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How to Choose a Microservices Monitoring Tool

Microservices allow developers to break down their applications into smaller, loosely coupled services that are developed, deployed, and scaled independently. But you need a monitoring tool to track whether the software works correctly–and that means you need useful criteria for choosing such a tool.

You’re used to tracking application performance to confirm that it functions correctly, but microservices adds a new twist. Monitoring is a critical aspect of managing any microservices architecture. By definition, there are a lot of independent parts. 

But how do you choose the best microservice monitoring tool for your business? We’re not here to play favorites or to endorse any tool in particular. What we do have, however, is a whole lot of experience in this field, which we are happy to share.

Monitor your expectations

Before you choose a tool, contemplate your motivations for acquiring one. Your team should discuss, “What problems are we trying to solve or prevent?” That leads to, “What data do we need to examine to determine if we are solving or preventing those problems?” The answers help you identify what to monitor–and what you can ignore (or pay less attention to). 

Be intentional about what you monitor. Have a reason. Don’t adopt the attitude, “Monitor all the things just in case it might be useful.” Most teams have limited resources, which means that it isn’t possible to monitor all the things anyway; at best, you end up with alert fatigue.

That said: Your expectations may not match reality. It’s hard to tell ahead of time what’s going to be useful when an unexpected thing breaks. It is not clear what needs to be monitored until everything is on fire and you try to figure out what’s going on. You need a mix of “think carefully” and “adjust given experience.”

Microservice monitoring tool criteria

Any type of application monitoring tool has a host of features. You may not need all of them. It’s a good idea to start with the top criteria, as identified by our Redis experts and by experienced practitioners (the people who have the scars).

It should scale. As your microservices architecture grows, so do your monitoring needs. The last thing you want is a tool that can’t keep up with the load. Make sure your monitoring system can go down without bringing down your microservice!

It needs to collect the right data and analyze it. Look carefully at the data the tool collects and how it presents that information. 

A robust monitoring tool collects and analyzes data from every nook and cranny of a distributed system–but it shouldn’t overwhelm you with noisy, irrelevant information. It should provide you with comprehensive insights that deserve to be called “insights,” including performance metrics, logs, and traces. 

For microservices architectures, prioritize distributed tracing. Debugging issues that span multiple microservices can be a nightmare. Distributed tracing helps you track the flow of requests across services, which assists in identifying performance bottlenecks and understanding complex interactions. For example, ensure every log message/record/line has an attributable traceid attached to it, and use a system that lets you aggregate views.

It should integrate with other tools you use without fussy setups or custom code. Perhaps more than any other application, a monitoring tool should play well with others. 

Similarly, look at the process of migration to the new monitoring tool from your existing provider, including data structuring requirements. Research what it would take to switch to another tool if this one doesn’t work out.  Learn what the API is like, because you’re bound to need it at some point. Consider future standards support, such as OpenTelemetry

Please, let it be easy to learn and easy to use (which are not the same things). Who wants to struggle to learn yet another tool? Navigating through distributed systems is complicated enough; your monitoring tool should simplify things, not add to the system’s complexity. Configuration should not be a pain. Peer closely at its dashboards and visualizations to decide if they are as intuitive as the vendor promises.

It should set sensible alerts and notifications. When a storm is brewing, you need to know immediately! Your monitoring tool should offer robust alerting and notification features, so you can take action before minor issues turn into big problems.

It has to fit your budget. While you want the best tool for your distributed system, you don’t want uncomfortable conversations with the CFO. That’s true for any IT expenditure, but especially so here, because the cost and pricing models vary widely. Unexpected usage has been known to create incidents of, shall we say, accidental overspending. Pay-per-user models sometimes create awkward decisions about who gets access. 

What do these tools actually monitor?

A microservice monitoring tool should offer visibility across the entire microservices ecosystem, including performance metrics, resource utilization, service mesh data, custom metrics, and error rates.

The ideal tool should excel at collecting, storing, and analyzing data from distributed systems, providing actionable insights into the health and performance of each microservice. It should seamlessly integrate with other tools and systems, such as logging systems, alerting tools, and incident management platforms.

