(Part 1) SLO Implementation: Release the Metrics

(Part 1) SLO Implementation: Release the Metrics

In the blog post overviewing our SLO implementation, I listed configuring our blog to expose the metrics for Prometheus to scrape as the first step. To fulfill that promise, this post examines the necessary steps for taking our static website and serving it via a production web server which exposes the latency and success metrics our SLO needs.

A brief examination of Prometheus metrics

Application monitoring has two fundamental components: instrumentation and exposition. Instrumentation refers to measuring and recording different quantities and states. Exposition refers to making metrics available to some consumer, which for us is Prometheus. We’ll discuss both in the context of our static website.

Instrumentation

Prometheus supports a number of different metric types that we could use to instrument our application. There are four core types (counter, gauge, histogram and summary), which Prometheus’ documentation explores in considerable detail.

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We utilize the counter and the histogram to generate the needed metrics for our SLO.

With respect to the availability component of our SLO, we need to track both the number of failed requests and the number of total requests. The counter type perfectly fulfills this use case, as it tracks the number or size of events.

With respect to the latency SLO, we need to track the ever changing response time of server requests. We could use a gauge, which provides a snapshot of current state (i.e. the response time for the last request to the web server). However, a histogram is an even more appropriate metric type. It also captures a snapshot of current state, but specifically supports percentile calculations (i.e. what is the 99% percentile response time for requests to this web server). Since our SLO explicitly examines the 99% percentile, the histogram metric type is the most appropriate choice.

We can generate these metrics in two different ways. In the first way, we perform direct instrumentation on the application using Prometheus’ client side libraries. In other words, the application code has code written to track the proper metrics in a way that conforms with Prometheus’ standards.

In the second way, our application code has no direct knowledge of Prometheus, and instead exports metrics in some non-Prometheus specific format. We then use an exporter to transform these metrics into a format which Prometheus can ingest. Exporters exist for a number of popular open-source projects, and are necessary to use Prometheus with projects like Nginx, which were developed years ago, and will likely never have Prometheus conforming instrumentation implemented directly in the source code.

Exposition

Implementing exposition involves less decision making than implementing instrumentation. Prometheus scrapes metrics from an application via HTTP requests to /metrics. It expects the metrics in a standardized, human-readable text format. We could produce this text-format by hand, but the Prometheus ecosystem has tools to automatically generate the formatted metrics and serve the endpoint for almost any use-case.

But how do we get these for our app?

We desire a static web server for which we can perform the needed instrumentation and exposition. We have a couple of different options for creating one. First, we could write our own web server, and in doing so, directly instrument our SLI metrics using Prometheus’ client-side libraries. Alternatively, we could choose an already existing open-source web server, which itself has instrumentation conforming to Prometheus requirements. Caddy, with the usage of the Prometheus plugin, is one such popular open source web server. Finally, we could use a historic web server like Nginx or Apache, and then use an exporter to generate Prometheus consumable metrics.

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While option 1, writing our own web server, would give us considerable control over instrumentation, it is definitely overkill for hosting a static blog. Additionally, I struggled to find an well-known exporter for Apache or Nginx which both provided all the metrics we need for SLO monitoring and was easily configurable. Fortunately, option 2, Caddy with the Prometheus plugin, provides everything we need. Caddy is a well-known and respected web server and the Prometheus plugin instruments the exact metrics we need for SLO tracking.

Let’s write some config files!

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We know that we want to serve our blog via the Caddy web server, with the Prometheus plugin. Additionally, we know we want to run the Caddy web server on Kubernetes. Kubernetes runs Docker containers, which derive from Docker images. So let’s write a Dockerfile!

In all, the Docker image must contain a binary containing the Caddy web server, with the Prometheus plugin, and our Caddy configuration file and static content. It must also expose the proper ports to allow us to access the Caddy web server from outside of the container. I’ve embedded the Dockerfile below. I’ve added extensive comments examining both the non-trivial what and why of the included commands.

We must specify some light configuration settings for Caddy. Again, I’ve embedded the Caddyfile below, which contains extensive comments on the non-trivial what and why of the configuration specification.

If you’ve cloned the project, you can run make build_image from the base directory, and you should see a successful image construction. If you run docker run -p 8080:80 mattjmcnaughton/blog:$(git rev-list HEAD -n 1), you will start running a container derived from the image you just built. If curl localhost:8080/metrics dumps a whole bunch of metrics in Prometheus format, then you’re good to go!

Let’s gobble up some metrics!

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We’ve successfully instrumented our blog and exposed the resulting metrics via the /metrics endpoint. The final step is configuring our Prometheus instance to scrape these metrics. We’ll discuss this setup in much greater depth in the next blog post, but if you are itching to start experimenting, the embedded prometheus.yml file below configures Prometheus to scrape my blog.

You can run a Prometheus Docker container with the given configuration using the following command.

docker run \
  -p 9090:9090 \
  -v /path/to/downloaded/prometheus.yml:/etc/prometheus/prometheus.yml \
  prom/prometheus

Try navigating to localhost:9090 and querying for the caddy_http_request_count_total metric. You should see counters, with a variety of labels, tracking all the requests seen by this blog.

Next Time

Now that our application is instrumented and exposing metrics, our next step is hosting Prometheus on Kubernetes and configuring our Prometheus instance to scrape our blog’s metrics. Can’t wait!

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