Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why Monitoring Sucks

Why Monitoring Sucks (and what we're doing about it)

About two weeks ago someone made a tweet. At this point, I don't remember who said it but the gist was that "monitoring sucks". I happened to be knee-deep in frustrating bullshit around that topic and was currently evaluating the same effing tools I'd evaluated at every other company over the past 10 years or so. So I did what seems to be S.O.P for me these days. I started something.

But does monitoring REALLY suck?

Heck no! Monitoring is AWESOME. Metrics are AWESOME. I love it. Here's what I don't love: - Having my hands tied with the model of host and service bindings. - Having to set up "fake" hosts just to group arbitrary metrics together - Having to either collect metrics twice - once for alerting and another for trending - Only being able to see my metrics in 5 minute intervals - Having to chose between shitty interface but great monitoring or shitty monitoring but great interface - Dealing with a monitoring system that thinks IT is the system of truth for my environment - Perl (I kid...sort of) - Not actually having any real choices

Yes, yes I know:

You can just combine Nagios + collectd + graphite + cacti + pnp4nagios and you have everything you need!

Seriously? Kiss my ass. I'm a huge fan of the Unix pipeline philosophy but, christ, have you ever heard the phrase "antipattern"?

So what the hell are you going to do about it?

I'm going to let smart people be smart and do smart things.

Step one was getting everyone who had similar complaints together on IRC. That went pretty damn well. Step two was creating a github repo. Seriously. Step two should ALWAYS be "create a github repo". Step three? Hell if I know.

Here's what I do know. There are plenty of frustrated system administrators, developers, engineers, "devops" and everything under the sun who don't want much. All they really want is for shit to work. When shit breaks, they want to be notified. They want pretty graphs. They want to see business metrics along side operational ones. They want to have a 52-inch monitor in the office that everyone can look at and say:

See that red dot? That's bad. Here's what was going on when we got that red dot. Let's fix that shit and go get beers

About the "repo"

So the plan I have in place for the repository is this. We don't really need code. What we need is an easy way for people to contribute ideas. The plan I have in place for this is partially underway. There's now a monitoringsucks organization on Github. Pretty much anyone who is willing to contribute can get added to the team. The idea is that, as smart people think of smart shit, we can create new repository under some unifying idea and put blog posts, submodules, reviews, ideas..whatever into that repository so people have an easy place to go get information. I'd like to assign someone per repository to be the owner. We're all busy but this is something we're all highly interested in. If we spread the work out and allow easy contribution, then we can get some real content up there.

I also want to keep the repos as light and cacheable as possible. The organization is under the github "free" plan right now and I'd like to keep it that way.

Blog Posts Repo

This repo serves as a place to collect general information about blog posts people come across. Think of it as hyper-local delicious in a DVCS.

Currently, by virtue of the first commit, Michael Conigliaro is the "owner". You can follow him on twitter and github as @mconigliaro

IRC Logs Repo

This repo is a log of any "scheduled" irc sessions. Personally, I don't think we need a distinct #monitoringsucks channel but people want to keep it around. The logs in this repo are not full logs. Just those from when someone says "Hey smart people. Let's think of smart shit at this date/time" on twitter.

Currently I appear to be the owner of this repo. I would love for someone who can actually make the logs look good to take this over.

Tools Repo

This repo is really more of a "curation" repo. The plan is that each directory is the name of some tool with two things it in:

  • A as a review of the tool
  • A submodule link to the tool's repo (where appropriate)

Again, I think I'm running point on this one. Please note that the submodule links APPEAR to have some sort of UI issue on github. Every submodule appears to point to Dan DeLeo's 'critical' project.

Metrics Catalog Repo

This is our latest member and it already has an official manager! Jason Dixon (@obfuscurity on github/twitter - jdixon on irc) suggested it so he get's to run it ;) The idea here is that this will serves as a set of best practices around what metrics you might want to collect and why. I'm leaving the organization up to Jason but I suggested a per-app/service/protocol directory.

Wrap Up

So that's where we are. Where it goes, I have no idea. I just want to help where ever I can. If you have any ideas, hit me up on twitter/irc/github/email and let me know. It might help to know that if you suggest something, you'll probably be made the person reponsible for it ;)


It was our good friend Sean Porter (@portertech on twitter), that we have to thank for all of this ;)

From Public Photos

Update (again)

It was kindly pointed out that I never actually included a link to the repositories. Here they are:


technicalpickles said...

It took me like five minutes to figure out where the repos were actually at. For the lazy, here's a link :)

John E. Vincent said...

Oh shit. Totally my bad. I can't believe I forgot that. Thanks for pointing it out ;) I'll update the post.

Hardy Mansen said...

Probably need to go the higher level to tie monitoring aswell into the CMDB(If even CMDB is a good name) Your Vogeler is a nice start but thats just the ground floor to get asset data from ex puppet, the middle layer prob is a modular rule engine for the enterprise before the presentation layer. Ex of that a Relationship algoritms for knowing dependancies between your assets, but general what kind of questions are interesting for management to know. Answer that question and we know what kind of business process plugins we can build. A framework for creating these plugins..
To tie in monitoring to these objects would directly give output on what more is affected.
To have a open api that, physical, network, os, middleware and business logic can talk to, a dispatcher that will feed the CMDB and send out alerts. /end rambling thougts

John E. Vincent said...

@aa4f79ce27bf456a1528298a766440ee Yeah the integration is with your configuration management system is what, I think, drives a lot of people to hate dealing with monitoring right now. 

Many/all of the monitoring systems want to be the system of record for your environment and they're not (they never were really). Combine that with the hoops you have to jump through to get new systems in there and the rage starts to bubble up. When you get into the areas of elastic capacity (spinning up and tearing down nodes as capacity dictates), nothing really handles it well. I don't care about server X, Y and Z. I have a capacity pool of servers that do X, Y and Z which changes all the time.

I personally like the Statsd and Graphite models. You start dumping information into the system and it graphs it. It doesn't care about the actual systems. It accept arbitrary data and graphs it. The other components - alerting for instance - need to reach that point. And they need to do it with an API that I can call and not a text file that requires me to restart the service. They should handle push as well as pull checks.

Vogeler was a start but I'm feeling more that Noah ( is a better approach to tie it in. I still want to work on Vogeler in the future though.