Aiven’s Journey to Thanos from M3DB

Written by Jonah Kowall (, Michael Hoffmann (, Alexander Rickardsson ( and published on Jun 27, 2023

About Aiven

Aiven is a cloud-native data infrastructure platform that provides fully managed open source database, streaming, and analytics services on 11 clouds and over 150 regions. Aiven offers open source products including PostgreSQL, MySQL, ClickHouse, Cassandra, M3, InfluxDB, along with streaming platforms such as Kafka and Flink. Aiven has a major investment in upstream contributions not altering the true open source solutions which are offered making Aiven the open source data platform for everyone.

  • Ease of use: Aiven is a fully managed platform, so you don’t have to worry about the underlying infrastructure. You can focus on using your data to power your applications.
  • Reliability: Aiven is built on top of open source technologies, which are known for their reliability. Aiven also has a team of experts who are dedicated to keeping your data infrastructure up and running.
  • Scalability: Aiven is designed to scale with your needs. You can easily add or remove resources as your data requirements change.
  • Security: Aiven takes security seriously. Your data is protected by a variety of security measures, including encryption, authentication, and authorization.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Aiven offers a simple, pay-as-you-go pricing model. You only pay for the resources that you use.


Going back to 2019, Aiven was using the open source InfluxDB, which was unable to handle the scale at the time. We needed a scalable time series database. Fast-forward to today and the scale of our fleet, consisting of 100,000+ machines across 11 clouds and 160+ regions. There is no provider with our scale and variability of cloud infrastructure. Additionally, Aiven’s customers using database and streaming technologies required an easy observability platform to collect metric data for both our services and for their internal needs. After looking at the ecosystem, the options were limited. Aiven was very comfortable with database architectures that scales out, versus scale-up as with InfluxDB. M3 fit the bill, architecturally, at the time. The community was vibrant with Uber, Chronosphere (a new startup then), and others contributing. Aiven was ready to devote engineers to the project internally and upstream to help build the next generation database for time series and Prometheus use cases. We even contributed the support for the Influx line protocol to M3DB, which helps Aiven customers migrate to Prometheus.

Fast-forward to 2022 with the changes at Uber, as they worked on profitability, and Chronosphere focused on their SaaS platform, there are virtually no contributions occurring to M3DB. M3DB is missing a lot of new functionality which were introduced to Prometheus over time. This includes a lack of support for exemplars, alertmanager, along with not having the ability to move older data to object store, making the operating expenses extremely high versus other database options available today. M3DB also has challenges at high scale with memory management, which has bitten us and our clients many times. It’s very picky on the types of queries and the data itself.

Our path forward

Aiven was beginning to look for a replacement project with a vibrant ecosystem around it we can contribute to. Our open source program office (OSPO) has over 20 dedicated engineers who only work upstream. Our OSPO is a major area of investment, and we believe in free and open software and are willing to put our engineering resources behind it. Additionally, the project ideally should be Apache 2.0 licensed to allow us to use it for anything from internal use cases to building products or integrating it inside product offerings. We want all the flexibility and little risk.

With these options, we had to discount Mimir even though it’s great technology, it’s controlled by a single company and restrictively licensed. Similar to Elasticsearch, we would rather not have to go down that path in the future. This meant the main options we had were Cortex and Thanos. Cortex has similar problems to M3DB. There are only a couple of companies using Cortex, since Mimir is an improved fork, and those that aren’t concerned about the fact that the license could change next week have already switched over. Aligning with software foundations is the right way to protect a project and ensure a vibrant and diverse community. Thanos was our target. We would start by seeing if we can use it internally and then determine if we could build a product.

We began the process with creating a plan on how we would test the solution to see how it met our needs. This would be a Proof of Concept (POC) to see if it were feasible. Here is our basic setup today:

Aiven Thanos Architecture

As you can see in our architecture, we are using Telegraf since it supports monitoring the many technologies we use and offer at Aiven in a small footprint. Although we support Prometheus scraping for our users, internally we push metrics to M3DB via influx line protocol. We use additional technologies together, as you can also see. There were several options where we could introduce Thanos into the mix. We decided to continue using Telegraf, but sending directly via remote write, versus using the Influx protocol. This created one of our first challenges, which is that some of our metrics are delayed due to the number of clouds we support. When a metric is written in the future, the ingesters would crash. It just so happened someone was just fixing this upstream in PR #6195.

