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Container monitoring explained

Container monitoring is the process of collecting, analyzing, and reporting metrics and data related to the performance and health of containerized applications and their hosting environments.

5 min read

Container monitoring is the process of collecting, analyzing, and reporting metrics and data related to the performance and health of containerized applications and their hosting environments. This practice is pivotal for gaining visibility into the operations of individual containers, understanding container metrics, and performing root cause analysis of performance issues.

Although containers offer a lightweight, efficient, and scalable solution for deploying applications, their ephemeral nature and the dynamic environments in which they operate introduce unique challenges. This blog post takes a comprehensive look at container monitoring by discussing key metrics to monitor, benefits, challenges, and best practices for container monitoring. Let’s get started by diving deeper into what elements you should monitor in containers to keep your containerized applications running smoothly and efficiently.

Key metrics and aspects to monitor in containers

  • CPU and memory usage: The CPU and memory resources allocated and consumed by individual containers are at the core of container performance. Monitoring these container resources is a crucial means of identifying containers that are either underutilized or straining under heavy loads.

  • Network traffic and performance: Since containerized applications often rely on inter-container communication and access to external services, network performance is another critical aspect of container monitoring. Tracking the volume of network traffic and metrics such as latency and packet loss helps identify network bottlenecks and issues affecting application responsiveness and reliability.

  • Application health and performance metrics: Beyond the underlying infrastructure, it’s important to focus on the health and performance of applications running inside containers. This includes monitoring response times, transaction volumes, and error rates.

  • Log management and analysis: Logs are rich in information, offering a granular view of events and issues within containerized environments. Effective log management and analysis are the foundation of root cause analysis, allowing teams to sift through the noise and identify relevant error messages or patterns indicative of deeper issues.

  • Error rates and exceptions: Keeping tabs on error rates and exceptions thrown by applications is key to maintaining application health. An uptick in errors can be a harbinger of performance issues or bugs that need immediate attention.

Benefits of container monitoring

Implementing monitoring as part of development and operational workflows significantly enhances the performance, reliability, and security of containerized applications. Here’s a closer look at the advantages of robust container monitoring:

  • Improved application performance and reliability: One of the primary benefits of container monitoring is the substantial improvement in application performance and reliability. By continuously tracking key metrics and performance indicators, teams can proactively identify and address issues, often before they affect the end-user experience.

  • Faster issue detection and resolution: Container monitoring tools equipped with real-time monitoring capabilities and intelligent alerting systems can significantly reduce the time it takes to detect and resolve issues. 

  • Enhanced security and compliance: Beyond performance and reliability, container monitoring plays a crucial role in supporting container security best practices. By monitoring access logs, network traffic, and anomalous behavior, teams can identify potential security threats and vulnerabilities early on. Additionally, this careful supervision supports adherence to regulatory standards and policies, offering essential insights that help comply with industry-specific security standards and frameworks.

Container monitoring’s challenges

While container monitoring offers essential benefits, it also presents a unique set of challenges. Read on to learn about obstacles to effective container monitoring along with advice to overcome them:

ChallengeDescription
1. The dynamic, ephemeral, and scalable nature of containerized environmentsContainers are inherently ephemeral, with life spans ranging from mere seconds to several days. The transient nature and dynamic scaling of container instances to meet demand complicate traditional monitoring approaches. Monitoring solutions must be capable of real-time monitoring and service discovery to track the rapidly changing landscape of containerized applications effectively.
2. The complexity of monitoring multi-container and multi-service applicationsModern applications often consist of multiple interdependent containers, each running different services. A multi-container microservices architecture introduces complexity in monitoring because performance issues in one container can ripple through to others. Effective monitoring requires a holistic view of the entire application, encompassing all containers and services, to pinpoint problems accurately.
3. Integration with existing monitoring systemsMany organizations have pre-existing monitoring tools and systems. Integrating container monitoring solutions with these existing tools can be challenging, yet it's essential for a unified view of application and infrastructure health. To facilitate this integration, consider utilizing middleware or adapter services that can bridge the gap between different systems, ensuring seamless data flow and complete monitoring.
4. Ensuring comprehensive coverage without information overloadWith the vast amount of data generated by containerized applications and their physical hosts, there's a risk of information overload. Monitoring solutions must balance providing extensive coverage with the need to filter out noise. Highlighting actionable insights without inducing alert fatigue requires intelligent alerting mechanisms and customizable dashboards that focus on critical metrics and anomalies.

