Monitoring large-scale application clusters

Most software engineering organizations build applications with some hooks in place to allow functional tests. Some organizations continuously build and test all software automatically at check-in. And then there are those who have learnt from mistakes, and have built a suite of tests which get triggered at startup to look for problems which could indicate a failed initialization.

The next step in building a scalable web application, is creating some form of self-monitoring logic (sometimes called a watchdog) which could periodically test itself (or monitor performance statistics) for problems worth escalating to operations team.

Arnon has a couple of (1)interesting  (2)posts on the topic which I came across today. He summarized the whole suggestion using 3 acronymns. And I’m going to add one more to make it complete

  1. BBIT : Build time Built in Tests.
  2. PBIT: Power-on Built in Tests
  3. CBIT: Continuous Built in Tests
  4. IBIT: Initiated Built in Tests

The organization I work for is relatively small in the number of servers but one thing we learnt early on was that waiting for customers to report problems was the worst way to find out about issues. Setting up monitoring using something like Nagios/Openview/curl_scripts/etc may work, but its not very scalable. Besides blackbox testing without insight into the application may not be sufficient/ideal for more complex applications.

To increase automation, reduce dependence on central monitoring infrastructure and to speed up failure detection (prediction), it might be important to have some tests in all of the 4 zones listed above.