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Datadog vs. New Relic: Kubernetes Monitoring Options

There are many options for monitoring your Kubernetes cluster. This article discusses two monitoring tools: New Relic and Datadog. You’ll understand when to use each tool and when to use both.

July 12, 2022
Taurai Mutimutema
Systems Analyst & Engineer

Kubernetes is making automation and orchestration the preferred route for deployment, management, and scaling of cloud applications. To support this increased adoption, there’s now a variety of tools available to monitor cluster and application health. By using a monitoring solution and toolset, engineering teams are able to get insight into the variables impacting performance, whether hosted on-premise or in the cloud.

In this article, we’ll break down the features of two popular Kubernetes monitoring tools New Relic and Datadog. You’ll understand when to use each tool and when to use both.

Goal Planning | Tools

No matter the specific tool, these metrics are important to engineers and system administrators monitoring Kubernetes instances in general:

  • Number of active clusters and their histories
  • Compute and storage usage metrics
  • Various Kubernetes events and their effect on the overall performance of hosted applications

Before you settle on a monitoring solution, It’s essential that you know what each tool is trying to do. You don’t want to find yourself using multiple tools just to strengthen the weaknesses of your favorite option. For example, if your primary goal is speed—no matter the cost—you shouldn’t choose a self-hosted solution with no support channel.

At a Glance
MANAGED
Yes
Yes
SELF SERVICE
Yes
Yes
FEATURES OFFERED
Metrics, Logs, Traces, Visualization
Metrics, Logs, Traces, Visualization
IDEAL FOR
Companies with large budgets
Teams looking for an APM

New Relic Kubernetes Monitoring Goals

Pixie by New Relic Kubernetes Monitoring SaaS Platform
Pixie by New Relic Kubernetes Monitoring SaaS Platform

New Relic One recently launched a joint Kubernetes monitoring experience with Pixie. This combined approach provides telemetry for your Kubernetes instances—without the need for an instrumentation expert. Besides Pixie, New Relic’s core focus is on code-level application performance monitoring (APM).

Datadog Kubernetes Monitoring Goals

Datadog Kubernetes Monitoring SaaS Platform
Datadog Kubernetes Monitoring SaaS Platform

In contrast, Datadog aims to provide a managed Kubernetes monitoring experience on behalf of its users. This means engineers focus on the LOC-level scaling of applications while their system monitors the entire stack.

Datadog vs New Relic: Initial Setup

When deciding between Datadog or New Relic, the setup process should be carefully considered. As an example, a user-friendly setup process will be highly beneficial to nontechnical stakeholders, but that may not be your absolute priority.

Setting Up New Relic

The New Relic (Pixie) installation begins once you submit your work email via the Start Now form on the site. The easiest way to start monitoring a Kubernetes cluster is by clicking the Guided Install menu option. Kubernetes is clearly labeled, along with Docker, Linux, and Windows environments.

Getting started with New Relic
Getting started with New Relic

Once you select Kubernetes, the guided setup will prompt you to fill in your Helm file details (cluster and namespace identifiers). Next, select the variables you want to monitor: logs, events, state data, and any Prometheus endpoints.

Selecting New Relic Kubernetes monitoring scope
Selecting New Relic Kubernetes monitoring scope

That concludes the configuration process, which generates a manifest file or Helm config scripts that you must run to finalize the installation. The Helm 3 code generated looks something like this:


kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubsercontent.com/pixie-labs/pixie/main/Kubernetes/vizier_deps/base/nats/nats_crd.yaml && \
helm repo add newrelic https://helm-charts.newrelic.com && \
kubectl create namespace newrelicnmspc ; helm upgrade --install newrelic-bundle newrelic/nri-bundle \
	--set global.licenseKey=[lic key here] \
  --set global.cluster=k8021prod \
  --namespace=newrelicnmspc \
  --set newrelic-infrastructure.privileged=true \
  --set ksm.enabled=true \
  --set prometheus.enabled=true \
  -- set kubeEvents.enabled=true \
  --set logging.enabled=true \
  --set newrelic-pixie.enabled=true \
  --set newrelic-pixie.apiKey=[api key here] \
  --set pixie-chart.enabled=true \
  --set pixie-chart.deployKey=[key here] \
  --set pixie-char.clusterName=k8021prod

Once the commands are running successfully, New Relic starts listening for data from your specified cluster.

Setting up Datadog

Datadog’s setup procedure includes the installation of an agent into your target cluster through either Helm, DaemonSet, or the Datadog Operator service. The Helm setup process is similar to New Relic’s, except you populate the resulting command file manually. This option offers more control over the spectrum of variables that push data to your dashboards. However, manually setting things up may be problematic for nontechnical users.

Setting up Kubernetes monitoring with Datadog
Setting up Kubernetes monitoring with Datadog

It’s worth noting that the Datadog Operator route offers the quickest implementation. This beginner-friendly step-by-step guide is a useful resource.

Feature Differences

The biggest difference between Datadog and New Relic so far has to be the mostly CLI (Datadog) vs GUI (New Relic) approach to setting up the monitoring experience. The end result of setting up both platforms, even on the same cluster, is that Datadog just handles infrastructure monitoring better than New Relic, thanks to the Datadog Agent software. Essentially, the agent resides where your log source is and streams data to the Datadog platform dashboard.

