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Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform (OCP) has had monitoring capabilities from the start. You can view monitoring dashboards, and manage metrics and alerts. With the OCP 4.10 release, Network Observability is introduced in Developer Preview mode.

Developer Previews provide early access to something that we at Red Hat are working on, but is not ready for prime time. The Network Observability feature provides the ability to export, collect, enrich, and store NetFlow data as a new telemetry data source. There is also a frontend that integrates with OpenShift web console to visualize these flows and sort, filter, and export this information.

NetFlows is a technology developed by Cisco in 1996 where networking devices such as a switch, router, or firewall track packets coming in and out of interfaces. The latest version, called IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX), is supported by all major vendors. By collecting and storing this data, it opens up a wide range of possibilities that can aid in troubleshooting networking issues, determining bandwidth usage, planning capacity, validating policies, and identifying anomalies and security issues. This data provides insights into:

  • How much traffic is flowing between any two pods?
  • What percentage of the overall traffic is web traffic?
  • What are the peak times when there is the highest amount of traffic?
  • How many bytes per second are coming in and out of a pod?
  • How much traffic was handled by a particular Kubernetes service?
  • Is any traffic using insecure protocols, such as http, ftp, and telnet?

How do you start?

Now that I’ve piqued your interest, what do you need to start? While it’s possible to run this on any Kubernetes cluster that is configured to export IPFIX, I will only focus on the scenario where you are running OpenShift 4.10.

The prerequisites are:

  1. OpenShift cluster
    The cluster can be self-managed or any of the supported Red Hat Cloud Services. If you are creating a cluster, be sure to set the Container Networking Interface (CNI) provider to be OVN-Kubernetes (see next item). Red Hat offers a free trial if you don’t have a cluster.

  2. Using OVN-Kubernetes as the CNI provider
    The CNI provider must be OVN-Kubernetes because it leverages the Open vSwitch (OVS) to provide flows. If your CNI is OpenShift SDN, there is a migration guide to help you switch over, but make sure you understand the implications of this change.

  3. Access to an account on your cluster that has the cluster-admin role, such as kubeadmin.


The installation procedure creates a persistent volume to store NetFlow data. It installs Grafana Loki, which facilitates the saving and indexing of data. The installation process deploys a flow collector to collect NetFlows and a user interface plugin for visualization. Note the term NetFlow is used generically in this blog, but it refers specifically to IPFIX in Network Observability.

What is shown here will only require OpenShift web console, a web-based application, so there is no need to install any software on your computer to try this out. If you have Red Hat’s oc client installed, you can follow the steps in the NetObserv Operator to do this on the command line instead.

This creates various Kubernetes objects to provide a better understanding of OpenShift. IMPORTANT: These steps are for this Developer's Preview only, and may be different for future versions.

  1. Log into the OpenShift web console as kubeadmin or with an account with cluster-admin role.

  2. Create a new project

    1. From the Navigation Panel, click Home > Projects.
    2. Click the Create Project button.
    3. Enter network-observability for the Name and click Create.
  3. Create persistent volume

    1. From the Navigation Panel, click Storage > PersistentVolumeClaims.
    2. Click the Create PersistentVolumeClaim button.
    3. Enter loki-store for the PersistentVolumeClaim name. Change Size to 1 or more GiB, and then click Create.
  4. Install Loki

    1. From the Navigation Panel, click Workloads > Pods.

    2. Click the Create Pod button.

    3. Replace the text with the following:

      apiVersion: v1
      kind: Pod
      name: loki
      app: loki
      - name: loki-store
      claimName: loki-store
      - name: loki
      image: grafana/loki
      - mountPath: "/loki-store"
      name: loki-store
    4. Click Create. Watch the pod go from Pending to ContainerCreating to Running.

    5. From the Navigation Panel, click Networking > Services.

    6. Click the Create Service button.

    7. In the YAML file, replace name and app with loki. Change port to 3100 and remove targetPort. It should look like the following:

      apiVersion: v1
      kind: Service
      name: loki
      namespace: network-observability
      app: loki
      - protocol: TCP
      port: 3100
    8. Click Create.

  5. Install Network Observability

    1. From the Navigation Panel, click Operators > OperatorHub.
    2. In the filter field, enter netobserv. Select NetObserv Operator. This is a community operator so you will get a warning that this may not be stable and that there is no support so it goes without saying that this should not be deployed in production.
    3. Click Install to move to the next page. Accept all the defaults and click Install again. It will take a few seconds to install the flow collector and the user interface plugin.
    4. From the Navigation Panel, click Operators > Installed Operators. On the NetObserv Operator row, click the Flow Collector link, and then Create FlowCollector.
    5. Click > in the Ipfix section to open this up. Change Sampling to 1. Then click Create.
    6. After some time which could be up to a minute, a dialog with the title Web console update is available should appear. Click the Refresh web console link.
    7. Reload the web page and verify that Observe > Network Traffic exists. If not, double check your work and see if there are any reported errors.
    8. Click Observe > Network Traffic, and you should see a NetFlow table with lots of data! If the table is empty, wait a few seconds and try again.

