NGINX Tutorial: Reduce Kubernetes Latency with Autoscaling

Daniele Polencic Thumbnail
Daniele Polencic
Published March 15, 2022

This tutorial is one of four that put into practice concepts from Microservices March 2022: Kubernetes Networking:

Want detailed guidance on using NGINX for even more Kubernetes networking use cases? Download our free eBook, Managing Kubernetes Traffic with NGINX: A Practical Guide.

Your organization built an app in Kubernetes and now it’s getting popular! You went from just a few visitors to hundreds (and sometimes thousands) per day. But there’s a problem…the increased traffic is hitting a bottleneck, causing latency and timeouts for your customers. If you can’t improve the experience, people will stop using the app.

You – the brave Kubernetes engineer – have a solution. You deploy an Ingress controller to route the traffic and set up an autoscaling policy so that the number of Ingress controller pods instantly expands and contracts to match traffic fluctuations. Now, your Ingress controller pods seamlessly handle traffic surges – “Goodbye, latency!” – and scale down to conserve resources when traffic decreases – “Hello, cost savings!” Well done, you.

Lab and Tutorial Overview

This blog accompanies the lab for Unit 1 of Microservices March 2022 – Architecting Kubernetes Clusters for High‑Traffic Websites, demonstrating how to use NGINX Ingress Controller to expose an app and then autoscale the Ingress controller pods in response to high traffic.

To run the tutorial, you need a machine with:

  • 2 CPUs or more
  • 2 GB of free memory
  • 20 GB of free disk space
  • Internet connection
  • Container or virtual machine manager, such as Docker, Hyperkit, Hyper‑V, KVM, Parallels, Podman, VirtualBox, or VMware Fusion/Workstation
  • minikube installed
  • Helm installed
  • A configuration that allows you to launch a browser window. If that isn’t possible, you need to figure out how to get to the relevant services via a browser.

To get the most out of the lab and tutorial, we recommend that before beginning you:

This tutorial uses these technologies:

The instructions for each challenge include the complete text of the YAML files used to configure the apps. You can also copy the text from our GitHub repo. A link to GitHub is provided along with the text of each YAML file.

This tutorial includes four challenges:

  1. Configure a Simple App on a Kubernetes Cluster
  2. Use NGINX Ingress Controller to Route Traffic to the App
  3. Generate and Monitor Traffic
  4. Autoscale NGINX Ingress Controller

Challenge 1: Configure a Simple App on a Kubernetes Cluster

In this challenge, you create a minikube cluster and install Podinfo as a sample app.

Create a Minikube Cluster

Create a minikube cluster. After a few seconds, a message confirms the deployment was successful.

$ minikube start 🏄  Done! kubectl is now configured to use "minikube" cluster and "default" namespace by default 

Install the Podinfo App

Podinfo is a “web application made with Go that showcases best practices of running microservices in Kubernetes”. We’re using it as a sample app because of its small footprint.

  1. Using the text editor of your choice, create a YAML file called 1-deployment.yaml with the following contents (or copy from GitHub). It defines a Deployment with a single replica and a Service.

    apiVersion: apps/v1 kind: Deployment 
      name: podinfo 
          app: podinfo 
            app: podinfo 
          - name: podinfo 
            image: stefanprodan/podinfo 
            - containerPort: 9898 
    apiVersion: v1 
    kind: Service 
      name: podinfo 
        - port: 80 
          targetPort: 9898 
          nodePort: 30001 
        app: podinfo 
      type: LoadBalancer 
  2. Deploy the app:

    $ kubectl apply -f 1-deployment.yaml deployment.apps/podinfo created 
    service/podinfo created
  3. Confirm that the Podinfo pod deployed, as indicated by the value Running in the STATUS column.

    $ kubectl get podsNAME                       READY   STATUS   RESTARTS   AGE 
    podinfo-5d76864686-rd2s5   1/1     Running  0          3m38s
  4. Open Podinfo in a browser. The greetings from podinfo page indicates Podinfo is running.

    $ minikube service podinfo

Challenge 2: Use NGINX Ingress Controller to Route Traffic to the App

In this challenge, you deploy NGINX Ingress Controller and configure it to route traffic to the Podinfo app.

Deploy NGINX Ingress Controller

The fastest way to install NGINX Ingress Controller is with Helm.

