Wednesday 27 May 2015

PerfIt! decoupled from Web API: measure down to a closure in your .NET application

Level [T2]

Performance monitoring is an essential part of doing any serious-scale software. Unfortunately in .NET ecosystem, historically first looking for direction and tooling from Microsoft, there has been a real lack of good tooling - for some reason or another effective monitoring has not been a priority for Microsoft although this could be changing now. Healthy growth of .NET Open Source community in the last few years brought a few innovations in this space (Glimpse being one) but they focused on solving development problems rather than application telemetry.

2 years ago, while trying to build and deploy large scale APIs, I was unable to find anything suitable to save me having to write a lot of boilerplate code to add performance counters to my applications so I coded a working prototype of performance counters for ASP .NET Web API and open sourced and shared it on Github, calling it PerfIt! for the lack of a better name. Over the last few years PerfIt! has been deployed to production in a good number of companies running .NET. I added the client support too to measure calls made by HttpClient and it was a handy addition.
From Flickr

This is all not bad but in reality, REST API calls do not cover all your outgoing or incoming server communications (which you naturally would like to measure): you need to communicate to databases (relational or NoSQL), caches (e.g. Redis), Blob Storages, and many other. On top of that, there could be some other parts of your code that you would like to measure such as CPU intensive algorithms, reading or writing large local files, running Machine Learning classifiers, etc. Of course, PerfIt! in this current incarnation cannot help with any of those cases.

It turned out with a little change and separating performance monitoring from Web API semantic (which is changing with vNext again) this can be done. Actually, not getting much credit for it, it was mainly ideas from two of my best colleagues which I am grateful for their contribution: Andres Del Rio and JaiGanesh Sundaravel.

New PerfIt! features (and limitations)

So currently at version alpha2, you can get the new PerfIt! by using nuget (when it works):
PM> install-package PerfIt -pre
Here are the extra features that you get from the new PerfIt!.

Measure metrics for a closure

So at the lowest level of an aspect abstraction, you might be interested in measuring metrics for a closure, for example:
Action action = Thread.Sleep(1000);
action(); // measure
Or in case of an async operation:
foo result = null;
Func<Task> asyncCall = async () => result = await _command.ExecuteScalar();

// and then
await asyncCall();
This closure could be wrapped in a method of course, but there again, having a unified closure interface is essential in building a common tool: each method can have different inputs of outputs while all can be presented in a closure having the same interface.

Thames Barriers Closure - Flickr. Sorry couldn't find a more related picture, but enjoy all the same
So in order to measure metrics for the action closure, all we need to do is:
var ins = new SimpleInstrumentor(new InstrumentationInfo() 
   Counters = CounterTypes.StandardCounters, 
   Description = "test", 
   InstanceName = "Test instance" 

ins.Instrument(() => Thread.Sleep(100));

A few things here:
  • SimpleInstrumentor is responsible for providing a hook to instrument your closures. 
  • InstrumentationInfo contains the metadata for publishing the performance counters. You provide the name of the counters to raise to it (provided if they are not standard, you have already defined )
  • You will be more likely to create a single instrumentor instance for each aspect of your code that you would like to instrument.
  • This example assumes the counters and their category are installed. PerfitRuntime class provides mechanism to register your counters on the box - which is covered in previous posts.
  • Instrument method has an option to pass the context as a string parameter. This context can be used to correlate metrics with application context in ETW events (see below).

Doing an async operation is not that different:
ins.InstrumentAsync(async () => await Task.Delay(100));

//or even simpler:
ins.InstrumentAsync(() => Task.Delay(100))

SimpleInstrumentor is the building block for higher level abstractions of instrumentation. For example, PerfitClientDelegatingHandler now uses SimpleInstrumentor behind the scene.

Raise ETW events, effortlessly

Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) is a low overhead framework for logging, instrumentation, tracing and monitoring that has been in Windows since version 2000. Version 4.5 of the .NET Framework exposes this feature in the class EventSource. Probably suffice to say, if you are not using ETW you are doing it wrong.

One problem with Performance Counters is that they use sampling, rather than events. This is all well and good but lacks the resolution you sometimes need to find problems. For example, if 1% of calls take > 2 seconds, you need on average 100 samples and if you are unlucky a lot more to see the spike.

Another problem is lack of context with the measurements. When you see such a high response, there is really no way to find out what was the context (e.g. customerId) for which it took wrong. This makes finding performance bottlenecks more difficult.

So SimpleInstrumentor, in addition to doing counters for you, raises InstrumentationEventSource ETW events. Of course, you can turn it off or just leave it as it has almost no impact. But so much better, is that use a sink (Table Storage, ElasticSearch, etc) and persist these events to a store and then analyse using something like ElasticSearch and Kibana - as we do it in ASOS. Here is a console log sink, subscribed to these events:
var listener = ConsoleLog.CreateListener();
listener.EnableEvents(InstrumentationEventSource.Instance, EventLevel.LogAlways,
And you would see:

Obviously this might not look very impressive but when you take into account that you have the timeTakenMilli (here 102ms) and have the option to pass instrumentationContext string (here "test..."), you could correlate performance with the context of in your application.

PerfIt for Web API is all there just in a different nuget package

If you have been using previous versions of PerfIt, do not panic! We are not going to move the cheese, so the client and server delegating handlers are all there only in a different package, so you just need to install Perfit.WebApi package:
PM> install-package PerfIt.WebApi -pre
The rest is just the same.

Only .NET 4.5 or higher

After spending a lot of time writing async code in CacheCow which was .NET 4.0, I do not think anyone should be subjected to such torture, so my apologies to those using .NET 4.0 but I had to move PerfIt! to .NET 4.5. Sorry .NET 4.0 users.

PerfIt for MVC, Windsor Castle interceptors and more

Yeah, there is more coming. PerfIt for MVC has been long asked by the community and castle interceptors can simply remove all cross cutting concern codes out of your core business code. Stay tuned and please provide feedback before going fully to v1!

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