To sample or not to sample

Flow sampling means instead of tracking every packet going through your network, it processes a small sample. This is similar to sampling used in a poll to predict who will win an election.

By default, FlowCollector sets sampling to 400 or a 1:400 ratio. This means only one packet is observed for every 400 packets. While this might seem like a low ratio, it is typically even lower for high bandwidth connections.

If you just want to get an overall view of your network traffic, sampling is an acceptable solution. In fact, all the questions that were asked at the beginning of this blog can be answered with sampling turned on. However, if you are looking for specific data for troubleshooting or need this for auditing purposes, then you will likely turn this off at the expense of more CPU, memory, storage, and bandwidth. For our purposes, we configured sampling to be 1 earlier which means no sampling.

Ready to observe

In Observe > Network Traffic, even without any developer projects, there is internal traffic generated by the master nodes and worker nodes of Kubernetes. This is a good starting point. Figure 1 shows what the NetFlow table looks like.

netflow_table  Figure 1: NetFlow table

The NetFlow table provides an almost real-time view of data flowing through the cluster. NetFlow data sent by OVS is enriched to include Kubernetes-related information, such as namespace and name, which includes pods and services. Scroll to see more flows or click the Refresh button. Get a better sense of some of the more common services such as apiserver, router, etcd, and dns interacting with other pods. You can have the table automatically refresh periodically. As you observe the traffic, you might be surprised by what you see.

With filtering, you can observe traffic going into or out of a single pod or observe traffic between any two pods. With the former, if you want to see who is accessing the apiserver, for example, in the filter drop-down, select Name under the Common section, and enter apiserver. If you want an exact match, use quotation marks. To ensure that it’s only HTTPS traffic, in the filter drop-down, select Destination and then Port. Enter 443 or https in the filter field. The filters are additive so if you want to start over, be sure to click Clear all filters.

Understand that this is showing traffic flows so if you make an HTTP request from one pod to a web server on another pod, there will be flows in both directions because the request will be from client to server, but the response, which is typically a larger amount of data, goes from server to client with the ports flipped. That means if you want to check that your server isn’t initiating connections with other pods, ignore the traffic where the source port is 443 or any ports that it is listening on.

The NetFlow table has many more options and features. In the Query Options drop-down menu, you can display Source flows which are ingress flows going into an interface, Destination flows which are egress flows going out of the interface (default), or both. In the same drop-down menu, there is an option to match all or match any filter. You can also select how many flows to display in the UI.

Next to the filter field are three other options. The first option manages what columns to display as there are many more columns to display, such as Protocol, IP and Direction. There are also a few super-columns like "IPs and Port" that display the source IP, source port, destination IP and destination port, all in one column.

The next option is the display format, including a compact view to show one flow per line. The last option exports the data in CSV format, which is compatible with any Excel-like spreadsheet. You can sort on any column and click any row to see more details about the flow. Finally, there is a time range selection to further limit and filter the data.

Deploy an application

We will create a file and media web server project that will let you upload files to a server, and depending on the file type, the browser will handle it properly. That is, if it’s a sound file, it will play the music. If it’s a video file, it will play the video. If it’s an image file, it will display the picture. This will be accessible by anyone who knows the URL. We will examine the NetFlow table as we do these actions.

  1. From the Navigation Panel, click Administrator and then select Developer to switch to the Developer view. Click Skip Tour to skip the tour.
  2. Click the Project drop-down menu and click Create Project. Enter mywebapp and then click Create.
  3. In the +Add panel, click the Samples section.
  4. Scroll down and select PHP.
  5. In the Name field, enter mywebapp and then click Create.

This takes you to the Topology panel. After about a minute, you should have a running web server.

On the PHP icon, click the arrow link that says Open URL in the tooltip. If the page says Application is not available, wait and then refresh the page. It will say Welcome to your CakePHP when it is complete.