  1. Add the NGINX repository to Helm:

    $ helm repo add nginx-stable 
  2. Download and install the NGINX Open Source‑based NGINX Ingress Controller, which is maintained by F5 NGINX. The final line of output confirms successful installation.

    $ helm install main nginx-stable/nginx-ingress \ --set controller.watchIngressWithoutClass=true \
    --set controller.service.type=NodePort \ 
    --set controller.service.httpPort.nodePort=30005 
    NAME: main 
    LAST DEPLOYED: Tue Mar 15 09:49:17 2022 
    NAMESPACE: default 
    STATUS: deployed 
    REVISION: 1 
    TEST SUITE: None 
    NOTES: The NGINX Ingress Controller has been installed.
  3. Confirm that the NGINX Ingress Controller pod deployed, as indicated by the value Running in the STATUS column (for legibility, the output is spread across two lines).

    $ kubectl get podsNAME                                   READY   STATUS    ...
    main-nginx-ingress-779b74bb8b-mtdkr    1/1     Running   ...
    podinfo-5d76864686-fjncl               1/1     Running   ...
           ... RESTARTS   AGE
           ... 0          18s 
           ... 0        2m36s

Route Traffic to Your App

  1. Using the text editor of your choice, create a YAML file called 2-ingress.yaml with the following contents (or copy from GitHub). It defines the Ingress manifest required to route traffic to Podinfo.

    apiVersion: kind: Ingress 
      name: podinfo 
      ingressClassName: nginx 
        - host: "" 
              - backend: 
                    name: podinfo 
                      number: 80 
                path: / 
                pathType: Prefix 
  2. Deploy the Ingress resource:

    $ kubectl apply -f 2-ingress.yaml created 

Challenge 3: Generate and Monitor Traffic

In this challenge, you observe the performance of NGINX Ingress Controller under different traffic loads. As preparatory steps, you list the metrics available from NGINX Ingress Controller, deploy Prometheus, and install Locust. You then use Locust to simulate a traffic surge and track the effect on performance in Prometheus.

As you already discovered, an Ingress controller is a regular Kubernetes pod that bundles a reverse proxy (in our case, NGINX) with some code for integration with Kubernetes. If your app receives a lot of traffic, you probably need to scale up the number of NGINX Ingress Controller pod replicas to avoid the latency caused when NGINX Ingress Controller is overwhelmed.

List the Available Metrics

To know when and how much to scale, you need accurate information about NGINX Ingress Controller performance. In this tutorial, the NGINX metric used to determine when to scale is the number of active connections (nginx_connections_active). Here you verify that your NGINX Ingress Controller tracks that metric.

NGINX Ingress Controller exposes multiple metrics: 8 metrics with the NGINX Open Source‑based model we’re suing in this tutorial and 80+ metrics with the NGINX Plus-based model.

  1. Obtain the IP address of the NGINX Ingress Controller pod so that you can query its list of metrics. The address appears in the IP field and here it is (For legibility, the RESTARTS and AGE columns are omitted and the output is spread across two lines.)

    $ kubectl get pods -o wide NAME                                  READY   STATUS    ...
    main-nginx-ingress-779b74bb8b-6hdwx   1/1     Running   ...
    podinfo-5d76864686-nl8ws              1/1     Running   ...
        ... IP           NODE       NOMINATED NODE  READINESS GATES 
        ...   minikube   <none>          <none> 
        ...   minikube   <none>          <none>
  2. Create a temporary BusyBox pod with a shell on a host inside the Kubernetes cluster:

    $ kubectl run -ti --rm=true busybox --image=busyboxIf you don't see a command prompt, try pressing enter. 
    / # 
  3. List the metrics generated by your NGINX Ingress Controller, and verify it includes nginx_connections_active. For <IP_address> substitute the value from Step 1.

    /# wget -qO- <IP_address>:9113/metrics
  4. Exit the shell to return to the Kubernetes server.

    /# exit 

Deploy Prometheus

Now that you know your NGINX Ingress Controller tracks the nginx_connections_active metric, you need a tool to collect (“scrape”) the metrics – this tutorial uses Prometheus.

As for NGINX Ingress Controller, Helm is the fastest way to install Prometheus.

  1. Add the Prometheus repository to Helm:

    $ helm repo add prometheus-community
  2. Download and install Prometheus:

    $ helm install prometheus prometheus-community/prometheus \ 
    --set server.service.type=NodePort --set server.service.nodePort=30010
  3. Verify installation, which usually takes up to 60 seconds to complete. In the following sample output, the verification command ran just a few seconds after the helm install command and so we see installation in progress, with ContainerCreating reported in the STATUS field for some Prometheus pods. Installation is complete when all pods have status Running. (The output is spread across two lines for legibility.)

