Mastering Kubernetes Observability

In the world of container orchestration, Kubernetes has become the de facto standard. With its ability to manage and scale applications efficiently, it has revolutionized the way we deploy and maintain software systems. However, as the scale and complexity of Kubernetes deployments increase, the need for observability becomes paramount.

What is Kubernetes observability?

Kubernetes (K8s) observability is the practice of gaining insights and understanding into the inner workings of a Kubernetes cluster. It involves collecting, monitoring, and analyzing data to ensure that the cluster is healthy, performing optimally, and meeting the operational requirements of the applications running within it.

K8s observability encompasses multiple facets, including monitoring, logging, tracing, and alerting. These tools and practices provide visibility into the cluster's state, network traffic, application performance, and resource utilization.

  • Monitoring is a crucial aspect of Kubernetes observability. It involves the continuous collection and analysis of metrics, such as CPU usage, memory consumption, and network traffic. By monitoring these metrics, operators can gain insights into the overall health and performance of the cluster. They can identify potential bottlenecks, resource constraints, or anomalies that may impact the applications running on the cluster.

  • captureLogging is another important component of K8s observability. It involves the capturing and storage of log data generated by the cluster's components and applications. Logs provide a detailed record of events, errors, and activities within the cluster. By analyzing logs, operators can troubleshoot issues, track down errors, and gain visibility into the behavior of individual components or applications.

  • Tracing is a practice that enables operators to follow the flow of requests and track the performance of individual requests as they traverse through the cluster. By instrumenting applications with tracing capabilities, operators can gain insights into the latency, bottlenecks, and dependencies of requests. This information is valuable for optimizing application performance and identifying potential issues.

  • Alerting is an essential aspect of Kubernetes observability. It involves setting up thresholds and rules to trigger alerts when certain conditions or events occur. For example, operators can set up alerts to notify them when a specific metric exceeds a predefined threshold or when an error occurs. Alerts help operators proactively identify and respond to issues, ensuring the cluster remains healthy and performs optimally.

In addition to monitoring, logging, tracing, and alerting, Kubernetes observability also involves the use of various tools and technologies. These tools provide operators with the necessary capabilities to collect, analyze, and visualize data. Some popular observability tools in the Kubernetes ecosystem include Prometheus, Grafana, Jaeger, and Elasticsearch.

Overall, K8s observability is a critical practice for ensuring the reliability, performance, and scalability of Kubernetes clusters. By adopting observability practices and leveraging the right tools, operators can gain deep insights into their clusters, troubleshoot issues effectively, and optimize the performance of their applications.

K8s Observability vs. Monitoring: What Is the Difference?

While the terms "observability" and "monitoring" are often used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings within the context of managing a Kubernetes cluster.

Monitoring primarily focuses on collecting and displaying metrics related to the cluster's health and performance. It involves setting up dashboards and visualizations to monitor resource utilization, response times, error rates, and other key performance indicators.

On the other hand, observability takes monitoring a step further by providing insights into the internal state of the cluster and its applications. It allows you to dig deeper into the root causes of performance issues or failures, facilitating effective troubleshooting and debugging.

Observability encompasses more than just metrics; it includes the ability to analyze and correlate logs, trace requests across services, and visualize the cluster's topology and interactions. By embracing observability practices, you gain a holistic understanding of your Kubernetes environment.

When it comes to monitoring a K8s cluster, having access to metrics is crucial. Metrics provide valuable information about the health and performance of your cluster, allowing you to identify potential bottlenecks or areas that require optimization. With monitoring, you can set up dashboards that display real-time data on resource utilization, response times, error rates, and other key performance indicators.

However, monitoring alone may not be sufficient when it comes to troubleshooting and debugging complex issues in your cluster. This is where observability comes into play. Observability goes beyond monitoring by providing a more comprehensive view of your cluster's internal state and its applications.

With observability, you can analyze and correlate logs from different components of your cluster, helping you identify patterns or anomalies that may be causing performance issues or failures. By tracing requests across services, you can understand the flow of data and pinpoint any bottlenecks or inefficiencies in your cluster's architecture.

Moreover, observability allows you to visualize the topology and interactions within your cluster. This visualization helps you understand how different components of your cluster are interconnected and how they communicate with each other. By having a clear picture of your cluster's topology, you can make informed decisions about scaling, load balancing, and optimizing resource allocation.

By embracing observability practices in your Kubernetes environment, you gain a holistic understanding of your cluster's behavior and performance. This understanding enables you to proactively identify and resolve issues, ensuring the smooth operation of your applications and services.

Take a look at the top Kubernetes monitoring tools in 2024.

Kubernetes Observability Challenges

While Kubernetes observability offers many benefits, it also presents several challenges that organizations must overcome to achieve optimal visibility.

