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 Prometheus and RRDtool so you can quickly see how they compare against each other.
The primary purpose of this article is to compare how Prometheus and RRDtool 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.
Prometheus vs RRDtool Breakdown
Time series database
Time series database
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.
RRDtool is a single-node, non-distributed database generally deployed on a single machine
Monitoring, alerting, observability, system metrics, application metrics
Monitoring, observability, Network performance tracking, System metrics, Log data storage
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)
Limited scalability- more suitable for small to medium-sized datasets
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.
RRDtool, short for Round-Robin Database Tool, is an open-source, high-performance data logging and graphing system designed to handle time series data. Created by Tobias Oetiker in 1999, RRDtool is specifically built for storing and visualizing time-series data, such as network bandwidth, temperatures, or CPU load. Its primary feature is the efficient storage of data points, using a fixed-size database that automatically aggregates and archives older data points, ensuring that the database size remains constant over time.
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.
RRDtool for Time Series Data
RRDtool was created for time series data storage and visualization, making it a great fit for applications that require efficient handling of this type of data. Its round-robin database structure ensures constant storage space usage while providing automatic data aggregation and archiving. However, RRDtool may not be suitable for applications that require complex queries or relational data storage, as its focus is primarily on time series data.
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.
RRDtool Key Concepts
- Round-robin database: A fixed-size database that stores time-series data using a circular buffer, overwriting older data as new data is added.
- RRD file: A single file that contains all the configuration and data for an RRDtool database.
- Consolidation function: A function that aggregates multiple data points into a single data point, such as AVERAGE, MIN, MAX, or LAST.
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.
RRDtool is a specialized time series database that does not use SQL or a traditional relational data model. Instead, it employs a round-robin database structure, with data points stored in a fixed-size, circular buffer. RRDtool is a command-line tool that can be used to create and update RRD files, as well as generate graphs and reports from the stored data. It can be integrated with various scripting languages, such as Perl, Python, and Ruby, through available bindings.
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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.
Efficient Data Storage
RRDtool’s round-robin database structure ensures constant storage space usage, automatically aggregating and archiving older data points.
RRDtool provides powerful graphing capabilities, allowing users to generate customizable graphs and reports from the stored time series data.
RRDtool is available on various platforms, including Linux, Unix, macOS, and Windows.
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.
RRDtool Use Cases
RRDtool is often used in network monitoring applications to store and visualize metrics such as bandwidth usage, latency, and packet loss.
RRDtool can be used to track and visualize environmental data, such as temperature, humidity, and air pressure, over time.
System Performance Monitoring
RRDtool is suitable for storing and displaying system performance metrics, like CPU usage, memory consumption, and disk I/O, for server and infrastructure monitoring.
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.
RRDtool Pricing Model
RRDtool is an open-source software, freely available for use under the GNU General Public License. Users can download, use, and modify the software at no cost. There are no commercial licensing options or paid support services offered directly by the project.
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