Go back to the Topology panel, click the PHP icon and then the pod name link. Click the Terminal tab. Paste the following text into the shell. This code creates a web page allowing you to upload files.

cat > webroot/upload.php << 'EOF'
$target_dir = "img/";
$target_file = $target_dir . basename($_FILES["upload_file"]["name"]);
$ext = pathinfo($target_file, PATHINFO_EXTENSION);

if (move_uploaded_file($_FILES["upload_file"]["tmp_name"], $target_file)) {
$msg = basename( $_FILES["upload_file"]["name"]) . ' was uploaded successfully.';
$status = 'success';
} else {
$msg = 'There was an error uploading your file.';
$status = 'error';
if (isset($_POST['text']) && $_POST['text']) {
echo "$msg\n";
<!DOCTYPE html>
<meta charset="utf-8">
<title>Upload File</title>
echo "<p>$msg</p>";
<form method="post" enctype="multipart/form-data">
<h3>Choose the file to upload and then click the Upload button.</h3>
<p><input type="file" name="upload_file" id="upload-file"></p>
<p><input type="submit" value="Upload" name="submit"></p>

Go back to the browser tab containing the home page of your app. Add /upload.php to the address. At the time of this writing, my URL, which is no longer valid, was Before you upload a file, set up the filters in the NetFlow table to view the traffic on this server.

  1. In the drop-down menu that says Developer, select Administrator.
  2. From the Navigation Panel, click Observe > Network Traffic.
  3. In the filter field for Common Namespace, enter mywebapp and press Enter.
  4. In the Refresh drop-down menu, select 15 seconds.
  5. In the time range drop-down menu next to Refresh, select Last 15 minutes.

Now go back to the app page and upload a file to the server. Upload a mp3 sound file or a mp4 video clip. Depending on your network connection, it may take some time to upload. At this point, you should see some flows in the table. Click the Date & time column to sort on that column. To play the sound file or view a video, add /img/<filename> to the home page URL. You now have a public file and media server!

Continue to watch the NetFlow table as you are doing these actions. Can you see which way the flow of traffic is going? The web server is running on port 8080 and the other port is an ephemeral port. You can remove all the filters and sort by Bytes to view the top talker flows. Explore to see what other information you can get from this data.


To get a visual representation of the flows, click Topology in the upper right corner to switch to a network graph view. Click the mywebapp pod to see the view as shown in Figure 2.

netflow_topology-0.1.2 Figure 2: Topology

This gives an at-a-glance view of your cluster grouped by namespaces. The filters persist when switching to the topology view so it is only showing the mywebapp namespace and other namespaces that it is interacting with. At the bottom of the page, it shows the number of flows and the amount of traffic for this view.

You can drag any item to move it around. If you drag the graph area, it moves the entire graph. The first four icons in the bottom left corner lets you zoom and adjust the view. The fifth icon exports the view and saves the topology as an image file.

There are many options to reduce the data and narrow down to what you are looking for. Click the settings icon (last icon in the bottom left corner) to bring up the Options dialog box. Here, you can choose the different displays, how you want the items to be grouped, and a few toggles on what to show in the topology. Outside of this dialog box and to the left of the time range (e.g. Last 15 minutes), you can choose what to display on the graph edges and whether to display in bytes or packets.

Dashboard graphs

The NetFlow table and topology are great ways to see a snapshot of what’s happening now, but the amount of data might be overwhelming unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. The data can be presented in a time series using a line graph. Figure 2 shows the graphs you can create with Grafana based on the same NetFlow data by doing the following:

  1. If in Administrator view, click Administrator and then select Developer to switch to Developer view.
  2. Click the Project drop-down menu and choose network-observability.
  3. Click +Add and then click the Container images section.
  4. Enter grafana/grafana:8.5.1 for the image name and click Create.

This takes you to the Topology panel. Click the arrow link in the grafana icon to launch the web page for Grafana. You may have to wait for the application to start. The page indicates that it’s not secure, but go ahead and continue. Log in by entering admin for the username and password. You are prompted to change the password. After that, we will set up and import the dashboard.

  1. On the left menu, click the gear icon (second from the last in the top set of icons), and select Data sources.
  2. Click Add data source.
  3. Click Loki. For the URL, enter http://loki:3100.
  4. Click the Save & test button, and make sure everything is okay.
  5. Download the dashboard JSON file here.
  6. On the left menu, click the + icon and select Import.
  7. Click the Upload JSON file button, and select the file you just downloaded. You should see the graphs now.

grafana_dashboard  Figure 3 Grafana dashboard graphs

While we are planning to add graphs in OpenShift web console, you can always use Grafana to create whatever specific graphs you need.

What’s next?

This is just the tip of the iceberg as the team is working hard to provide some more nifty visualizations and innovation in the coming months. Remember, this is a Developer Preview feature so expect things to change. If you want “observability” into what we are doing, head over to our GitHub. This is an open community project that will work outside of OpenShift so you can help shape the future!

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