Simplifying SLO and Error Budget tracking for SRE teams

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Simplifying SLO and Error Budget tracking for SRE teams

Service level objectives (SLOs), and the subsequent service level indicators (SLIs) are the foundation to establishing a strong SRE culture and how they promote accountability, trust and timely innovation. We are on a mission to simplify SLO and Error Budget tracking and with that aim in mind, we have added the SLO Tracker feature to the Squadcast platform. SLO Tracker seeks to provide a simple and effective way to keep track of your error budget burn rate without the hassle of configuring and aggregating multiple data sources.

Reliability metrics and their importance

We live in a world with the need to always be operational. Hence, consumers have high expectations of the products they use. Speed, high availability, reliability and ease of use, the consumers want it all. Hence, it has become all the more important for businesses to keep track of promises they make to their consumers and find reliable ways to measure how they are doing in terms of keeping those promises. This is where the reliability metrics come into the picture. Let's understand those first,

Service level agreements (SLAs): An SLA is an agreement between the service provider and customer about service deliverables.

Service level objectives (SLOs): They are an objective measure of your product’s performance goals that your team must meet.

Service level indicators (SLIs): It is a metric that determines whether your SLOs are being met.

These metrics are aimed at answering,

  • How available are your systems?
  • How quickly can your team respond to system failures?
  • What promises can you make about speed and functionality?

Challenges with SLOs

An error budget is the quantifiable measure of the amount of time a system can fail without contractual consequences. Typically, Error Budgets allow you to track downtime, in real-time with a burn rate.

One of the routine challenges with setting up SLOs is dealing with False Positives. Even the most accurate systems or monitoring tools have the potential to sometimes flag an event as an issue in spite of no violation of SLOs. Thus triggering a false positive which will eat into the Error Budget.

Another challenge faced by engineers in organizations is tracking all the defined SLIs. Since SLOs are monitored by multiple tools in the observability stack, not maintaining a unified dashboard to accurately track the error budget will make them oblivious to the error budget burn rate. Thus, a single source of truth with multiple SLOs (across all services) tracked in one place, will ensure greater reliability. Businesses also face the challenge of a short retention period of metrics stored in monitoring tools.

SLO Tracker and its benefits

SLO tracker is a simplified means to track the defined SLOs, Error Budgets and associated burn rate with intuitive graphs and visualizations. This feature simplifies the aggregation of SLI metrics coming in from different sources. You will be required to first set up your target SLOs. The Error Budget will be calculated and allocated accordingly.

It addresses common SLO related challenges and offers benefits like,

A centralized location for tracking SLOs

When multiple tools are used to monitor SLIs, it becomes challenging to keep track of your SLOs in one location. With this feature, you get a unified dashboard for all the SLOs that have been set up, in turn giving insights into the SLIs being tracked. It gives you a clear visualization of the Error Budget and alerts you when the Error Budget burn rate threshold gets breached.

Easy Integration

Supports Webhook integrations with various observability tools (Prometheus, Pingdom, New Relic) and whenever an alert is received from these tools, the tracker will re-calculate the allocated Error Budget.

Report False positives

Valuable minutes are lost from the Error Budget in case of false positives, even when there is no genuine SLO violation. In such cases, bringing back minutes into the Error Budget becomes tedious and complicated. You now have the ability to claim your falsely spent Error Budget back by marking erroneous SLO violation alerts as False Positives.

Enhanced alert creation and tracking

You also have access to broader functionality for alerts and monitoring. You can define and track breached error budgets, SLO burn rates, etc. This feature also supports manual alert creation when a violation is caught by your monitoring tool due to improper integration or other issues.

Setting up your first SLO

Creating SLOs and setting up error budgets may appear challenging and complicated if you are new to them. However, creating SLOs in Squadcast is very easy. In this section, we demonstrate a step-by-step process to help you configure your first SLO. We will understand how to define and configure SLOs and set up error budget policies. Along the way, we will also explore how to effectively set up and track important metrics for efficient SLO and error budget tracking.

Matured SLO Creation

It offers a simplified SLO creation process. You can give your SLO a name, and add a few lines describing the SLO - such as the service you would like to track and why. You can then add ‘Tags’ for these SLOs for easy reference at a later time - such as the Owner of the SLO, the environment it is tracking, etc.

