Simple Management of Prometheus Monitoring Pipeline with the Prometheus Operator

In a previous tutorial, you learned how to configure and deploy Prometheus to monitor your Kubernetes applications.

Configuring Prometheus is not a trivial task because you need to have a domain-specific knowledge including Prometheus configuration format and Kubernetes auto-discover settings. Obviously, acquiring this knowledge takes time and effort.

However, as we show in this tutorial, you can dramatically simplify the deployment and management of your Prometheus instances with the Prometheus Operator developed by CoreOS. We discuss how the Prometheus Operator could benefit your monitoring pipeline, and then we walk you through setting up a working Prometheus Operator to collect Prometheus-format metrics from your applications. Let’s get started!

What are Operators?

The concept of software operators was introduced by CoreOS back in 2016. In a nutshell, an operator is any application-specific or domain-specific controller that extends the Kubernetes API to simplify deployment, configuration, and management of complex stateful applications on behalf of Kubernetes users.

Under the hood, operators abstract basic Kubernetes APIs and controllers and automate common tasks for specific applications (e.g., Prometheus). Thanks to this abstraction, users can easily configure complex applications even with little knowledge of their domain-specific configuration or language. In addition, operators can be useful for a broad array of other tasks including safe coordination of app upgrades, service discovery, TLS certificate configuration, disaster recovery, backup management, etc.

Prometheus Operator

Building on the definition above, the Prometheus Operator is a piece of software on top of Kubernetes that enables simpler management of Prometheus instances, including configuration and service discovery. It allows the user to easily launch multiple instances of Prometheus, to configure Prometheus versions, as well to manage retention policies, persistence, and replicas.

In addition, the Prometheus Operator can automatically generate monitoring target settings based on Kubernetes label queries. Users can just refer to services and pods they want to monitor in Prometheus Operator’s manifest, and the Operator will take care of inserting appropriate Prometheus configuration for the Kubernetes auto-discovery.

To implement this functionality, Prometheus Operator introduces additional resources and abstractions designed as Custom Resource Definitions (CRD). These include:

  • Prometheus resource that describes the desired state of the Prometheus deployment.
  • Service monitors that describe and manage monitoring targets to be scraped by Prometheus. The Prometheus resource connects to ServiceMonitors using a serviceMonitorSelector  field. This way Prometheus sees what targets (apps) have to be scraped.
  • Alert manager resource to define, configure, and manage Prometheus alert manager.

In this article, we explore only the Prometheus resource and Service Monitors — the minimum needed to configure Prometheus Operator to monitor your Kubernetes cluster.

To complete examples used below, you’ll need the following prerequisites:

  • A running Kubernetes cluster. See Supergiant documentation for more information about deploying a Kubernetes cluster with Supergiant. As an alternative, you can install a single-node Kubernetes cluster on a local system using Minikube.
  • A kubectl command line tool installed and configured to communicate with the cluster. See how to install kubectl here.

With this environment set, we are going to monitor a simple web application exporting Prometheus-format metrics. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Create a Prometheus Operator

A Prometheus Operator has to access Kubernetes API, nodes, and cluster components, so we should grant it some permissions. We can do this via the ClusterRole  resource that defines an RBAC policy. The ClusterRole  contains rules that represent a set of permissions. These permissions are additive, so we should list them all. We will be using the ClusterRole  resource that can grant permissions to manipulate resources of the entire cluster as opposed to Role  which is namespace-scoped.

The above manifest grants the Prometheus Operator the following cluster-wide permissions:

  • read access to pods, nodes, and namespaces.
  • read/write access to services and their endpoints.
  • full access to secrets, ConfigMaps , StatefuleSets, Prometheus-related resources (alert managers, service monitors, etc.) and other third-party resources, etc.

Next, we need to provide an identity for our Prometheus Operator. This can be done with a service account.

Now, as we have a ClusterRole  and a ServiceAccount  , we need to bind the list of permissions defined in the ClusterRole  to the Prometheus Operator. The ClusterRoleBinding  allows associating a list of users, groups, or service accounts to a specific role. We are going to bind our ClusterRole  to the Prometheus Operator’s Service Account.

Note that  should match the name of the ClusterRole created in the first step and the  should match the name of the Service Account created in the second step.

We are going to create these resources in bulk, so put the above manifests into one file (e.g., authorize.yml ) separating each manifest by - - -  delimeter. Then run:

Great! Now we have all permissions required by the Prometheus Operator to manage Prometheus instances and monitor applications. Let’s create a one-replica deployment for the Prometheus Operator:

There are a few important things that this manifest does:

  • Defines several arguments for the prometheus-operator  container to run with. In particular, we load the configmap-reload  image to be able to dynamically update Prometheus ConfigMaps  and specify kube-system/kubelet  in the --kubelet-service  flag.
  • Defines the Prometheus Operator as the non-root user with the user ID 65534.
  • Associates the deployment with the service account created in the step above.

