How to Choose the Right Kubernetes Monitoring Tool
One of the biggest benefits of using Kubernetes for application modernization is its ability to offer flexibility and scalability by operating across multiple nodes within a cluster. Doing so allows applications to be distributed across clusters and even cloud environments. While the benefits of this function of Kubernetes far outweigh its challenges, it does create a significant hurdle in tracking the overall health of your applications and infrastructure.
In this article, we discuss some of today’s best practices, and their corresponding solutions, for monitoring Kubernetes to ensure you are optimizing for maximum efficiency.
What Is Kubernetes Monitoring?
First, let’s start with a quick definition of what we mean by Kubernetes monitoring. In this context, Kubernetes monitoring means gathering metrics and events from your clusters to ensure that your code, tech stack and all your apps are running as they should. Effective monitoring also entails centralizing all this data in a single location where multiple stakeholders can gain actionable insights.
Due to the many complex layers that often come with running Kubernetes and containerized apps, the process of monitoring, centralizing and analyzing this data can be cumbersome. However, the growth in popularity for Kubernetes has corresponded with a proliferation of tools and services to support it, including a variety of open source and commercial tools and platforms that can help enable effective Kubernetes monitoring.
Let’s start by looking at some of the most popular and widely used tools for Kubernetes monitoring and logging. There are many tools to choose from — and frankly, the best tool for you largely depends on organizational needs — but this list will offer some insights into commonly available tools that fit the needs of many IT teams.
Tools of the Trade
Prometheus has gained a foothold as a fan favorite of those using Kubernetes because of its out-of-the-box event-monitoring capabilities. As an open source tool, Prometheus offers its users many options for flexibility and customizability that commercial solutions may not. It is one of the more established event-monitoring and alerting tools on the market, and it joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) back in 2016, making it the second hosted project after Kubernetes.
Grafana is another open source platform that offers a lot of great features for Kubernetes monitoring. Grafana thrives as a tool for metric analytics and event monitoring, as well as visualization. This tool works hand in hand with monitoring software like Prometheus to form a one-two punch for monitoring and visualization. By deploying both tools, you can gain great insight into your Kubernetes instance.
I’m trying hard to avoid any sort of Avengers puns, but Thanos is designed to make centralizing your Prometheus-based monitoring systems a snap (sorry!). While Prometheus is indeed a popular and capable choice for monitoring Kubernetes, scaling Prometheus can be challenging. Thanos is another open source tool that helps transform your existing Prometheus deployments into a unified monitoring system. Remember when we talked about centralizing your data? This helps a lot.
Elasticsearch is an aptly named search and analytics engine whose flexibility and scale make it a great choice for use with Kubernetes.
When it comes to centralizing your data, Logstash can be a powerful option. Another open source tool, this is a server-site data-processing pipeline that takes your data from a variety of sources, transforms it and logs it.
What good is data if it’s not actionable? Kibana is a data visualization tool used for log and time-series analytics, as well as monitoring and intelligence.
Choosing the Right Tools
So with all these choices available to you, how do you go about choosing the right tool for your organization? As mentioned above, the ultimate choice comes down to the needs of your organization. When making these decisions, it’s important to look not only at your current environments, but what your Kubernetes will look like down the road. Choosing a monitoring approach that will scale as your company grows is essential to maintaining streamlined operations and getting the most out of your monitoring and analytics.
With that in mind, one of the most popular choices for event and application monitoring is a combination of Prometheus and Grafana. Prometheus is one of the most often-used tools for gathering time-series data from both software and hardware sources. Grafana is a powerful tool for visualizing that data into something actionable.
Today, there are solutions available that take a centralized approach to monitoring, enabling organizations to not be limited or constrained to just one or a handful of tools in the future.
However, as mentioned above, scaling Prometheus across many clusters can become a challenge as your organization grows because of hurdles in app boarding, managing configuration requirements and drift. If your organization is currently — or will eventually — operating in a multicluster environment, this is where Thanos becomes a powerful option. Thanos allows you to aggregate data and provide long-term storage, which makes the combination of Prometheus and Grafana that much more flexible.
Another great option, especially at scale, is combining Elasticsearch with Kibana and Logstash — often known as an ELK stack or Elastic Stack. This creates a great way to collect, organize, search and visualize your data to provide end-to-end monitoring and visibility for your Kubernetes clusters.
Does Complexity Necessitate a Platform Approach?
One of the biggest challenges in monitoring for IT organizations using Kubernetes is anticipating needs down the road and building a solution that will provide stability and performance metrics both now and in the future. Indeed, many organizations that are presented with the complexity of combining tools to create a monitoring stack that meets their needs decide to go with a commercial solution, such as Datadog, New Relic or Cloudwatch. These solutions offer great monitoring and visualization capabilities, but each comes with its own set of pros and cons. So how do you know which option to choose that will serve your organization as it grows?
For many companies, the answer is taking a platform approach. Today, there are solutions available that take a centralized approach to monitoring, enabling organizations to not be limited or constrained to just one or a handful of tools in the future. Your organization can deploy different tools for different nodes or clusters to meet the specific needs of your applications, while still centralizing your visibility into a single pane of glass for cross-organization application and infrastructure health monitoring. And, by employing role-based access controls, you can ensure every stakeholder gets the most relevant data and information for them to turn complexity into control.
Putting It All Together
Whether you decide to take an à la carte or a platform approach for your Kubernetes-monitoring needs, the options and tools available to you are many, and their capabilities are robust. The most important thing is working toward gaining broad visibility into your applications and systems. In doing so, you can get the most out of Kubernetes and set up IT for sustained success.