All you have to do is click on the ‘Create New SLO’ button in the top right corner to define your SLO.

Rolling period window for Error Budget tracking

You also have the option to select the services that are associated with the SLOs and choose from Rolling Periods and Fixed Duration options. With Fixed Duration, you set SLO error budgets for a year, which gets compensated at the end of the tenure. However, businesses these days may want to customize their tracking requirements for varying periods of time. TheRolling Period SLO helps as it lets you track metrics for as low as 30 days and with the current functionality it can be extended to 90 days.

For example, if the Rolling Period is set for a period between 1st April to 30th April. It will only provide the error budget usage data for that month, not for the events that occurred prior to the defined timeline, thus letting you keep track of the information that is recent and relevant.

Configuring your SLOs in Squadcast is very easy. Once you have defined the SLO. By clicking ‘Next’, you can configure this SLO by mapping it to the corresponding services.

  • Select the services that can potentially affect this SLO, and add corresponding SLIs that will help you to track SLO breaches.
  • Then define the target SLO in %.
  • Finally, you have to select the duration of time for which this SLO will be measured, which can either be a fixed duration or a rolling period.

Based on the metrics defined above, your Error Budget will be automatically calculated. This is the maximum acceptable duration of time that your system can fail.

Alerts and Monitoring checks

Once you have configured your SLO. You can define the Alerting checks for Error Budget breaches. With these checks, you have access to broader functionality for alerts and monitoring by supporting four checks that can help track important information and trigger alerts accordingly. Users can create incidents for these alerts or even send email notifications to the concerned users.

Following are the metrics/ checks:

Breached Error Budget

With the SLO tracker, organizations can define error budgets that can be agreed upon. The breached error budget check ensures the user gets an alert when a predefined error budget limit gets breached.

Unhealthy SLO Burning Rate

Burn rate tells you how fast, relative to the SLO, the service consumes the error budget. With this check/metric, the users can track the burn rate better as they opt to receive alerts for unhealthy SLO burning rates. For example if a service has 50 units of error budget for a given month, and it ends up consuming 30 units in the first week, then it will fall under the unhealthy burning rate bracket.

Number of False Positives

This feature addresses the concern of monitoring tools triggering a false positive, which will eat into the error budget. With the SLO tracker, you can reclaim your error budget by marking such events as false positives.

However, users should avoid constant error budget correction. With the SLO Tracker, users can now set a threshold for the defined number of False Positives. When the threshold is breached, the users get alerted, so the problem can be analyzed and acted upon.

Error Budget Warning

With this feature, you can set up custom error budget warnings. This feature is slightly different from the ‘breached error budget’ feature. There, a user gets notified when the error budget is exhausted completely. What if a user wants to get notified when a particular threshold is breached, for example on the consumption of a 70% error budget. With the error budget warning feature, you can customize error budget warnings to suit your needs.

Once you define these checks, you are done creating your first SLO in Squadcast, and now you can track all the defined metrics and keep track of additional metrics through the dashboard mentioned below.

Incident metrics and tracking SLO violating incidents

The users can also keep track of metrics like mean time to acknowledge (MTTA) and mean time to resolution (MTTR). With this metric, you can track all the SLO violating incidents and keep track of how long it took to acknowledge and resolve incidents.

With the SLO Tracker, the SLOs are associated with incidents, hence you can also mark incidents as SLO violating incidents from Squadcast's Incident Dashboard.

Seamless Reliability

What makes SLO Tracker so useful is that it caters to different SRE needs in one place, bringing the entire platform under one roof. Users can create SLOs, set up alerts for error budgets and burn rates, monitor important incident metrics and even correct SLOs. It is a one-stop solution for your SLO and error budget tracking needs.

You can also leverage Squadcast’s end-to-end incident response and SRE solutions. Built with an SRE mindset, Squadcast streamlines all the incident response activities and aligns all your teams towards a common organizational goal of better reliability. If you are interested in seamless SLO and incident response management, then feel free to reach out to our team for a personalized demo.

This brings us to the end of this blog, we hope it helped you understand some of the nitty gritties of SLO and error budget tracking and at the same time helped you explore the SLO Tracker feature.