

Docker Inc. has vowed not to push preferred solutions with too great a degree, opting instead for a model its CEO, Ben Golub, has called “batteries included but removable” — giving customers free reign to opt for alternatives to products it supports.

In an interview with The New Stack last March, Docker Vice President for Products Scott Johnston was asked whether his company planned to adopt any kind of partner ecosystem program, similar to the way operating system vendors have cross-promoted their supporters in the past.

“Docker’s policy from the get-go is to make it an even playing field, regardless of your scale,” Johnston told us. “Our governance model is such that you can’t buy your way in, you can’t muscle your way in. It’s open, and the ideas are openly debated in the community rigorously, with 750 to 800 different contributors, and probably 10 times the number of onlookers to the whole thing.”

The different picture Johnston tried to paint in people’s minds would have the community at large determine the standards for membership and certification, rather than the host vendor drawing up those specifications behind closed doors.

Clearly, there is an ongoing public discussion on the true nature of monitoring. The challenge for Docker Inc. going forward will be to moderate that discussion. Bad ideas need to be excluded without their creators becoming castigated. And good ideas will need to be encouraged and actively debated, without appearing to play “King of the Mountain” with the various contestants, and awarding knighthoods to the winner.

Datadog and SignalFx are sponsors of The New Stack.

Feature image via Flickr Creative Commons.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: The New Stack, Sysdig, Docker.
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