RED Method for Prometheus - 3 Key Metrics for Monitoring

Gray Calendar Icon Published: July 25, 2017
Gray Calendar Icon Updated: January 26, 2021
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On July 25th, Luke Marsden from Weaveworks and Bill Maxwell from Rancher Labs led a webinar on ‘A Practical Toolbox to Supercharge Your Kubernetes Cluster’. In the talk they described how you can use Rancher and Weave Cloud to set up, manage and monitor an app in Kubernetes. In this blog, we’ll discuss how and why Weave developed the best-practice RED method for monitoring apps with Prometheus.

What is Prometheus Monitoring?

You may have heard a lot about Prometheus lately, especially when it comes to monitoring applications in Kubernetes. To provide a bit of background before we delve into the RED method, apps running in containers and orchestrated by Kubernetes are highly automated and dynamic, and so, when it comes to monitoring applications in these environments, traditional server-based monitoring tools designed for static services are not sufficient. This is where Prometheus comes in. Prometheus is an open source project that was originally developed by engineers at SoundCloud. It was built and designed specially to monitor microservices that run in containers. Data is scraped from running services at time intervals and saved to a time-series database where it can be queried via the PromQL language. Because the data is stored as a time series, it allows you to explore those time intervals to diagnose problems when they occurred and to also analyze long-term monitoring trends with your infrastructure -- two awesomely powerful features of Prometheus. At Weaveworks we built on the open source distribution of Prometheus and created a scalable, multi-tenant version that is part of our Software-as-a-Service called Weave Cloud. After having run this service for several months now, and by using Weave Cloud to monitor itself, we’ve learned a few things about monitoring cloud native applications and devised a system that we use in determining what to measure before instrumenting code.

What to Instrument?

One of the most important decisions to make when setting up Prometheus Monitoring is deciding on the type of metrics you need to collect about your app. The metrics you choose simplifies troubleshooting when a problem occurs and also enables you to stay on top of the stability of your services and infrastructure. To help us think about what’s important to instrument, we defined a system that we call the RED method. The RED method follows on the principles outlined in the Four Golden Signals developed by Google Site Reliability Engineers or SREs, which focuses on measuring things that end-users care about when using your web services. With the RED method, three key metrics are instrumented that monitor every microservice in your architecture:

  • (Request) Rate - the number of requests, per second, your services are serving.
  • (Request) Errors - the number of failed requests per second.
  • (Request) Duration - The amount of time each request takes expressed as a time interval.

Rate, Errors and Duration attempt to cover the most obvious web service issues. These metrics also capture an error rate that is expressed as a proportion of request rate. With these three basic metrics, we believe the most common problems that can result in poor customer satisfaction are covered. For even more detailed coverage, you may also include the Saturation metric. Saturation is used in another methodology called the USE or Utilization, Saturation and Errors method and it refers to a resource with extra work that can’t be serviced and therefore must be added to the queue for later processing.

USE vs. RED Methods

The USE method focuses more on monitoring performance and is meant to be used as a starting point in identifying the root cause of performance issues and other systemic bottlenecks. Ideally, both the USE and the RED Methods can be used together when monitoring your applications.

Why you should measure the same metrics for every service

From a monitoring perspective, the benefits of treating each service the same is scalability in your operations teams.

**What does scalability of an operations team mean? **We look at this from the point of view of how many services a given team can support. In an ideal world, the number of services the team can support would be independent from its team size, and instead dependent on other factors like what kind of response SLA you want, and whether you need 24/7 coverage, etc.

**How do you decouple the number of services you can support from the team size? **By making every service look, feel and taste the same. This reduces the amount of service-specific training the team needs, and also reduces the service-specific special cases the oncalls need to memorize for those high-pressure incident response scenarios or what is referred to as “cognitive load.”

Capacity planning: Do it as a function of QPS and latency

**Automating tasks and creating alerts **An advantage of the RED method is that it helps you to think about how to display information in your dashboards. With just these three metrics, you can standardize on the layout of your dashboards to make it even simpler to read and to create alerts on for when there is a problem. For example, a possible layout might entail - a different Weave Cloud notebook for each service with PromQL queries for request & error, and latency for each of those services.

Also it goes without saying, but if you treat all your services the same, repetitive tasks are more easily automated.

PromQL query

RED Method Metrics Monitored in Weave Cloud


It is fair to say this method only works for request-driven services - it breaks down for batch-oriented or streaming services for instance. It is also not all-encompassing. There are times you will need to monitor other things - the USE Method for example is great when applied to resources like host CPU & Memory, or caches.

What’s next?

These topics were covered in the latest Rancher and Weaveworks webinar where we showed you how to monitor and troubleshoot a service with Weave Cloud that was deployed through Rancher. To get right to using Rancher and Weaveworks together, you can also view just the demo from the webinar online as well. Watch a replay of the webinar with demos and real world examples or recreate it on your own with these how-to steps. Anita Buehrle is a developer advocate at Weaveworks.

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Without the ability to persist data, containers might seem to have limited use in many workloads. Join Rancher Labs for a deep dive into storage solutions for Docker containers and Kubernetes as we discuss best practices for a wide variety of storage use cases.
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