  • Performance metrics: Monitoring tools collect and monitor performance metrics from various components, such as CPU usage, memory utilization, network traffic, and response times of individual microservices. This helps track the overall health and system performance.
  • Resource utilization: Monitoring tools keep an eye on resource consumption by microservices and infrastructure components. This includes monitoring CPU, memory, disk usage, and network bandwidth to ensure efficient resource allocation.
  • Error rates and failure analysis: The tools track error rates, status codes, and error messages from microservices. This allows for quick detection of anomalies and potential issues, helping developers pinpoint failures and troubleshoot them promptly.
  • Latency and throughput: Monitoring tools measure the time it takes for a microservice request to be processed by microservices and the rate at which those requests are handled. 
  • Alerts and thresholds: If any metric exceeds a specified threshold, the system triggers alerts, so IT teams can take immediate action.
  • Logs and traces: Some monitoring tools integrate with logging systems to capture and analyze logs from multiple services. Tracing capabilities allow developers to follow the flow of a request across various microservices.
  • API monitoring: These tools can monitor the interactions between different microservices and APIs, ensuring that API calls are successful (and letting you know when they are not) and identifying potential bottlenecks in API communication.
  • Container monitoring: Monitoring tools can capture the unique environmental issues in container health, such as resource utilization and performance.
  • Service mesh observability: For microservices architectures using service mesh, the monitoring tools can provide insights into the communication and interactions between microservices within the mesh.
  • Application performance monitoring (APM): APM tools give attention to the code-level performance of individual microservices, to make it easier for developers to identify performance bottlenecks.
  • Custom metrics: Advanced monitoring tools recognize that all those categories sometimes are not enough. They let you define and collect custom metrics specific to your microservices architecture.

Practically speaking, if you use Redis – for microservices or other uses – this is a good starter set for what to monitor. Your dashboard might include these items, configured to alert you when any metric spikes significantly.

  • Command volume, categorized by command, service, and/or script/function
  • Command failure rate, categorized by command, service, and/or script/function
  • Command latency, categorized by command, service, and/or by script/function
  • Memory usage
  • Key count  (DBSIZE)

Microservices monitoring tools

You have a lot of choices. Each of these microservice monitoring tools offers unique features. Perhaps these links can give you a head start on your shopping list – though there are many more options than we include here.

  • Prometheus: The open-source monitoring and alerting toolkit is specifically designed for distributed systems and thus suitable for microservices monitoring.
  • Grafana: Grafana is known for its visualizations and dashboards, which help navigate data collections and put them in a form that humans understand.
  • Datadog: Datadog offers real-time alerts, distributed tracing, and APM, with features that promise full visibility into a microservices ecosystem.
  • Dynatrace: This monitoring tool offers automatic application discovery and observability for microservices environments.
  • Architect.io: This tool is a favorite for robust testing and monitoring capabilities in larger organizations, with a comprehensive view of microservices architectures.
  • Lumigo: Lumigo offers end-to-end visibility, real-time debugging, and cost monitoring, and it gives particular attention to serverless architectures.
  • AppDynamics: With its real-time visibility, outlier detection, network performance monitoring, and Docker and Kubernetes monitoring, this may be suitable for tracking events in a large, complex architecture.
  • Instana: This tool promises complete observability for an entire microservices environment.
  • Uptrace: With its emphasis on visibility into performance data and integration with popular programming languages and frameworks, Uptrace helps developers identify, diagnose, and resolve performance issues in a microservices ecosystem; we wrote about our Uptrace experiences recently.

Which is right for you? That’s your call.

Enhancing microservices monitoring

 As with any other software choice, ultimately the only thing that matters is that it works for you. 

There’s no definitive right or wrong choice. The key question is, “Is this the right tool for my specific project?” The crucial factor is finding a tool that aligns with your project’s current and future needs and making an informed choice. Ideally, the tool you choose helps you maintain a healthy and efficient microservices environment, ultimately delivering reliable, high-performance applications. Redis works with all of them.

And, we believe, you can take your microservices applications to the next level with Redis Enterprise. Read the Cache and Message Broker for Microservices solution brief to learn how to use caching with Redis Enterprise, explore top caching patterns, and use Redis Streams as a lightweight message broker for inter-services communication.