    $ kubectl get podsNAME                                           READY  ...
    main-nginx-ingress-779b74bb8b-mtdkr            1/1    ...
    podinfo-5d76864686-fjncl                       1/1    ...
    prometheus-alertmanager-d6d94cf4b-85ww5        0/2    ...
    prometheus-kube-state-metrics-7cd8f95cb-86hhs  0/1    ...
    prometheus-node-exporter-gqxfz                 1/1    ...
    prometheus-pushgateway-56745d8d8b-qnwcb        0/1    ...
    prometheus-server-b78c9449f-kwhzp              0/2    ...
          ... STATUS             RESTARTS  AGE 
          ... Running            0         3m23s 
          ... Running            0         5m41s 
          ... ContainerCreating  0         7s
          ... Running            0         7s
          ... Running            0         7s
          ... ContainerCreating  0         7s
          ... ContainerCreating  0         7s
  4. Open Prometheus. In a minikube environment, run the following command, which opens the Prometheus dashboard in your default browser.

    $ minikube service prometheus-server

    A page like the following confirms that the server is working.

  5. Type nginx_ingress_nginx_connections_active in the search bar to see the current value of the active connections metric. You see one active connection, which makes sense because you’ve deployed one NGINX Ingress Controller pod.

Install Locust

In the next section, you’ll use Locust, an open source load‑testing tool, to simulate a traffic surge so you can watch NGINX Ingress Controller’s performance in Prometheus. Here you deploy Locust.

  1. Using the text editor of your choice, create a YAML file called 3-locust.yaml with the following contents (or copy from GitHub). The Deployment and Service objects define the Locust pod. The ConfigMap object defines a script called which generates requests to be sent to the pod, complete with the correct headers.

    apiVersion: v1 
    kind: ConfigMap 
      name: locust-script 
    data: |- 
        from locust import HttpUser, task, between 
        class QuickstartUser(HttpUser): 
            wait_time = between(0.7, 1.3) 
            def hello_world(self): 
                self.client.get("/", headers={"Host": ""}) 
    apiVersion: apps/v1 
    kind: Deployment 
      name: locust 
          app: locust 
            app: locust 
            - name: locust 
              image: locustio/locust 
                - containerPort: 8089 
                - mountPath: /home/locust 
                  name: locust-script 
            - name: locust-script 
                name: locust-script 
    apiVersion: v1 
    kind: Service 
      name: locust 
        - port: 8089 
          targetPort: 8089 
          nodePort: 30015 
        app: locust 
      type: LoadBalancer 
  2. Deploy Locust:

    $ kubectl apply -f 3-locust.yaml configmap/locust-script created 
    deployment.apps/locust created 
    service/locust created 

Simulate a Traffic Surge and Observe the Effect on Performance

  1. Open Locust in a browser.

    $ minikube service locust

  2. Enter the following values in the fields:

    • Number of users – 1000
    • Spawn rate – 10
    • Host – http://main-nginx-ingress
  3. Click the Start swarming button to send traffic to the Podinfo app.

  4. Return to the Prometheus dashboard to see how NGINX Ingress Controller responds. You may have to perform a new query for nginx_ingress_nginx_connections_active to see any change.

    As shown in the following screen output, the single NGINX Ingress Controller pod struggles to process the increased traffic without latency as a large number of connections are established. The Prometheus graph reveals that about 100 active connections per NGINX Ingress Controller pod is the tipping point for a spike in latency. You can use this information to determine when you need to scale up the number of NGINX Ingress Controller pods to avoid increased latency.

Challenge 4: Autoscale NGINX Ingress Controller

In the final challenge, you build a configuration that autoscales resources as the traffic volume increases. The tutorial uses KEDA for autoscaling, so first you install it and create a policy that defines when and how scaling occurs. As in Challenge 3, you then use Locust to simulate a traffic surge and Prometheus to observe NGINX Ingress Controller performance when autoscaling is enabled.

Install KEDA

KEDA, a Kubernetes event-driven autoscaler, integrates a metrics server (the component that stores and transforms metrics for Kubernetes) and can consume metrics directly from Prometheus (as well as other tools). It creates a Horizontal Pod Autoscaler (HPA) with those metrics, bridges the metrics collected by Prometheus, and feeds them to Kubernetes.

