Measuring Containers Memory and CPU Usage

Observe metrics over time #

If you are familiar with Kubernetes, you understand the importance of defining resource requests and limits. Since we already explored kubectl top pods command, you might have set the requested resources to match the current usage, and you might have defined the limits to be above the requests. That approach might work on the first day. But, with time, those numbers will change, and we will not be able to get the full picture through kubectl top pods. We need to know how much memory and CPU containers use when on their peak loads and how much they use when they are under less stress. We should observe those metrics over time and adjust periodically.

Even if we do somehow manage to guess how much memory and CPU a container needs, those numbers might change from one release to another. Maybe we introduced a feature that requires more memory or CPU?

What we need is to observe resource usage over time and make sure that it does not change with new releases or with increased (or decreased) numbers of users. For now, we’ll focus on the former case and explore how to see how much memory and CPU our containers have used over time.

Measure memory and CPU over time #

As usual, we’ll start by opening the Prometheus's graph screen.

open "http://$PROM_ADDR/graph"

We can retrieve container memory usage through the container_memory_usage_bytes.

Please type the expression that follows, press the Execute button, and switch to the Graph screen.


If you take a closer look at the top usage, you’ll probably end up confused. It seems that some containers are using way more than the expected amount of memory.

The truth is that some of the container_memory_usage_bytes records contain cumulative values, and we should exclude them so that only memory usage of individual containers is retrieved. We can do that by retrieving only the records that have a value in the container_name field.

Retrieve memory usage of individual containers #

Please type the expression that follows, and press the Execute button.


Now, the result makes much more sense. It reflects the memory usage of the containers running inside our cluster.

We’ll get to alerts based on container resources a bit later. For now, we’ll imagine that we’d like to check the memory usage of a specific container (e.g., prometheus-server). Since we already know that one of the available labels is container_name, retrieving the data we need should be straightforward.

Retrieve memory usage of prometheus-server #

Please type the expression that follows, and press the Execute button.


We can see the oscillations in memory usage of the container over the last hour. Normally, we’d be interested in a longer period like a day or a week. We can accomplish that by clicking the - and + buttons above the graph, or by typing the value directly in the field between them (e.g., 1w). However, changing the duration might not help much since we haven’t been running the cluster for too long. We might not be able to squeeze more data than a few hours unless you are a slow reader.

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