Coverage

Once New Relic is configured for Kubernetes monitoring, you’re able to gather Prometheus-related data (data configured for collection through Prometheus), doing away with having both platforms active. This is also possible with Datadog, but you can also collect OpenMetrics data if you set up your cluster for observation with the platform. Collection of OpenMetrics data is a big advantage of using Datadog—you’re able to amalgamate data from a wider area of exposure.

Metric Collection

Datadog has the most comprehensive metrics collection surface for Kubernetes clusters. Think of a variable, and it’s likely that the installed agent can monitor it. In comparison, New Relic’s metric monitoring is limited to the options available during setup. That said, unless your Prometheus exposed endpoints have granular variables of interest, New Relic’s metric collection is sufficient in understanding the essentials of what’s happening inside your Kubernetes clusters.

Event Monitoring

Datadog has a comprehensive Events monitoring tab to configure all agents across the entire stack. This makes it possible for engineers to trace back occurrences when troubleshooting failure events.

While New Relic can keep you updated with cluster-specific events, diagnosis is geared more toward the actual application than underlying infrastructure. This makes New Relic more of a general APM, as opposed to a deep monitoring tool for all Kubernetes events, which you can filter out with a kube query.

Visualization

When it comes to reporting capabilities, there’s a noticeable difference between New Relic’s Pixel service and the rest of the platform. The GUI approach that both SaaS platforms take allows you to easily isolate metrics and pattern recognition.

That said, the interwoven nature of reports in Datadog offers a more holistic picture of what’s happening around your Kubernetes cluster.

Alerting

While it’s not a core monitoring function, both platforms integrate with mainstream communication channels to alert users to policy-determined triggers. This is where your Slack channel pipe comes into the spotlight, as do email and mobile push notifications.

One difference on the alerting front is how Datadog sends notifications to engineering teams when abnormalities are identified, thanks to monitors that know when best to send alerts. Datadog’s monitoring could result in alerts before the kind of events that New Relic’s implementation flags.

Datadog and New Relic also offer mobile applications for on-the-go monitoring of configured assets, eliminating the need for additional third-party connections.

Overall Kubernetes Monitoring Capability

Overall, Datadog offers a more comprehensive monitoring solution for small to medium sized enterprises. However for larger organizations, New Relic comes out stronger, given its code-level analysis that is consistent with language-agnostic APMs.

Would You Use Both?

It is possible to use both, especially at larger organizations who may be running a variety of environments. And for organizations with engineers who have varying degrees of experience, implementing both tools might be preferable.

It is pretty common for engineering teams to be using Datadog for metrics and logging, but to be using New Relic's APM feature set for application level insights. And because both of these tools charge based on usage, it is possible to pay Datadog, or New Relic, for one set of features and not another. Using the previous example, it is quite common for organizations to pay Datadog for metrics, but not for the APM feature set.

Finally, New Relic's per seat pricing can get quite expensive for larger teams. In this situation, it might be preferable to give certain engineers access to both Datadog and New Relic, but not to give all engineers access to New Relic.

ContainIQ As An Alternative

ContainIQ Metrics Dashboard

While Datadog and New Relic are popular tools, neither was created for Kubernetes specifically. ContainIQ, a Kubernetes native monitoring and tracing platform, was built for Kubernetes workloads from start to finish.

Like Datadog and New Relic, ContainIQ allows you to view metrics, events, logs, and traces. However, with ContainIQ, users are able to get up and running faster with a simple one-line install and without any additional configuration needed. ContainIQ's pricing model is straightforward in $20 per node per month, plus $0.50 per GB of log ingest. ContainIQ does not charge based on trace ingest or per metric, or by seat. With ContainIQ, all members of the engineering team can use the platform, and with its role based access features, administrators are able to configure permissions by cluster.

Finally, like both Datadog and New Relic, ContainIQ offers a number of alerting features. For example, users can set alerts on everything from changes in CPU, status changes, common events, changes in latency, and also on log messages.

ContainIQ offers both a self service SaaS solution as well as an on-prem offering.

Final Thoughts

Datadog and New Relic (Pixie) are useful Kubernetes monitoring tools that identify events, logs, and other metrics in and around a cluster.

Of the two, New Relic takes less programming knowledge to install and run. Unfortunately, this usability means you’re getting fewer reporting points relative to Datadog’s monitoring power. Datadog’s greater monitoring power is worth the more complex agent installation process required—you’re ultimately left with greater bigger-picture insight relative to New Relic’s visualizations.

Taking the above into account, the agent-monitoring-reporting route offered by Datadog provides a more comprehensive monitoring experience. The added difficulty of Datadog’s installation is still a problem, however, and that’s where ContainIQ, or other alternatives, may offer a solution.

ContainIQ is a new Kubernetes monitoring platform that simplifies cluster onboarding—without sacrificing the greater monitoring and reporting features Datadog offers.

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Taurai Mutimutema
Systems Analyst & Engineer

Taurai is a systems analyst with a knack for writing, which was probably sparked by the need to document technical processes during code and implementation sessions. In his previous role, Taurai was the Director of Information Technology for a private consulting organization in South Africa. He enjoys learning new technology and talks about tech even more than he writes. Taurai has a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science from Midlands State University.

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