  • Scale: As Kubernetes deployments grow in size and complexity, monitoring and managing large clusters can become challenging. Scaling monitoring and logging solutions to handle the increased volume of data is crucial.

Scaling a Kubernetes cluster involves adding more nodes to accommodate the growing workload. However, with each new node, the number of containers and pods also increases, resulting in a significant amount of data being generated. To effectively monitor and manage this data, organizations need to implement scalable monitoring and logging solutions that can handle the increased volume.

One approach to address this challenge is to use distributed monitoring systems that can horizontally scaled by adding more monitoring nodes. These systems can distribute the workload across multiple nodes, ensuring that the monitoring infrastructure can keep up with the growing Kubernetes deployment.

  • Dynamic nature: Kubernetes is designed to be highly dynamic, with containers and pods frequently being created, scaled, and destroyed. Keeping track of these changes and ensuring that monitoring and logging configurations are up-to-date can be a daunting task.

In a dynamic Kubernetes environment, containers and pods can be created and destroyed based on workload demands. This dynamic nature makes it challenging to maintain an accurate and up-to-date monitoring and logging configuration.

To address this challenge, organizations can leverage Kubernetes-native observability tools that automatically discover and monitor new containers and pods as they are created. These tools can dynamically update the monitoring and logging configurations, ensuring that the observability infrastructure remains in sync with the Kubernetes environment.

  • Heterogeneous environments: Organizations often have diverse microservice architectures and employ various technologies within their Kubernetes clusters. Monitoring and collecting telemetry data from these heterogeneous environments can be complex and require careful configuration.

In a Kubernetes cluster, different microservices may be built using different technologies and frameworks. These microservices can generate telemetry data in different formats and protocols, making it challenging to collect and monitor the data in a unified manner.

To overcome this challenge, organizations can adopt observability solutions that support multiple data formats and protocols. These solutions can normalize the telemetry data from different microservices, allowing organizations to monitor and analyze the data in a consistent and unified way.

  • Security: Observability can pose security risks if not implemented correctly. Exposing sensitive data through logs or metrics can lead to potential vulnerabilities. Ensuring proper access controls and encryption mechanisms is crucial to maintaining security.

When implementing observability in a Kubernetes environment, organizations need to ensure that sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information (PII) or authentication credentials, is not exposed through logs or metrics. Exposing such data can lead to security breaches and potential vulnerabilities.

To mitigate these risks, organizations should implement proper access controls and encryption mechanisms for their observability infrastructure. This includes restricting access to sensitive data, encrypting data at rest and in transit, and implementing secure authentication and authorization mechanisms.

Best 10 Kubernetes Observability Tools

To address the challenges and achieve robust observability, numerous tools have emerged in the Kubernetes ecosystem. These tools assist in monitoring, logging, tracing, and alerting, providing comprehensive visibility into the cluster.

1. PerfectScale - K8s Observability and Management Platform

PerefectScale is the industry's only production-ready k8s observability and intelligent platform that can safely and autonomously right-size your environment to enhance resilience and availability, eliminate waste, and reduce carbon emissions. With PerfectScale, you can ensure your environment is always perfectly scalable to meet demand by effortlessly optimizing every layer of your K8s stack.

Some of the top DevOps teams, including Paramount Pictures,, Solidus Labs, and ProTeanecs, have trusted their Kubernetes cost optimization to PerfectScale. Read their case studies here

Kubernetes Observability with PerfectScale

PerfectScale is completely agnostic to all Kubernetes flavors and cloud types. You can manage resources across Kubernetes, Red Hat OpenShift, Rancher RKE, EKS, AKS and GKE for all your clusters. PerfectScale dynamic pricing integration is available for the three major cloud providers (AWS, GCP and Azure) 

PerfectScale's AI algorithms are K8s-specific, accounting for evolving demand trends and configurations and taking into account dozens of different parameters, leading to precise Kubernetes cost optimization. 

PerfectScale helps you cut through the noise and chaos caused by observability alterting capabilites, helping you immediately identify issues throughout your clusters piroirtized by impact to the environment.

With PerfectScale you get a comprehensive view and real-time notifications on resilience risks and cost anomalies impacting the environment. PerfectScale alerts are highly configurable and integrate natively with Slack and Microsoft Teams. Take a look at the full list of PerfectScale partners

PerfectScale streamlines the process of optimizing Kubernetes by offering specialized features, active assistance, and built-in automation. As a preferred solution for reducing Kubernetes costs, PerfectScale automatically adjusts resource scaling, guaranteeing efficient provisioning of clusters. This helps avoid unnecessary over-provisioning, which can lead to increased expenses in K8s environments.

