Monitoring Kafka Performance Metrics | Datadog

Monitoring Kafka performance metrics

Author Evan Mouzakitis
Author David M. Lentz

Last updated: April 6, 2020

What is Kafka?

Kafka is a distributed, partitioned, replicated, log service developed by LinkedIn and open sourced in 2011. Basically it is a massively scalable pub/sub message queue architected as a distributed transaction log. It was created to provide “a unified platform for handling all the real-time data feeds a large company might have”.1

There are a few key differences between Kafka and other queueing systems like RabbitMQ, ActiveMQ, or Redis’s Pub/Sub:

  1. As mentioned above, Kafka is fundamentally a replicated log service.
  2. It does not use AMQP or any other pre-existing protocol for communication. Instead, it uses a custom binary TCP-based protocol.
  3. It is very fast, even in a small cluster.
  4. It has strong ordering semantics and durability guarantees.

Kafka is used by many organizations, including LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and Datadog. The latest release is version 2.4.1.

Architecture overview

Before diving in, it is important to understand the general architecture of a Kafka deployment. Every deployment consists of the components illustrated below:

A diagram showing the architecture of a Kafka deployment illustrates the relationship between producers, brokers, consumers, and ZooKeeper.

Kafka brokers act as intermediaries between producer applications—which send data in the form of messages (also known as records)—and consumer applications that receive those messages. Producers push messages to Kafka brokers in batches to minimize network overhead by reducing the number of requests. Brokers store the messages for consumers to pull at their own rate.

Messages consist of metadata describing the message; the message payload; and optional, arbitrary headers (as of version 0.11.0). Messages in Kafka are written to the log in the order they are received by the broker and are immutable, with read as the only permitted operation.

A diagram shows Kafka brokers, which contain topics, which themselves contain partitions (both a leader and a follower).

Kafka organizes messages into topics, which store related messages, and consumers subscribe to the topics they need. Topics are themselves divided into partitions, and partitions are assigned to brokers. Topics thus enforce a sharding of data on the broker level. The greater the number of partitions, the more concurrent consumers a topic can support.

When setting up Kafka for the first time, you should take care to both allocate a sufficient number of partitions per topic, and fairly divide the partitions amongst your brokers. Doing so when first deploying Kafka can minimize growing pains down the road. For more information on choosing an appropriate number of topics and partitions, read this excellent article by Jun Rao of Confluent.

Kafka’s replication feature provides high availability by optionally persisting each partition on multiple brokers. In a replicated partition, Kafka will write messages to only one replica—the partition leader. The other replicas are followers, which fetch copies of the messages from the leader. Consumers may read from either the partition leader or from a follower as of Kafka version 2.4. (In older versions, consumers could only read from the partition leader.) This architecture distributes the request load across the fleet of replicas.

Additionally, any follower is eligible to serve as the partition leader if the current leader goes offline, provided the follower is recognized as an in-sync replica (ISR). Kafka considers a follower to be in sync if it has successfully fetched and acknowledged each message sent to the partition leader. If the leader goes offline, Kafka elects a new leader from the set of ISRs. However, if the broker is configured to allow an unclean leader election (i.e., its unclean.leader.election.enable value is true), it may elect a leader that’s not in sync.

Last but not least, no Kafka deployment is complete without ZooKeeper. ZooKeeper is the glue that holds it all together, and is responsible for:

  • Electing a controller (Kafka broker that manages partition leaders)
  • Recording cluster membership
  • Maintaining topic configuration
  • Applying any quotas you’ve set to limit the throughput of producers and consumers

Key metrics for monitoring Kafka

A properly functioning Kafka cluster can handle a significant amount of data. It’s important to monitor the health of your Kafka deployment to maintain reliable performance from the applications that depend on it.

Kafka metrics can be broken down into three categories:

Because Kafka relies on ZooKeeper to maintain state, it’s also important to monitor ZooKeeper. To learn more about collecting Kafka and ZooKeeper metrics, take a look at Part 2 of this series.

This article references metric terminology introduced in our Monitoring 101 series, which provides a framework for metric collection and alerting.

Broker metrics

Because all messages must pass through a Kafka broker in order to be consumed, monitoring and alerting on issues as they emerge in your broker cluster is critical. Broker metrics can be broken down into three classes:

A Kafka architecture diagram highlights a broker node.

