5 Essential Requirements for Leveraging Canary Apps in the Enterprise

Part of the beauty of canary applications is that they’re small and simple – and, by extension, individual canary apps are easy to deploy and monitor.

But if you’re operating at enterprise scale and have many different potential failure points to track across multiple environments, you likely won’t be deploying just a few canary apps. You’ll be running dozens or possibly even hundreds of them.

At that scale, taking advantage of canary apps requires much more than the apps themselves. You also need an enterprise management platform and processes that allow you to control and orchestrate your canaries, analyze the insights they produce, enable collaboration across teams, and so on.

With that reality in mind, this article breaks down the five essential components of effective canary application deployment in the enterprise cloud. It explains what it takes to leverage canaries at scale in a multi-team, multi-environment organization where canary apps provide an early-warning system to detect problems with several dozen distinct workloads.

1. Platform-Based Canary Control

The purpose of canary apps is to control individual workloads and allow engineers a way to detect reliability or performance issues with those workloads. However, you also need a platform to control the canaries themselves. Specifically, you need a central control-and-command center that allows you to:

  • Track which canaries you have available.
  • Configure when each canary should start or stop.
  • Monitor the status of each canary.
  • Analyze data produced by canaries and set thresholds for generating alerts when problems occur.
  • Share insights from canaries via dashboards and APIs so that the data generated by canaries becomes easily accessible via channels that are external to the platform.

With a central management platform in place, you can efficiently manage hundreds of canaries across multiple clouds. That’s the only way to operate effectively at scale.

2. Aggregated Canary Alerts and Notifications

Generating alerts when an individual canary encounters a problem, such as a failure to send traffic over the network, is relatively simple. However, individual alerts don’t provide fine-grained visibility into application health. To get truly actionable insights, you need an alerting and notification system that can aggregate alerts from multiple canaries into a hierarchy of health or compliance metrics, and then determine whether you’re at risk of violating relevant Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

Taking things a step further, aggregated alerts also make it possible to leverage aggregated data into predictions that can tell you when an SLA violation is likely to occur, even if one has not happened yet.

3. Flexible Forecast Models

Making the most accurate and impactful predictions at scale requires more than just aggregating alerts. You also need custom forecasting models that are fine-tuned for the specific workloads you are supporting with your canaries.

These models can be informed by insights generated not only from canaries running in your own environment, but also from third-party canaries managed by others. Imagine, for example, the power of a custom model that is based on insights from 100,000 crowdsourced canaries.

With flexible forecast models, it becomes possible to anticipate and react to performance and reliability issues before they turn into disruptions – even in cases where you only have a few seconds’ warning of an impending failure.

4. Collaborative Canary Sharing

In a typical enterprise cloud environment, you are likely to have multiple teams of developers, IT operations engineers, and/or DevOps engineers, all of whom leverage canaries to streamline their workflows. In addition, teams from beyond your enterprise might be using canaries that can benefit your organization, too.

To make work more efficient for all stakeholders, enterprises should have access to an ecosystem that allows engineers to share and distribute canaries. When you can easily borrow canaries from other teams and share your own with them, you can focus on deploying canaries to generate insights rather than having to write canaries from scratch when the same type of canary already exists and is in use by another team.

5. An Inexpensive Hosting Platform

Enterprise software is already expensive, and the last thing most businesses want is yet another pricey platform that they have to license and maintain.

For that reason, enterprise canary solutions should be inexpensive or entirely free of cost. Lower costs breed greater efficiency, predictability, and transparency by encouraging the use of a universal platform for hosting canaries. Just as open-source platforms like Kubernetes have become drivers of innovation because their low cost has made them a de facto standard across enterprises, free or low-cost canary platforms can function the same way.

Conclusion: Making the Most of Canary Apps in the Enterprise

Individual canaries generate value by providing early visibility into specific problems. But when you can manage hundreds of canaries across your entire IT estate and correlate the insights they generate, you amplify their value. That’s what enterprise deployment of canary applications is all about, and it’s what becomes possible with an efficient, inexpensive canary management platform.

 Chris Tozzi has worked as a Linux systems administrator and freelance writer with more than ten years of experience covering the tech industry, especially open source, DevOps, cloud native and security. He also teaches courses on the history and culture of technology at a major university in upstate New York.

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