As with NGINX Ingress Controller and Prometheus, the tutorial uses Helm to install KEDA.

  1. Add KEDA to the Helm repository:

    $ helm repo add kedacore 
    "kedacore" has been added to your repositories 
  2. Install KEDA:

    $ helm install keda kedacore/keda NAME: keda 
    NAMESPACE: default 
    STATUS: deployed 
    REVISION: 1 
    TEST SUITE: None
  3. Verify that KEDA is running as two pods. (For legibility, some values in the NAME column are shortened. Also, the RESTARTS column is omitted; the value is 0 for all pods.)

    $ kubectl get pods NAME                                    READY  STATUS     AGE 
    keda-operator-8644dcdb79-492x5          1/1    Running    59s 
    keda-operator-metrics-apiserver-66d...  1/1    Running    59s 
    locust-77c699c94d-dvb5n                 1/1    Running  8m59s 
    main-nginx-ingress-779b74bb8b-v7ggw     1/1    Running    48m 
    podinfo-5d76864686-c98rb                1/1    Running    50m 
    prometheus-alertmanager-d6d94cf4b-8...  2/2    Running    37m 
    prometheus-kube-state-metrics-7cd8f...  1/1    Running    37m 
    prometheus-node-exporter-j4qf4          1/1    Running    37m 
    prometheus-pushgateway-56745d8d8b-9n4nl 1/1    Running    37m 
    prometheus-server-b78c9449f-6ktn9       2/2    Running    37m

Create an Autoscaling Policy

Now use the KEDA ScaledObject custom resource definition (CRD) to define the parameters that dictate how NGINX Ingress Controller scales. The following configuration:

  • Triggers autoscaling based on the value of the nginx_connections_active metric collected by Prometheus
  • Deploys a new pod when existing pods hit 100 active connections each
  • Autoscales NGINX Ingress Controller pods from a single pod up to 20 pods

Perform the following steps:

  1. Using the text editor of your choice, create a YAML file called 4-scaled-object.yaml with the following contents (or copy from GitHub). It defines a KEDA ScaledObject.

    apiVersion: kind: ScaledObject 
     name: nginx-scale 
       kind: Deployment 
       name: main-nginx-ingress 
    minReplicaCount: 1 
    maxReplicaCount: 20 
    cooldownPeriod: 30 
    pollingInterval: 1 
    - type: prometheus 
        serverAddress: http://prometheus-server 
        metricName: nginx_connections_active_keda 
        query: | 
        threshold: "100" 
  2. Deploy the ScaledObject:

    $ kubectl apply -f 4-scaled-object.yaml created 

Simulate a Traffic Surge and Observe the Effect of Autoscaling on Performance

To really test the effectiveness of autoscaling, you double the number of connections compared to Challenge 3.

  1. Return to the Locust server in your browser. Enter the following values in the fields and click the Start swarming button:

    • Number of users – 2000
    • Spawn rate – 10
    • Host – http://main-nginx-ingress
  2. Return to the Prometheus and Locust dashboards. The pink box under the Prometheus graph depicts the number of NGINX Ingress Controller pods scaling up and down.

  3. Switch back to your terminal and manually inspect the KEDA HPA. The REPLICAS field in the output shows the current number of deployed pod replicas. (The output is spread across two lines for legibility.)

    $ kubectl get hpa
    NAME                  REFERENCE                      ... 
    keda-hpa-nginx-scale  Deployment/main-nginx-ingress  ... 
        ... TARGETS           MINPODS   MAXPODS   REPLICAS   AGE 
        ... 101500m/100 (avg) 1         20        10         2m45s

Next Steps

There’s a potential limitation when you base autoscaling only on the number of active connections. If (even with scaling) NGINX Ingress Controller gets so busy that it has to drop connections, the autoscaler sees fewer active connections, interprets that as meaning requests have declined, and reduces the number of replicas. That can make performance worse, but leveraging a combination of metrics can ensure it doesn’t happen. For example, nginxplus_connections_dropped (available with the NGINX Ingress Controller based on NGINX Plus) keeps track of those dropped client connections.

To try NGINX Ingress Controller with NGINX Plus and NGINX App Protect, start your free 30-day trial today or contact us to discuss your use cases.

To try NGINX Ingress Controller with NGINX Open Source, you can obtain the release source code, or download a prebuilt container from DockerHub.

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