Kafka-emitted metrics

NameMBean nameDescriptionMetric type
UnderReplicatedPartitionskafka.server:type=ReplicaManager,name=UnderReplicatedPartitionsNumber of unreplicated partitionsResource: Availability
IsrShrinksPerSec/IsrExpandsPerSeckafka.server:type=ReplicaManager,name=IsrShrinksPerSec kafka.server:type=ReplicaManager,name=IsrExpandsPerSecRate at which the pool of in-sync replicas (ISRs) shrinks/expandsResource: Availability
ActiveControllerCountkafka.controller:type=KafkaController,name=ActiveControllerCountNumber of active controllers in clusterResource: Error
OfflinePartitionsCountkafka.controller:type=KafkaController,name=OfflinePartitionsCountNumber of offline partitionsResource: Availability
LeaderElectionRateAndTimeMskafka.controller:type=ControllerStats,name=LeaderElectionRateAndTimeMsLeader election rate and latencyOther
UncleanLeaderElectionsPerSeckafka.controller:type=ControllerStats,name=UncleanLeaderElectionsPerSecNumber of “unclean” elections per secondResource: Error,name=TotalTimeMs,request={Produce|FetchConsumer|FetchFollower}Total time (in ms) to serve the specified request (Produce/Fetch)Work: Performance
PurgatorySizekafka.server:type=DelayedOperationPurgatory,name=PurgatorySize,delayedOperation={Produce|Fetch}Number of requests waiting in producer purgatory/Number of requests waiting in fetch purgatoryOther
BytesInPerSec/BytesOutPerSeckafka.server:type=BrokerTopicMetrics,name={BytesInPerSec|BytesOutPerSec}Aggregate incoming/outgoing byte rateWork: Throughput,name=RequestsPerSec,request={Produce|FetchConsumer|FetchFollower},version={0|1|2|3|…}Number of (producer|consumer|follower) requests per secondWork: Throughput

Metric to watch: UnderReplicatedPartitions

In a healthy cluster, the number of in sync replicas (ISRs) should be exactly equal to the total number of replicas. If partition replicas fall too far behind their leaders, the follower partition is removed from the ISR pool, and you should see a corresponding increase in IsrShrinksPerSec. If a broker becomes unavailable, the value of UnderReplicatedPartitions will increase sharply. Since Kafka’s high-availability guarantees cannot be met without replication, investigation is certainly warranted should this metric value exceed zero for extended time periods.

Metric to watch: IsrShrinksPerSec/IsrExpandsPerSec

The number of in-sync replicas (ISRs) for a particular partition should remain fairly static, except when you are expanding your broker cluster or removing partitions. In order to maintain high availability, a healthy Kafka cluster requires a minimum number of ISRs for failover. A replica could be removed from the ISR pool if it has not contacted the leader for some time (configurable with the parameter). You should investigate any flapping in the values of these metrics, and any increase in IsrShrinksPerSec without a corresponding increase in IsrExpandsPerSec shortly thereafter.

Metric to alert on: ActiveControllerCount

The first node to boot in a Kafka cluster automatically becomes the controller, and there can be only one. The controller in a Kafka cluster is responsible for maintaining the list of partition leaders, and coordinating leadership transitions (in the event a partition leader becomes unavailable). If it becomes necessary to replace the controller, ZooKeeper chooses a new controller randomly from the pool of brokers. The sum of ActiveControllerCount across all of your brokers should always equal one, and you should alert on any other value that lasts for longer than one second.

Metric to alert on: OfflinePartitionsCount (controller only)

This metric reports the number of partitions without an active leader. Because all read and write operations are only performed on partition leaders, you should alert on a non-zero value for this metric to prevent service interruptions. Any partition without an active leader will be completely inaccessible, and both consumers and producers of that partition will be blocked until a leader becomes available.

Metric to watch: LeaderElectionRateAndTimeMs

When a partition leader dies, an election for a new leader is triggered. A partition leader is considered “dead” if it fails to maintain its session with ZooKeeper. Unlike ZooKeeper’s Zab, Kafka does not employ a majority-consensus algorithm for leadership election. Instead, Kafka’s quorum is composed of the set of all in-sync replicas (ISRs) for a particular partition. Replicas are considered in-sync if they are caught-up to the leader, which means that any replica in the ISR can be promoted to the leader.