The first step was setting up a single standalone system for Thanos and testing to see how it handled a small percentage of our metric traffic. We ended up writing a script in starlark to do this sampling and configured a subset of our fleet (automated). We build a lot of test automation when we have a system in production, including running chaos testing. Our automation testing included writing one sample, making cluster changes, and then verifying the sample was persisted. Due to an off-by-one issue in head compaction, this problem is mostly inconsequential to normal operation, but failed initially. This issue was fixed in PR #6183.

Testing at scale

After we tackled these challenges, we decided to begin building a scale out implementation to see how it handled higher amounts of metric traffic. As part of this, we implemented more components and scaled them out.

We take great care to manage the hash ring in a way that ensures no failed writes during a cluster failover. During the initial development phase we would encounter situations where, very briefly during startup, we would have too few endpoints in the hash ring to satisfy the replication requirements. This caused Thanos to lock up during construction of the hash ring. We fixed this deadlock in PR #6168, but also fixed our management to not produce such hash ring configurations. Our services run as systemd units with a default stop timeout of 90 seconds. While this is sufficient for most databases, we manage, it proved insufficient for Thanos ingesting receivers that need to compact and upload decently sized TSDB heads. We noticed this in our trial runs under production traffic and increased the limits as a consequence.

The community has been critical for us. One example we ran into around this portion of the implementation which we received some help from the other users and maintainers on the CNCF Slack. We also ran into some other issues which would create replication loops causing a crash as well. We addressed this issue by moving to a routing-ingesting receiver topology as suggested by the community.

Cost Savings

After concluding the POC we determined that it was feasible and we also found that the cost savings were pretty significant:

M3DB Cost breakdown

ServiceInstance typePriceCountTotal price (monthly)
M3 TOTAL$32,840.55

Thanos Cost breakdown

ServiceInstance typePriceCountTotal price (monthly)
THANOS TOTAL$14,942.68

We are also paying roughly 25% for the storage costs. M3DB has a total of 54TB of storage provisioned today, at a cost of $4320 per month. We could house 216TB of storage for the same cost with Thanos. We are currently generating about 750GB per day, which means we can keep almost a year of metrics for the same cost as M3DB. Additionally, we are backing up M3DB which is using 33TB of object storage at a cost of $1,320 per month. With object storage, we have the added cost for the networking, this is around $1800 per month in additional costs. Here are our estimated costs:

  • M3 with 30 days of retention: $38480

  • Thanos without any historical data in storage: $16,939

  • Thanos with one month retention in object storage: $17,368

  • Thanos with six months retention: $19,703

  • Thanos with a years retention: $22,447

  • Thanos with 2 years retention: $27,955

  • Thanos with 3 years retention: $33,423

As you can see, the cost savings are significant here. Plus, there is ongoing work for further cost optimizations in Thanos. For example, Alexander Rickardsson implemented AZ awareness in Thanos upstream now, which reduced our replication factor from 3 to 2 on Google Cloud Platform: PR #6369

Performance Gains

The performance normally was much better in our ongoing reporting and alerting needs as well. Today we are using vmalert to drive our alerting pipeline, since M3DB is limited, there is no such thing as an alertmanager integration. This brings me to another issue we found with vmalert: it would sometimes execute rules twice within the same group evaluation period. This, by default, would realign the result timestamp with the group evaluation start time, which would lead to failed and rejected writes. The timestamp issue was caused by samples with same timestamp but different value, this was fixed by disabling this query time alignment ( datasource.queryTimeAlignment ).

With vmalert you are running queries actively at intervals, similar to how Prometheus and Thanos Ruler work. We used our existing vmalert recording and alert rules to compare query performance between Thanos and M3DB by spinning up a new vmalert instance and pointing it at our new Thanos cluster with the same configuration otherwise. This showed that most of the queries which were not using regex selectors were way faster on Thanos:

Thanos vs M3DB Performance

Additionally, we allowed unlimited retention of metrics since the cost of object store is so low. There is really no point in even deleting them.

Wrapping up and next steps

Michael Hoffmann is working on other optimizations in the query engine that we will be contributing upstream. You can follow some of this work on the query engine.

With such remarkable results, we are excited about the next steps, which is to be the first to offer a managed Thanos service as a product. We will also continue to contribute to Thanos, and hope to have dedicated members of our OSPO in the future working in the Thanos community. A very vibrant and helpful community, we have already made contributions to. We will start on the productization work later this year, so stay tuned for our public beta next year. Furthermore, we are also seeking private beta testers who are interested in a cost-effective, truly open source Prometheus service which can run across 11 clouds and over 160+ regions, please reach out to me on Twitter.