Switching to Elasticsearch for Storing Metrics

In this lesson, we will see whether we can use Elasticsearch for storing metrics or not.

Using elastic.co to store our metrics #

Now that we had Elasticsearch running in our cluster and knowing that it can handle almost any data type, a logical question could be whether we can use it to store our metrics besides logs. If you explore elastic.co, you’ll see that metrics are indeed something they advertise. If it could replace Prometheus, it would undoubtedly be beneficial to have a single tool that can handle not only logs but also metrics. On top of that, we could ditch Grafana and keep Kibana as a single UI for both data types.

Right tool for the job #

Nevertheless, I would strongly advise against using Elasticsearch for metrics. It is a general-purpose free-text no-SQL database. That means that it can handle almost any data but, at the same time, it does not excel at any specific format. Prometheus, on the other hand, is designed to store time-series data which are the preferred way of exposing metrics. As such, it is more limited in what it does. But, it handles metrics much better than Elasticsearch. I believe that using the right tool for the job is better than having a single tool that does too many things, and if you believe the same, Prometheus is a much better choice for metrics.

When compared to Elasticsearch, and focused only on metrics, Prometheus' requires much fewer resources (as you already noticed), it is faster, and it has a much better query language. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given that both tools are great, but only Prometheus is designed to work exclusively with metrics. The increased cost of maintaining an additional tool is well paid off by having a better (and more focused) solution.

Did I mention that notifications generated through Prometheus and Alertmanager are better than those through Elasticsearch?

Prometheus integration with Kubernetes #

There’s one more important thing to note. Prometheus integration with Kubernetes is way better than what Elasticsearch offers. That is not a surprise since Prometheus is based on the same cloud-native principles as Kubernetes and both belong to Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Elasticsearch, on the other hand, comes from a more traditional background.

🔍 Elasticsearch is excellent, but it does too much. Its lack of focus makes it inferior to Prometheus for storing and querying metrics, as well as sending alerts based on such data.

Using Prometheus for logs #

If replacing Prometheus with Elasticsearch is not a good idea, can we invert the question? Can we use Prometheus for logs? The answer is a definite no. As already stated, Prometheus is focused only on metrics. If you do adopt it, you need a different tool for storing logs. That can be Elasticsearch, Papertrail, or any other solution that fits your needs.

Using Kibana for metrics #

How about Kibana? Can we ditch it in favor of Grafana? The answer is yes, but don’t do that. While we could create a table in Grafana and attach it to Elasticsearch as a data source, its capability to display and filter logs is inferior. On the other hand, Grafana is much more flexible than Kibana for displaying graphs based on metrics. So, the answer is similar to the Elasticsearch vs. Prometheus dilemma. Keep Grafana for metrics and use Kibana for logs, if you chose to store them in Elasticsearch.

Should you add Elasticsearch as yet another data source in Grafana? If you took previous recommendations, the answer is most likely no. There is not much value in presenting logs as graphs. Even the predefined graph available in Kibana’s Explore section is, a waste of space. There is no point in showing how many log entries we have in total, nor even how many are error entries. We use metrics for that.

🔍 Logs themselves are too expensive to parse, and most of the time they do not provide enough data to act as metrics.

Get hands-on with 1000+ tech skills courses.