LeaderElectionRateAndTimeMs reports the rate of leader elections (per second) and the total time the cluster went without a leader (in milliseconds). Although not as bad as UncleanLeaderElectionsPerSec, you will want to keep an eye on this metric. As mentioned above, a leader election is triggered when contact with the current leader is lost, which could translate to an offline broker.

A timeseries graph for monitoring Kafka shows the history of leader elections over the last 48 hours.

Metric to alert on: UncleanLeaderElectionsPerSec

Unclean leader elections occur when there is no qualified partition leader among Kafka brokers. Normally, when a broker that is the leader for a partition goes offline, a new leader is elected from the set of ISRs for the partition. Unclean leader election is disabled by default in Kafka version 0.11 and newer, meaning that a partition is taken offline if it does not have any ISRs to elect as the new leader. If Kafka is configured to allow an unclean leader election, a leader is chosen from the out-of-sync replicas, and any messages that were not synced prior to the loss of the former leader are lost forever. Essentially, unclean leader elections sacrifice consistency for availability. You should alert on this metric, as it signals data loss.

Metric to watch: TotalTimeMs

The TotalTimeMs metric family measures the total time taken to service a request (be it a produce, fetch-consumer, or fetch-follower request):

  • produce: requests from producers to send data
  • fetch-consumer: requests from consumers to get new data
  • fetch-follower: requests from brokers that are the followers of a partition to get new data

The TotalTimeMs measurement itself is the sum of four metrics:

  • queue: time spent waiting in the request queue
  • local: time spent being processed by leader
  • remote: time spent waiting for follower response (only when requests.required.acks=-1)
  • response: time to send the response

Under normal conditions, this value should be fairly static, with minimal fluctuations. If you are seeing anomalous behavior, you may want to check the individual queue, local, remote and response values to pinpoint the exact request segment that is causing the slowdown.

A query value widget shows Kafka monitoring values for fetch time and produce request time (in milliseconds).

Metric to watch: PurgatorySize

The request purgatory serves as a temporary holding pen for produce and fetch requests waiting to be satisfied. Each type of request has its own parameters to determine if it will be added to purgatory:

  • fetch: Fetch requests are added to purgatory if there is not enough data to fulfill the request (fetch.min.bytes on consumers) until the time specified by is reached or enough data becomes available
  • produce: If request.required.acks=-1, all produce requests will end up in purgatory until the partition leader receives an acknowledgment from all followers.

Keeping an eye on the size of purgatory is useful to determine the underlying causes of latency. Increases in consumer fetch times, for example, can be easily explained if there is a corresponding increase in the number of fetch requests in purgatory.

Metric to watch: BytesInPerSec/BytesOutPerSec

Generally, disk throughput tends to be the main bottleneck in Kafka performance. However, that’s not to say that the network is never a bottleneck. Network throughput can affect Kafka’s performance if you are sending messages across data centers, if your topics have a large number of consumers, or if your replicas are catching up to their leaders. Tracking network throughput on your brokers gives you more information as to where potential bottlenecks may lie, and can inform decisions like whether or not you should enable end-to-end compression of your messages.

Metric to watch: RequestsPerSec

You should monitor the rate of requests from your producers, consumers, and followers to ensure your Kafka deployment is communicating efficiently. You can expect Kafka’s request rate to rise as producers send more traffic or as your deployment scales out, adding consumers or followers that need to fetch messages. But if RequestsPerSec remains high, you should consider increasing the batch size on your producers, consumers, and/or brokers. This can improve the throughput of your Kafka deployment by reducing the number of requests, thereby decreasing unnecessary network overhead.

Host-level broker metrics

NameDescriptionMetric type
Page cache reads ratioRatio of reads from page cache vs reads from diskResource: Saturation
Disk usageDisk space currently consumed vs. availableResource: Utilization
CPU usageCPU useResource: Utilization
Network bytes sent/receivedNetwork traffic in/outResource: Utilization

Metric to watch: Page cache read ratio

Kafka was designed from the beginning to leverage the kernel’s page cache in order to provide a reliable (disk-backed) and performant (in-memory) message pipeline. The page cache read ratio is similar to cache-hit ratio in databases—a higher value equates to faster reads and thus better performance. This metric will drop briefly if a replica is catching up to a leader (as when a new broker is spawned), but if your page cache read ratio remains below 80 percent, you may benefit from provisioning additional brokers.

