The Importance of Container Monitoring

Exploring why it's so vital to monitor container deployments

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With the increasing popularity of containers, new container security risks are emerging that can potentially expose businesses to fines, lost productivity and reduced sales. In addition, application and infrastructure issues can prevent containers from operating as smoothly as possible. Container monitoring tools have emerged to help organizations continuously monitor their container environments to ensure security, performance and availability.

Let’s learn more about container monitoring, why it’s important, its challenges, and how it helps with both observability and security.

Container monitoring explained

What is container monitoring?

Container monitoring is the practice of collecting metrics and tracking the health of containerized applications and microservices architectures. Due to the ephemeral nature of containers and the limitations of existing application performance monitoring tools, this process can be difficult for many organizations. The goal of container monitoring is to ensure that container workloads are performing as expected and operating smoothly. Container monitoring is a subset of container observability, which also includes log analytics, notifications, tracing, and more.

Why is container monitoring important?

Every container architecture continuously produces logs, metrics, and traces. Understanding this massive amount of data helps operators understand what’s happening at the host or cluster level, as well as within the container runtime environment and application itself. Continuous monitoring helps DevOps teams reduce the MTTR (mean time to recovery) of performance issues, and meet other critical KPIs.

For example, Docker container monitoring looks at Docker container logs, metrics, and traces to reveal insights into this unique environment. These insights can help DevOps teams with troubleshooting, root cause analysis, threat hunting, and generally understanding their container application and infrastructure performance.

Container monitoring challenges

As containerized and microservices-based application environments grow, they become even more challenging to monitor. Due to the ephemeral nature of containers, they may be provisioned or destroyed quickly. This process makes it difficult to track changes, especially as DevOps teams rapidly bring new applications to market.

In addition, containers share resources, such as memory, CPU, and more. That makes it harder to monitor the physical host’s resource consumption or understand patterns in application health, potential security issues, or container performance deficits. In short, many traditional monitoring and observability solutions are not built for monitoring and troubleshooting a containerized environment.

Traditional monitoring isn’t enough

While monitoring and observability concepts for both traditional and containerized applications are similar in theory, in practice monitoring a containerized environment is far more complex.

Traditional infrastructure and application monitoring tools often struggle with distributed microservices environments. Their technology was built to monitor monolithic applications mapped back to individual servers. In a container environment, microservices are distributed across server clusters with inconsistent workloads, database management systems, and more.

For example, a single application could cross different programming languages, applications, and infrastructure components. Requests between those services result in the data (logs, metrics and traces) picked up by container monitoring tools. Since traditional tools are focused on a simpler client-server architecture, many of these service calls and inter-container communications may fall through the cracks. Cloud native monitoring tools are needed to close these important gaps.

Choosing a container monitoring tool

The right container monitoring tool should give you an overview of your application, as well as its infrastructure components. You should be able to see how the entire application is performing in the context of both the business and the technical platform. In addition, it should correlate logs and system events, so you can spot and react to potential issues.

Beyond this basic functionality, you should also be able to drill down into each component and layer to isolate and identify potential sources of failure. The container monitoring tool should help you visualize the topology of your container ecosystem’s services, applications and infrastructure, as well as configure real-time alerts to help diagnose and respond to issues. Advanced features like automated container resource utilization and recommendations to prevent future issues are important to look for, as well.

Popular open source observability tools include Jaeger for tracing, Prometheus for metrics Logstash for logs, and Grafana for visualizing and analyzing ingested data. There are a wide variety of vendors within the observability space, so be sure to run a POC to determine the solution that best fits your broader ecosystem needs.

Continuous monitoring to find new vulnerabilities

Beyond container monitoring tools, which help with overall system observability and threat hunting use cases, container scanning can help DevSecOps teams proactively find new vulnerabilities.

Container vulnerabilities can happen in a number of ways: from the software inside the container, how the container interacts with the host operating system and adjacent containers, the configurations for networking and storage, and more. A container scanner automates the analysis of various container components to detect security vulnerabilities.

Since containers are composed of many layers, comprehensive security means you should scan for vulnerabilities in custom code, open source dependencies, containers, and Dockerfiles themselves (and even infrastructure as code (IaC) files in some cases). These are the key components to monitor for modern, cloud native application security. In addition, it’s crucial that container scanning happens before deployment, as well as workload scanning in production.

How Snyk Container security complements container monitoring

Container and Kubernetes security is a challenge for many teams because the tools have a steep learning curve for developers and DevSecOps teams. Container monitoring, combined with a developer-first container security approach, makes observability a part of the team’s everyday thinking and build processes.

A dedicated container security solution like Snyk Container serves as a complement to container monitoring, helping teams become more proactive about their container security. Snyk Container monitors container deployments and empowers developers to quickly fix security issues through direct guidance, starting with base image recommendations. In addition, it can detect Dockerfiles and automate fix pull requests (PRs) straight from Git repos.

Visit our Security Resources page to learn about how Snyk can help developers create high-quality, secure code.

Up Next

What is container orchestration?

Orchestration refers to automating container deployment, operations, and lifecycle management. This approach automates how we provision, deploy, scale, monitor, replace, and manage storage for our running containers.

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