Choosing the right database is a critical choice when building any software application. All databases have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to performance, so deciding which database has the most benefits and the most minor downsides for your specific use case and data model is an important decision. Below you will find an overview of the key concepts, architecture, features, use cases, and pricing models of Elasticsearch and Prometheus so you can quickly see how they compare against each other.
The primary purpose of this article is to compare how Elasticsearch and Prometheus perform for workloads involving time series data, not for all possible use cases. Time series data typically presents a unique challenge in terms of database performance. This is due to the high volume of data being written and the query patterns to access that data. This article doesn’t intend to make the case for which database is better; it simply provides an overview of each database so you can make an informed decision.
Elasticsearch vs Prometheus Breakdown
Distributed search and analytics engine, document-oriented
Time series database
Elasticsearch is built on top of Apache Lucene and uses a RESTful API for communication. It stores data in a flexible JSON document format, and the data is automatically indexed for fast search and retrieval. Elasticsearch can be deployed as a single node, in a cluster configuration, or as a managed cloud service (Elastic Cloud)
Prometheus uses a pull-based model where it scrapes metrics from configured targets at given intervals. It stores time series data in a custom, efficient, local storage format, and supports multi-dimensional data collection, querying, and alerting. It can be deployed as a single binary on a server or on a container platform like Kubernetes.
Full-text search, log and event data analysis, real-time application monitoring, analytics
Monitoring, alerting, observability, system metrics, application metrics
Horizontally scalable with support for data sharding, replication, and distributed querying
Prometheus is designed for reliability and can scale vertically (single node with increased resources) or through federation (hierarchical setup where Prometheus servers scrape metrics from other Prometheus servers)
Elasticsearch is an open-source distributed search and analytics engine built on top of Apache Lucene. It was first released in 2010 and has since become popular for its scalability, near real-time search capabilities, and ease of use. Elasticsearch is designed to handle a wide variety of data types, including structured, unstructured, and time-based data. It is often used in conjunction with other tools from the Elastic Stack, such as Logstash for data ingestion and Kibana for data visualization.
Prometheus is an open-source monitoring and alerting toolkit initially developed at SoundCloud in 2012. It has since become a widely adopted monitoring solution and a part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) project. Prometheus focuses on providing real-time insights and alerts for containerized and microservices-based environments. Its primary use case is monitoring infrastructure and applications, with an emphasis on reliability and scalability.
Elasticsearch for Time Series Data
Elasticsearch can be used for time series data storage and analysis, thanks to its distributed architecture, near real-time search capabilities, and support for aggregations. However, it might not be as optimized for time series data as dedicated time series databases. Despite this, Elasticsearch is widely used for log and event data storage and analysis which can be considered time series data.
Prometheus for Time Series Data
Prometheus is specifically designed for time series data, as its primary focus is on monitoring and alerting based on the state of infrastructure and applications. It uses a pull-based model, where the Prometheus server scrapes metrics from the target systems at regular intervals. This model is suitable for monitoring dynamic environments, as it allows for automatic discovery and monitoring of new instances. However, Prometheus is not intended as a general-purpose time series database and might not be the best choice for high cardinality or long-term data storage.
Elasticsearch Key Concepts
- Inverted Index: A data structure used by Elasticsearch to enable fast and efficient full-text searches.
- Cluster: A group of Elasticsearch nodes that work together to distribute data and processing tasks.
- Shard: A partition of an Elasticsearch index that allows data to be distributed across multiple nodes for improved performance and fault tolerance.
Prometheus Key Concepts
- Metric: A numeric representation of a particular aspect of a system, such as CPU usage or memory consumption.
- Time Series: A collection of data points for a metric, indexed by timestamp.
- Label: A key-value pair that provides metadata and context for a metric, enabling more granular querying and aggregation.
- PromQL: Prometheus uses its own query language called PromQL (Prometheus Query Language) for querying time series data and generating alerts.
Elasticsearch is a distributed, RESTful search and analytics engine that uses a schema-free JSON document data model. It is built on top of Apache Lucene and provides a high-level API for indexing, searching, and analyzing data. Elasticsearch’s architecture is designed to be horizontally scalable, with data distributed across multiple nodes in a cluster. Data is indexed using inverted indices, which enable fast and efficient full-text searches.
Prometheus is a single-server, standalone monitoring system that uses a pull-based approach to collect metrics from target systems. It stores time series data in a custom, highly compressed, on-disk format, optimized for fast querying and low resource usage. The architecture of Prometheus is modular and extensible, with components like exporters, service discovery mechanisms, and integrations with other monitoring systems. As a non-distributed system, it lacks built-in clustering or horizontal scalability, but it supports federation, allowing multiple Prometheus servers to share and aggregate data.
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Elasticsearch provides powerful full-text search capabilities with support for complex queries, scoring, and relevance ranking.
Elasticsearch’s distributed architecture enables horizontal scalability, allowing it to handle large volumes of data and high query loads.
Elasticsearch supports various aggregation operations, such as sum, average, and percentiles, which are useful for analyzing and summarizing data.
Prometheus collects metrics by actively scraping targets, enabling automatic discovery and monitoring of dynamic environments.
The powerful Prometheus Query Language allows for expressive and flexible querying of time series data.
Prometheus supports alerting based on user-defined rules and integrates with various alert management and notification systems.
Elasticsearch Use Cases
Log and Event Data Analysis
Elasticsearch is widely used for storing and analyzing log and event data, such as web server logs, application logs, and network events, to help identify patterns, troubleshoot issues, and monitor system performance.
Elasticsearch is a popular choice for implementing full-text search functionality in applications, websites, and content management systems due to its powerful search capabilities and flexible data model.
Elasticsearch, in combination with other Elastic Stack components, can be used for security analytics, such as monitoring network traffic, detecting anomalies, and identifying potential threats.
Prometheus Use Cases
Prometheus is widely used for monitoring the health and performance of containerized and microservices-based infrastructure, including Kubernetes and Docker environments.
Application Performance Monitoring (APM)
Prometheus can collect custom application metrics using client libraries and monitor application performance in real-time.
Alerting and Anomaly Detection
Prometheus enables organizations to set up alerts based on specific thresholds or conditions, helping them identify and respond to potential issues or anomalies quickly.
Elasticsearch Pricing Model
Elasticsearch is open-source software and can be self-hosted without any licensing fees. However, operational costs, such as hardware, hosting, and maintenance, should be considered. Elasticsearch also offers a managed cloud service called Elastic Cloud, which provides various pricing tiers based on factors like storage, computing resources, and support. Elastic Cloud includes additional features and tools, such as Kibana, machine learning, and security features.
Prometheus Pricing Model
Prometheus is an open-source project, and there are no licensing fees associated with its use. However, costs can arise from hardware, hosting, and operational expenses when deploying a self-managed Prometheus server. Additionally, several cloud-based managed Prometheus services, such as Grafana Cloud and Weave Cloud, offer different pricing models based on factors like data retention, query rate, and support.
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