A line graph monitoring Kafka brokers shows a timeseries of the page cache hit ratio values from several hosts.

Metric to alert on: Disk usage

Because Kafka persists all data to disk, it is necessary to monitor the amount of free disk space available to Kafka. Kafka will fail should its disk become full, so it’s very important that you keep track of disk growth over time, and set alerts to inform administrators at an appropriate amount of time before disk space is all but used up.

A toplist helps you monitor the percentage of free disk space on ten Kafka brokers.

Metric to watch: CPU usage

Although Kafka’s primary bottleneck is usually memory, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on its CPU usage. Even in use cases where GZIP compression is enabled, the CPU is rarely the source of a performance problem. Therefore, if you do see spikes in CPU utilization, it is worth investigating.

Network bytes sent/received

If you are monitoring Kafka’s bytes in/out metric, you are getting Kafka’s side of the story. To get a full picture of network usage on your host, you need to monitor host-level network throughput, especially if your Kafka brokers are hosting other network services. High network usage could be a symptom of degraded performance—if you are seeing high network use, correlating with TCP retransmissions and dropped packet errors could help in determining if the performance issue is network-related.

JVM garbage collection metrics

Because Kafka is written in Scala and runs in the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), it relies on Java garbage collection processes to free up memory. The more activity in your Kafka cluster, the more often the garbage collection will run.

Several line graphs show the time spent on garbage collection by JVMs running in different Kafka brokers.

Anyone familiar with Java applications knows that garbage collection can come with a high performance cost. The most observable effect of long pauses due to garbage collection would be an increase in abandoned ZooKeeper sessions (due to sessions timing out).

The type of garbage collection depends on whether the young generation (new objects) or the old generation (long-surviving objects) is being collected. See this page for a good primer on Java garbage collection.

If you are seeing excessive pauses during garbage collection, you can consider upgrading your JDK version or garbage collector (or extend your timeout value for Additionally, you can tune your Java runtime to minimize garbage collection. The engineers at LinkedIn have written about optimizing JVM garbage collection in depth. Of course, you can also check the Kafka documentation for some recommendations.

JMX attributeMBean nameDescriptionType
CollectionCountjava.lang:type=GarbageCollector,name=G1 (Young|Old) GenerationThe total count of young or old garbage collection processes executed by the JVMOther
CollectionTimejava.lang:type=GarbageCollector,name=G1 (Young|Old) GenerationThe total amount of time (in milliseconds) the JVM has spent executing young or old garbage collection processesOther

Metric to watch: Young generation garbage collection time

Young-generation garbage collection occurs relatively often. This is stop-the-world garbage collection, meaning that all application threads pause while it’s carried out. Any significant increase in the value of this metric will dramatically impact Kafka’s performance.

A heatmap shows the time spent running young-generation garbage collections, broken down by each Kafka broker, over one hour.

Metric to watch: Old generation garbage collection count/time

Old generation garbage collection frees up unused memory in the old generation of the heap. This is low-pause garbage collection, meaning that although it does temporarily stop application threads, it does so only intermittently. If this process is taking a few seconds to complete, or is occurring with increased frequency, your cluster may not have enough memory to function efficiently.

Kafka producer metrics

Kafka producers are independent processes which push messages to broker topics for consumption. Should producers fail, consumers will be left without new messages. Below are some of the most useful producer metrics to monitor to ensure a steady stream of incoming data.

A Kafka architecture diagram highlights a producer node.
JMX attributeMBean nameDescriptionMetric type
compression-rate-avgkafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)Average compression rate of batches sentWork: Other
response-ratekafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)Average number of responses received per secondWork: Throughput
request-ratekafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)Average number of requests sent per secondWork: Throughput
request-latency-avgkafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)Average request latency (in ms)Work: Throughput
outgoing-byte-ratekafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)Average number of outgoing/incoming bytes per secondWork: Throughput
io-wait-time-ns-avgkafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)Average length of time the I/O thread spent waiting for a socket (in ns)Work: Throughput
batch-size-avgkafka.producer:type=producer-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+)The average number of bytes sent per partition per requestWork: Throughput

Metric to watch: Compression rate

This metric reflects the amount of data compression in the batches of data the producer sends to the broker. The compression rate is the average ratio of the batches’ compressed size compared to their uncompressed size. A smaller compression rate indicates greater efficiency. If this metric rises, it could indicate that there’s a problem with the shape of data or that a rogue producer is sending uncompressed data.