Now, let’s save this spec in the prometheus-deployment.yml  and create the deployment:

Verify that the deployment’s pods are running:

Step 2: Deploy the App Shipping Prometheus-format Metrics

At this point, the Prometheus Operator has no apps to monitor. Thus, before defining ServiceMonitors and Prometheus CRD, we need to deploy some app shipping Prometheus-format metrics. For this purpose, we used an example application from the Go client library that exports fictional RPC latencies of some service. To deploy the application in the Kubernetes cluster, we containerized it with Docker and pushed to the Docker Hub repository. Let’s deploy this example app serving metrics at /metrics  endpoint which Prometheus watches by default. Below is the deployment manifest we used:

Please, note the containerPort 8081  which is the port defined in the application code.

Save this manifest in rpc-app-deployment.yml  and create the deployment:

Let’s verify that our deployment successfully launched two pod replicas of our app:

To let the Prometheus Operator access this deployment, we need to expose a service. This service can then be discovered by the ServiceMonitor  using label selectors. We need to create a service that selects pods by their app  label and its rpc-app  value. Let’s take a look at this service manifest:

Also, take notice that we specified a targetPort  for this service that refers to the port on backend pods of the service. If the targetPort  value is not specified, Kubernetes automatically assigns the value of containerPort  to the targetPort  , but we included the field explicitly to highlight its importance.

Let’s save this spec above in some file (e.g., rpc-app-service.yml ) and create the service:

You can now verify that the service successfully discovered the deployment’s endpoints and configured the right ports:

Step 3: Create a ServiceMonitor

Prometheus Operator uses ServiceMonitors to auto-detect target pods based on the label selectors and associate them with the Prometheus instances. Let’s take a look at the manifest below:

The ServiceMonitor defined above will select pods labeled app:rpc-app  using spec.selector.matchLabels  field. Please notice that the spec.selector.matchLabels  should match app:rpc-app  so that the ServiceMonitor  finds the corresponding endpoints of the deployment.

Also, we defined the env:production  label for the ServiceMonitor. This label will be used by the Prometheus Operator to find the ServiceMonitor. Finally, because we deployed our rpc-app-container  with the named port “web,” we can easily refer to it in the ServiceMonitor without specifying the port number. This allows us to change the port number later without affecting the integrity of other resources.

Let’s create the ServiceMonitor:

Step 4: Create a Prometheus Resource

The next step is to create a Prometheus resource. Its manifest defines the serviceMonitorSelector  that associates ServiceMonitors with the operator. The value of this field should match the label env:production  specified in the ServiceMonitor  manifest above. Using ServiceMonitor  labels makes it easy to dynamically reconfigure Prometheus.

Also, notice that you should refer to the service account created in Step 1 above. Without this, the Prometheus Operator won’t be permitted to access the cluster resources and APIs. This tiny detail was addressed in the issue #1272 on GitHub.

Also, If RBAC authorization is enabled in your cluster, you must create RBAC rules for both Prometheus and Prometheus Operator. Refer to the chapter “Enable RBAC rules for Prometheus Pods” of the official CoreOS documentation to find the required RBAC resource definitions.

Now, let’s save this manifest in the prometheus-resource.yml  and create the Prometheus resource:

Finally, we need to create a Prometheus Service of a NodePort  type to expose Prometheus to the external world. That way we can access the Prometheus web interface.

Save this spec in the prometheus-service.yml  and create the service:

You can now access the Prometheus dashboard from your browser. If running your cluster with Minikube, you can find the Prometheus IP and port with the following command:

You can then access the Prometheus dashboard in your browser entering this address.

If you go the /targets  endpoint, you’ll see the list of the current Prometheus targets. Each deployment replica is treated as a separate target, so you’ll see two targets in your dashboard. You can also find the target’s labels and the time of the last scrape.

Prometheus Targets

The Prometheus Operator automatically created a working Prometheus configuration with the kubernetes_sd_configs  for the auto-discovery of Kubernetes service endpoints. This is a really cool feature because it frees you from the necessity to learn Prometheus-specific configuration language. You can see the automatically generated Prometheus configuration under Status -> Configuration tab:

Prometheus Config

Finally, we can visualize RPC time series generated by our example app. To do this, go to the Graph tab where you can select the metrics to visualize.

Prometheus Time Series

In the example above, we visualized rpc_durations_histogram_seconds  metrics. As you see, we used a “stacked” option for time series visualization, but you can of course opt for simple lines. You can play around with other RPC metrics and native Prometheus metrics as well. The web interface also supports Prometheus query language PromQL to select and aggregate metrics you need. PromQL has a rich functional semantics that allows you to work with time series instance and range vectors, scalars, and strings. To learn more about PromQL check out the official documentation.


As you’ve now learned, the Prometheus Operator for Kubernetes offers useful abstractions for configuring and managing your Prometheus monitoring pipeline. Using the operator means you no longer need to manually configure Kubernetes auto-discovery settings, which involves learning a lot of stuff. All you need to define is the ServiceMonitor  with a list of pods from which to scrape metrics, and the Prometheus resource that automates configuration and links ServiceMonitors  to running Prometheus instances. Along with these features, the Prometheus Operator supports fast configuration of Prometheus alert managers. All these features dramatically simplify the management of your Prometheus monitoring pipeline while retaining flexibility and control if needed.

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