By adopting best practices and the right tools—which we will cover next—teams can ensure their containerized environments are reliable and secure.

Popular container monitoring tools

It can be daunting to navigate the landscape of container monitoring tools, given the many options available. However, understanding the key features and differentiators of the most popular tools can help you make an informed decision tailored to your specific needs:

Prometheus

Prometheus stands out for its powerful data model and query language, allowing for precise retrieval of time series data. As an open-source tool designed for reliability, it offers built-in service discovery to monitor your containerized environments automatically. Prometheus excels at gathering and storing metrics efficiently, making it ideal for real-time monitoring and alerting. Integration with Grafana further enhances Prometheus’ visualization capabilities, providing a comprehensive monitoring solution.

Key features

  • Multidimensional data model designed as time series data and enriched with metadata

  • Flexible query language (PromQL) for retrieving and analyzing metrics

  • Support for service discovery or static configuration to discover targets

  • Integrated alerting capabilities based on custom-defined conditions

Figure 1: Prometheus container metrics collection (Source: Docker)

Grafana

While Grafana is not a monitoring tool per se, it is widely used in conjunction with tools like Prometheus for its superior data visualization capabilities. Grafana allows you to create dashboards that provide visual insights into your metrics, making it easier to understand the health and performance of your containerized applications. Its ability to aggregate data from multiple sources, including Prometheus and Datadog, makes Grafana an indispensable tool for teams seeking a unified view of their monitoring data.

Key features

  • Rich visualization options with customizable dashboards

  • Integration with various data sources, such as Prometheus and Datadog

  • Advanced alerting and notification capabilities

  • User-friendly interface and set up

Figure 2: Grafana dashboard for container metrics (Source: Grafana)

Datadog

Datadog is a cloud-based monitoring service that provides detailed insights about cloud services, servers, databases, and tools. It's particularly well-suited to organizations seeking an all-in-one monitoring solution beyond container monitoring.

Key features

  • Real-time performance monitoring with detailed dashboards

  • Seamless integration with more than 400 technologies, including container ecosystems

  • Advanced analytics and machine learning capabilities for anomaly detection

  • Log management and analysis integrated with monitoring for comprehensive insights

Figure 3: Datadog container dashboard (Source: Datadog)

How to choose the right tool for your needs

Selecting the proper container monitoring tool depends on several factors, including your specific monitoring requirements, the complexity of your containerized environment, and your existing technology stack. Consider the following when making your choice:

  • Integration capabilities: Ensure the tool integrates seamlessly with your existing infrastructure and monitoring systems.

  • Scalability: The tool should be able to scale with your containerized applications, handling the dynamic nature of container deployments.

  • Feature set: Evaluate the features offered, such as real-time monitoring, service discovery, alerting, and visualization capabilities, to make sure they meet your needs.

  • Ease of use: Consider the learning curve and ease of implementation, especially if your team is new to container monitoring.

Wiz: Enhance your container security

Wiz is a comprehensive, industry-leading platform designed to secure everything you build and run in the cloud—including containerized applications. While our discussion has primarily focused on container monitoring tools aimed at observing performance and health metrics, Wiz plays a crucial role in securing containerized environments, offering prevention, detection and response capabilities that are indispensable for modern development and operational workflows.

An example of Wiz's attack path visualization showing a hosted container image with multiple vulnerabilities

Key features of Wiz for container security

  • Container and Kubernetes security: Wiz provides holistic container security, Kubernetes, and cloud environments from build-time to real-time. This empowers teams to build containerized applications securely, addressing threats throughout the application life cycle.

  • Vulnerability management: Our comprehensive platform uncovers vulnerabilities across clouds and workloads, including VMs, serverless functions, containers, and appliances, without deploying agents or configuring external scans. Wiz’s agentless approach simplifies the process of identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in containerized applications.

  • Comprehensive cloud security: Beyond containers, Wiz offers a range of security tools, including a cloud workload protection platform (CWPP), cloud security posture management (CSPM), and cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM). These solutions provide a 360-degree view of cloud security, from configuration auditing to identity access management.

  • Continuous monitoring and compliance: Wiz continuously monitors cloud environments for sensitive data exposure, misconfigurations, and compliance violations. By maintaining automated compliance against industry standards and benchmarks, such as PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA—along with custom standards, Wiz gives you peace of mind that your containerized applications adhere to regulatory requirements.

Count on Wiz to help you build and run secure, compliant, and resilient applications in the cloud. Request a demo with Wiz today and keep your containers and cloud infrastructure safe and future proof!

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