Metric to watch: Response rate

For producers, the response rate represents the rate of responses received from brokers. Brokers respond to producers when the data has been received. Depending on your configuration, “received” could have one of three meanings:

  • The message was received, but not committed (request.required.acks == 0)
  • The leader has written the message to disk (request.required.acks == 1)
  • The leader has received confirmation from all replicas that the data has been written to disk (request.required.acks == all)

Producer data is not available for consumption until the required number of acknowledgments have been received.

If you are seeing low response rates, a number of factors could be at play. A good place to start is by checking the request.required.acks configuration directive on your brokers. Choosing the right value for request.required.acks is entirely use case dependent—it’s up to you whether you want to trade availability for consistency.

A timeseries graph monitors the response rate of a single Kafka producer.

Metric to watch: Request rate

The request rate is the rate at which producers send data to brokers. Of course, what constitutes a healthy request rate will vary drastically depending on the use case. Keeping an eye on peaks and drops is essential to ensure continuous service availability. If rate-limiting is not enabled, in the event of a traffic spike, brokers could slow to a crawl as they struggle to process a rapid influx of data.

Metric to watch: Request latency average

The average request latency is a measure of the amount of time between when KafkaProducer.send() was called until the producer receives a response from the broker. “Received” in this context can mean a number of things, as explained in the paragraph on response rate.

A producer doesn’t necessarily send each message as soon as it’s created. The producer’s value determines the maximum amount of time it will wait before sending a message batch, potentially allowing it to accumulate a larger batch of messages before sending them in a single request. The default value of is 0 ms; setting this to a higher value can increase latency, but can also help improve throughput since the producer will be able to send multiple messages without incurring network overhead for each one. If you increase to improve your Kafka deployment’s throughput, you should monitor request latency to ensure it doesn’t rise beyond an acceptable limit.

Since latency has a strong correlation with throughput, it is worth mentioning that modifying batch.size in your producer configuration can lead to significant gains in throughput. Determining an optimal batch size is largely use case dependent, but a general rule of thumb is that if you have available memory, you should increase batch size. Keep in mind that the batch size you configure is an upper limit. Note that small batches involve more network round trips, which can reduce throughput.

A timeseries graph shows the average request latency in milliseconds across all Kafka producers over four hours.

Metric to watch: Outgoing byte rate

As with Kafka brokers, you will want to monitor your producer network throughput. Observing traffic volume over time is essential for determining whether you need to make changes to your network infrastructure. Monitoring producer network traffic will help to inform decisions on infrastructure changes, as well as to provide a window into the production rate of producers and identify sources of excessive traffic.

Metric to watch: I/O wait time

Producers generally do one of two things: wait for data, and send data. If producers are producing more data than they can send, they end up waiting for network resources. But if producers aren’t being rate-limited or maxing out their bandwidth, the bottleneck becomes harder to identify. Because disk access tends to be the slowest segment of any processing task, checking I/O wait times on your producers is a good place to start. Remember, I/O wait represents the percent of time spent performing I/O while the CPU was idle. If you are seeing excessive wait times, it means your producers can’t get the data they need fast enough. If you are using traditional hard drives for your storage backend, you may want to consider SSDs.

Metric to watch: Batch size

To use network resources more efficiently, Kafka producers attempt to group messages into batches before sending them. The producer will wait to accumulate an amount of data defined by batch.size) (16 KB by default), but it won’t wait any longer than the value of (which defaults to 0 milliseconds). If the size of batches sent by a producer is consistently lower than the configured batch.size, any time your producer spends lingering is wasted waiting for additional data that never arrives. Consider reducing your setting if the value of your batch size is lower than your configured batch.size.