Schedule a demo to see PerfectScale K8s observability approach in action.

2. Prometheus - Open-source observability tool for Kubernetes

One of the most widely used tools in the Kubernetes ecosystem is Prometheus. It is an open-source monitoring and alerting toolkit that offers native integration and scalability. Prometheus collects metrics from various sources within the Kubernetes cluster, allowing operators to gain insights into the health and performance of their applications.

3. Grafana: The open observability platform

Another popular tool in the Kubernetes observability landscape is Grafana. It is an open-source platform that enables the creation of rich visualizations and dashboards for monitoring Kubernetes clusters. With Grafana, operators can easily visualize metrics collected by Prometheus and other monitoring tools, providing a real-time view of the cluster's performance.

4. Elastic Stack: Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats & Logstash – Open-source K8s observability stack

ELK observability stack

When it comes to logging in Kubernetes, Elasticsearch is a widely adopted solution. It is a distributed search and analytics engine that can be utilized for centralized logging and log analysis in Kubernetes. Elasticsearch allows operators to store and search logs from various applications and services running in the cluster, making it easier to troubleshoot issues and gain insights into the system's behavior.

5. IBM Instana Observability

Instana Kubernetes Observability Tool

Unlike other APM tools, IBM Instant Observability makes K8s observability open to everyone. This means that people in DevOps, SRE, platform engineering, IT Ops, and development can get the data they need with the context they need. With Instana, you can get high-quality data continuously, with a 1-second resolution, and end-to-end traces that show how logical and physical relationships work across mobile, web, apps, and infrastructure.

6. Fluentd - Open Source K8s Observality Tool

Fluentd is another powerful tool in the Kubernetes observability toolkit. It is a log collection and forwarding tool that can aggregate logs from various sources and send them to centralized logging systems like Elasticsearch. Fluentd supports a wide range of input and output plugins, making it highly flexible and capable of handling diverse log formats and destinations.

7. Jaeger - Distributed Tracing Observability Platform

For distributed tracing in Kubernetes, Jaeger is a popular choice. It is an open-source distributed tracing system that helps trace requests across microservices within a Kubernetes cluster. Jaeger collects and stores trace data, allowing operators to visualize the flow of requests and identify performance bottlenecks and latency issues.

8. Zipkin - K8s Observability

zipkin obervability

Another distributed tracing solution in the Kubernetes ecosystem is Zipkin. It provides a rich set of features, including visualization and latency analysis. Zipkin allows operators to trace requests as they traverse through different services and components in the cluster, providing insights into the system's behavior and performance.

9. Pixie- Open Source Kubernetes Observability

Pixie is an open-source K8s observability platform designed for developers. It is auto-instrumented, scriptable, and native to Kubernetes, allowing users to debug using auto-generated views and sessions. Pixie provides quick access to metrics, events, traces, and logs without requiring code changes, using dynamic eBPF probes and ingestors. It supports debugging with scripts from the community, team, or custom scripts, and enables sharing of debugging sessions. Significantly, Pixie operates entirely within Kubernetes clusters, ensuring no customer data is stored externally, thus maintaining data privacy and reducing data handling complexity​.

10. Splunk -Kubernetes Monitoring

Splunk's Kubernetes Observability Solutions offer an integrated, AI-driven approach to Kubernetes management. It provides a comprehensive view of cluster health and behavior, seamlessly integrating Kubernetes data with other infrastructure and application information. Utilizing AI analytics for rapid anomaly detection and fully automated monitoring, Splunk enhances troubleshooting and accelerates root cause analysis. Its dynamic cluster mapping and context-aware insights ensure efficient and effective Kubernetes monitoring, streamlining the management of complex Kubernetes environments.

These tools, along with many others, offer comprehensive observability capabilities to ensure your Kubernetes environment remains robust and performant. By leveraging these tools, operators can gain deep insights into the cluster's health, troubleshoot issues effectively, and optimize the performance of their applications running on Kubernetes.

Get K8s Observability with PerfectScale

K8s Observability is a critical aspect of managing Kubernetes clusters. By following best practices, understanding the difference between monitoring and observability, recognizing the challenges, and leveraging the right tools, you can gain valuable insights into your cluster's behavior, troubleshoot issues effectively, and maintain a resilient and efficient Kubernetes environment.

PerfectScale takes the burden of K8s observability off the DevOps, Platform,SRE, and Finops teams, allowing them to focus on bigger, more important projects. Your K8s environment will continuously be perfectly scaled, with lower cloud costs, reduced SLA/SLO breaches, fewer outages and downtimes, and a more reliable and stable overall experience for users.

Book a demo today and find out how PerfectScale can help you lower your Kubernetes costs while putting system uptime and resilience first.

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