Best Monitoring Tools for Kubernetes in 2022

Learning objectives

• Learn about how the differences between five of the top Kubernetes monitoring tools in 2022.

Kubernetes is a platform for managing containers at scale. It is complex by default, and it has many moving parts that require careful supervision and monitoring to identify, debug, and resolve issues promptly. System admins rely on specialized monitoring tools to monitor and respond to anomalies and failures to mitigate this problem.

This article will provide a detailed comparison of the top 5 Kubernetes monitoring services and tools.

Let's get started.

Kubernetes's Native Dashboard

Kubernetes offers a free dashboard that you can use to inspect the cluster nodes' status quickly. It's free, straightforward to use, and is probably the most common monitoring tool encountered by the typical system administrator.

The dashboard itself is just a web frontend for the cluster that queries the KubeAPI for information. You can use it to monitor basic metrics and logs, inspect live containers and services, manage cluster resources, and deploy new applications. You can think of it as a graphical tool for kubectl.

Figure 1 – Kubernetes Dashboard View (source: Kubernetes.io)

Its primary disadvantage is that it is simplistic for basic actions; thus, it’s not ideal for production monitoring. There’s no alert setup, no log searching, and no custom monitoring configurations to create. Compared to the other options outlined in this article, this tool should be your last resort. You should only use it if there are no other monitoring tools available and only to troubleshoot the cluster in case of an external failure.

The Good:

  • It’s free to use.
  • It’s easy to set up.

The Bad:

  • It only offers fundamental monitoring and logging.
  • It cannot create alerts or notifications.
  • You should use it only if no other monitoring solution is available.

cAdvisor

cAdvisor (Container Advisor) is a Google open source project. It provides a tool deployed as a daemon and sees use as a general container collector. This collector gathers, aggregates, processes, and exports metrics from running containers. Deploying cAdvisor in K8s is relatively straightforward if you follow these instructions.

cAdvisor is free to use and governed by the Apache 2.0 License. It offers a web panel that visualizes various metrics of the running containers:

Figure 2 – cAdvisor Web UI (source: Kubernetes.io)

cAdvisor only captures the performance metrics of running containers, which may not be enough for many organizations. It does not offer any advanced monitoring features, like alerts or fine-tuning. Also, the web UI looks a bit dated, so you’ll want to export cAdvisor metrics with other backends like InfluxDB for storage and Grafana for visualization in most cases.

More feature-complete solutions are available, but cAdvisor can be a good starting point for capturing basic container runtime information and pairing it with other tools.

The Good:

  • It’s free to use.
  • It’s easy to set up.
  • It focuses on capturing runtime metrics for monitoring.
  • Users can pair it with InfluxDB and Grafana.

The Bad:

  • It cannot create alerts or notifications.
  • The web UI is basic.
  • It has limited features.

Prometheus

Prometheus is the first serious monitoring tool for Kubernetes. It is an open-source tool designed to monitor container-based applications, and it’s part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

It’s a framework for capturing and storing container metrics to export them to other tools or related libraries. It also offers its PromQL query language. You want to familiarize yourself with this tool to start your Kubernetes monitoring journey.

It uses an extension called Alertmanager that handles all of the related logic in alerting. It can extend in the same manner as the core Prometheus binary.

In terms of scaling, you can use Prometheus Federation (a way to use multiple Prometheus servers reliably) to create either a hierarchical or a cross-service cluster topology.

As for the UI doesn’t offer any dashboards except an expression browser (which helps debug). Instead, you can use Prometheus integrations to visualize the metrics with tools like Grafana.

Figure 3 – Prometheus and Grafana UI (source: Prometheus.io)

Prometheus is quite affordable to run and provides many of the features of a modern monitoring tool out of the box. The only downside is that you might want to self-host and configure this yourself. In that case, the Prometheus Operator can help by abstracting most of its operational issues.

The Good:

  • It’s free to use.
  • It integrates well with external storage engines and visualization tools.
  • It offers several client libraries.
  • It provides monitoring and alerts.

The Bad:

  • Self-hosting can be a pain.

EFK Stack

EFK stands for Elasticsearch, Fluentd, and Kibana, and the EFK stack is a combination of these open-source technologies that can be used for Kubernetes log monitoring and alerting. The idea is to use Fluentd to collect logs from pods and nodes, then forward them to Elasticsearch. The Elasticsearch cluster acts as the primary aggregate database of these logs. It leverages the indexing capabilities of Elasticsearch to serve requests. Kibana is the UI layer that provides querying and visualization capabilities.

The EFK stack is a widely adopted tool that relies on the melding of technologies. Some of its drawbacks include the hidden cost of managing the whole cluster in production use cases. It also has a steep learning curve, as users must thoroughly understand many components before using them.

Scaling EFK can be troublesome since you must account for the scaling considerations of both Fluentd and Elasticsearch components, which adds complexity to the mix.

The EFK stack can be an excellent alternative to the Prometheus + Grafana combo because it can leverage Application Performance Monitoring features.

Figure 4 – Kibana UI (source: docs.fluentd.org)

The Good:

  • It’s open-source.
  • It’s widely adopted.
  • It offers good observability features.

The Bad:

  • It is higher maintenance.
  • It comes with hidden infrastructure costs.
  • It is not easy to scale.

Mezmo

Mezmo, formerly known as LogDNA also offers a Kubernetes monitoring tool. It is a commercial SaaS tool dedicated to log monitoring and log analysis (log management). It also has native support for K8s clusters.

Integrating Mezmo into your K8s workloads is remarkably simple. It offers integrations for many operating systems, platforms, dedicated incident response systems, and client libraries.

Regarding how it compares to similar commercial tools like EFK stack, we can confidently say that it is the best tool for the job. It sits in the sweet spot of being easy to use, intuitive, affordable, and packed with reliable features. The UI is user-friendly, and Mezmo even offers a free 14-day trial.

One potential downside is that it is not as widely adopted as tools like EFK stack (yet). There is also no open-source version of the platform, and it does not currently include APM monitoring. However, these drawbacks can disappear over time as more and more features deploy to the platform.

Figure 5 – Mezmo UI (source: mezmo.com)

The Good:

  • It’s scalable and straightforward to use.
  • It has a modern UI.
  • Its plans are much more affordable than other commercial offerings.
  • It has fewer maintenance risks.
  • It’s the best tool for Kubernetes log management.

The Bad:

  • There is no open-source version.
  • Early Adoption.

Next Steps with Kubernetes Monitoring Tools

This article compared five of the top Kubernetes monitoring tools for 2022. When selecting monitoring tools for your K8s workloads, you must consider several key factors and weigh the tradeoffs. Compared to the alternatives, adopting Mezmo’s log management and monitoring solution for your K8s clusters will give you a distinct advantage due to its affordability, reliability, ease of use, and excellent support. 

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