Kafka consumer metrics

A Kafka architecture diagram highlights a consumer node.
JMX attributeMBean nameDescriptionMetric type
records-lagkafka.consumer:type=consumer-fetch-manager-metrics,client-id=([-.w]+),topic=([-.w]+),partition=([-.w]+)Number of messages consumer is behind producer on this partitionWork: Performance
Maximum number of messages consumer is behind producer, either for a specific partition or across all partitions on this clientWork: Performance
Average number of bytes consumed per second for a specific topic or across all topics.Work: Throughput
Average number of records consumed per second for a specific topic or across all topicsWork: Throughput
fetch-ratekafka.consumer:type=consumer-fetch-manager-metrics,client_id=([-.w]+)Number of fetch requests per second from the consumerWork: Throughput

Metrics to watch: Records lag/Records lag max

Records lag is the calculated difference between a consumer’s current log offset and a producer’s current log offset. Records lag max is the maximum observed value of records lag. The significance of these metrics’ values depends completely upon what your consumers are doing. If you have consumers that back up old messages to long-term storage, you would expect records lag to be significant. However, if your consumers are processing real-time data, consistently high lag values could be a sign of overloaded consumers, in which case both provisioning more consumers and splitting topics across more partitions could help increase throughput and reduce lag.

A timeseries graph shows the lag value of multiple consumers.

Metric to watch: bytes consumed rate

As with producers and brokers, you will want to monitor your consumer network throughput. For example, a sudden drop in the rate of records consumed (records-consumed-rate) could indicate a failing consumer, but if its network throughput (bytes-consumed-rate) remains constant, it’s still healthy—just consuming fewer, larger-sized messages. Observing traffic volume over time, in the context of other metrics, is important for diagnosing anomalous network usage.

Metric to watch: records consumed rate

Each Kafka message is a single data record. The rate of records consumed per second may not strongly correlate with the rate of bytes consumed because messages can be of variable size. Depending on your producers and workload, in typical deployments you should expect this number to remain fairly constant. By monitoring this metric over time, you can discover trends in your data consumption and create a baseline against which you can alert.

A line graph shows the number of messages consumed by a Kafka cluster over one hour.

Metric to watch: fetch rate

The fetch rate of a consumer can be a good indicator of overall consumer health. A minimum fetch rate approaching a value of zero could potentially signal an issue on the consumer. In a healthy consumer, the minimum fetch rate will usually be non-zero, so if you see this value dropping, it could be a sign of consumer failure.

Why ZooKeeper?

ZooKeeper plays an important role in Kafka deployments. It is responsible for maintaining information about Kafka’s brokers and topics, applying quotas to govern the rate of traffic moving through your deployment, and storing information about replicas so Kafka can elect partition leaders as the state of the deployment changes. ZooKeeper is a critical component of a Kafka deployment, and a ZooKeeper outage will bring Kafka to a halt. To run a reliable Kafka cluster, you should deploy ZooKeeper in a high-availability configuration called an ensemble. But whether you’re running an ensemble or a single ZooKeeper host, monitoring ZooKeeper is key to maintaining a healthy Kafka cluster.

A Kafka architecture diagram highlights a ZooKeeper node.

ZooKeeper metrics

ZooKeeper exposes metrics via MBeans, through a command line interface using the four-letter words, and as HTTP endpoints provided by the AdminServer. For more details on collecting ZooKeeper metrics, be sure to check out Part 2 of this series.

NameDescriptionMetric typeAvailability
outstanding_requestsNumber of requests queuedResource: SaturationFour-letter words, AdminServer, JMX
avg_latencyAmount of time it takes to respond to a client request (in ms)Work: ThroughputFour-letter words, AdminServer, JMX
num_alive_connectionsNumber of clients connected to ZooKeeperResource: AvailabilityFour-letter words, AdminServer, JMX
followersNumber of active followersResource: AvailabilityFour-letter words, AdminServer
pending_syncsNumber of pending syncs from followersOtherFour-letter words, AdminServer, JMX
open_file_descriptor_countNumber of file descriptors in useResource: UtilizationFour-letter words, AdminServer

Metric to watch: Outstanding requests

A heatmap shows the number of outstanding ZooKeeper requests over one week.

Clients can end up submitting requests faster than ZooKeeper can process them. If you have a large number of clients, it’s almost a given that this will happen occasionally. To prevent using up all available memory due to queued requests, ZooKeeper will throttle clients if it reaches its queue limit—which is defined in ZooKeeper’s zookeeper.globalOutstandingLimit setting (and which defaults to 1,000). If a request waits for a while to be serviced, you will see a correlation in the reported average latency. Tracking both outstanding requests and latency can give you a clearer picture of the causes behind degraded performance.

Metric to watch: Average latency

The average request latency is the average time it takes (in milliseconds) for ZooKeeper to respond to a request. ZooKeeper will not respond to a request until it has written the transaction to its transaction log. If the performance of your ZooKeeper ensemble degrades, you can correlate average latency with outstanding requests and pending syncs (covered in more detail below) to gain insight into what’s causing the slowdown.

A line graph shows ZooKeeper's average request latency value over one week.

Metric to watch: Number of alive connections

ZooKeeper reports the number of clients connected to it via the num_alive_connections metric. This represents all connections, including connections to non-ZooKeeper nodes. In most environments, this number should remain fairly static—generally, the number of consumers, producers, brokers, and ZooKeeper nodes should remain relatively stable. You should be aware of unanticipated drops in this value; since Kafka uses ZooKeeper to coordinate work, a loss of connection to ZooKeeper could have a number of different effects, depending on the disconnected client.

Metric to watch: Followers (leader only)

The number of followers should equal the total size of your ZooKeeper ensemble minus one. (The leader is not included in the follower count). You should alert on any changes to this value, since the size of your ensemble should only change due to user intervention (e.g., an administrator decommissioned or commissioned a node).

Metric to alert on: Pending syncs (leader only)

The transaction log is the most performance-critical part of ZooKeeper. ZooKeeper must sync transactions to disk before returning a response, thus a large number of pending syncs will result in increased latency. Performance will undoubtedly suffer after an extended period of outstanding syncs, as ZooKeeper cannot service requests until the sync has been performed. You should consider alerting on a pending_syncs value greater than 10.

Metric to watch: Open file descriptor count

ZooKeeper maintains state on the filesystem, with each znode corresponding to a subdirectory on disk. Linux has a limited number of file descriptors available. This is configurable, so you should compare this metric to your system’s configured limit, and increase the limit as needed.

ZooKeeper system metrics

Besides metrics emitted by ZooKeeper itself, it is also worth monitoring a few host-level ZooKeeper metrics.

NameDescriptionMetric type
Bytes sent/receivedNumber of bytes sent/received by ZooKeeper hostsResource: Utilization
Usable memoryAmount of unused memory available to ZooKeeperResource: Utilization
Swap usageAmount of swap space used by ZooKeeperResource: Saturation
Disk latencyTime delay between request for data and return of data from diskResource: Saturation

Metric to watch: Bytes sent/received

In large-scale deployments with many consumers and partitions, ZooKeeper could become a bottleneck, as it records and communicates the changing state of the cluster. Tracking the number of bytes sent and received over time can help diagnose performance issues. If traffic in your ZooKeeper ensemble is rising, you should provision more nodes to accommodate the higher volume.

Metric to watch: Usable memory

ZooKeeper should reside entirely in RAM and will suffer considerably if it must page to disk. Therefore, keeping track of the amount of usable memory is necessary to ensure ZooKeeper performs optimally. Remember, because ZooKeeper is used to store state, a degradation in ZooKeeper performance will be felt across your cluster. The machines provisioned as ZooKeeper nodes should have an ample memory buffer to handle surges in load.

Metric to alert on: Swap usage

If ZooKeeper runs out of memory, it has to swap, which will cause it to slow down. You should alert on any swap usage so you can provision more memory.

Metric to watch: Disk latency

Although ZooKeeper should reside in RAM, it still makes use of the filesystem for both periodically snapshotting its current state and for maintaining logs of all transactions. Given that ZooKeeper must write a transaction to non-volatile storage before an update takes place, this makes disk access a potential bottleneck. Spikes in disk latency will cause a degradation of service for all hosts that communicate with ZooKeeper, so besides equipping your ensemble with SSDs, you should definitely keep an eye on disk latency.

Monitor your Kafka deployment

In this post we’ve explored many of the key metrics you should monitor to keep tabs on the health and performance of your Kafka cluster.

As a message queue, Kafka never runs in a vacuum. Eventually you will recognize additional, more specialized metrics that are particularly relevant to your own Kafka cluster and its users. Coming up in this series, we’ll show you how to use Datadog to collect the Kafka metrics that matter to you, as well as traces and logs, so you can gain full visibility into the health of your Kafka cluster.

Read on for a comprehensive guide to collecting all of the metrics described in this article, and any other metric exposed by Kafka.


Thanks to Gwen Shapira and Dustin Cote at Confluent for generously sharing their Kafka expertise for this article.

Source Markdown for this post is available on GitHub. Questions, corrections, additions, etc.? Please let us know.