Chukwa aims to provide a flexible and powerful platform for distributed data collection and rapid data processing. Our goal is to produce a system that's usable today, but that can be modified to take advantage of newer storage technologies (HDFS appends, HBase, etc) as they mature. In order to maintain this flexibility, Chukwa is structured as a pipeline of collection and processing stages, with clean and narrow interfaces between stages. This will facilitate future innovation without breaking existing code.

Chukwa has five primary components:

  • Agents that run on each machine and emit data.
  • Collectors that receive data from the agent and write it to stable storage.
  • ETL Processes for parsing and archiving the data.
  • Data Analytics Scripts for aggregate Hadoop cluster health.
  • HICC, the Hadoop Infrastructure Care Center; a web-portal style interface for displaying data.

    Below is a figure showing the Chukwa data pipeline, annotated with data dwell times at each stage. A more detailed figure is available at the end of this document.

    A picture of the chukwa data pipeline

Agents and Adaptors

Chukwa agents do not collect some particular fixed set of data. Rather, they support dynamically starting and stopping Adaptors, which small dynamically-controllable modules that run inside the Agent process and are responsible for the actual collection of data.

These dynamically controllable data sources are called adaptors, since they generally are wrapping some other data source, such as a file or a Unix command-line tool. The Chukwa agent guide includes an up-to-date list of available Adaptors.

Data sources need to be dynamically controllable because the particular data being collected from a machine changes over time, and varies from machine to machine. For example, as Hadoop tasks start and stop, different log files must be monitored. We might want to increase our collection rate if we detect anomalies. And of course, it makes no sense to collect Hadoop metrics on an NFS server.

Data Model

Chukwa Adaptors emit data in Chunks. A Chunk is a sequence of bytes, with some metadata. Several of these are set automatically by the Agent or Adaptors. Two of them require user intervention: cluster name and datatype. Cluster name is specified in conf/chukwa-agent-conf.xml, and is global to each Agent process. Datatype describes the expected format of the data collected by an Adaptor instance, and it is specified when that instance is started.

The following table lists the Chunk metadata fields.

SourceHostname where Chunk was generatedAutomatic
ClusterCluster host is associated withSpecified by user in agent config
DatatypeFormat of outputSpecified by user when Adaptor started
Sequence IDOffset of Chunk in streamAutomatic, initial offset specified when Adaptor started
NameName of data sourceAutomatic, chosen by Adaptor

Conceptually, each Adaptor emits a semi-infinite stream of bytes, numbered starting from zero. The sequence ID specifies how many bytes each Adaptor has sent, including the current chunk. So if an adaptor emits a chunk containing the first 100 bytes from a file, the sequenceID of that Chunk will be 100. And the second hundred bytes will have sequence ID 200. This may seem a little peculiar, but it's actually the same way that TCP sequence numbers work.

Adaptors need to take sequence ID as a parameter so that they can resume correctly after a crash, and not send redundant data. When starting adaptors, it's usually save to specify 0 as an ID, but it's sometimes useful to specify something else. For instance, it lets you do things like only tail the second half of a file.


Rather than have each adaptor write directly to HDFS, data is sent across the network to a collector process, that does the HDFS writes. Each collector receives data from up to several hundred hosts, and writes all this data to a single sink file, which is a Hadoop sequence file of serialized Chunks. Periodically, collectors close their sink files, rename them to mark them available for processing, and resume writing a new file. Data is sent to collectors over HTTP.

Collectors thus drastically reduce the number of HDFS files generated by Chukwa, from one per machine or adaptor per unit time, to a handful per cluster. The decision to put collectors between data sources and the data store has other benefits. Collectors hide the details of the HDFS file system in use, such as its Hadoop version, from the adaptors. This is a significant aid to configuration. It is especially helpful when using Chukwa to monitor a development cluster running a different version of Hadoop or when using Chukwa to monitor a non-Hadoop cluster.

For more information on configuring collectors, see the Collector documentation.

ETL Processes

Collectors can write data directly to HBase or sequence files. This is convenient for rapidly getting data committed to stable storage.

HBase provides index by primary key, and manage data compaction. It is better for continous monitoring of data stream, and periodically produce reports.

HDFS provides better throughput for working with large volume of data. It is more suitable for one time research analysis job . But it's less convenient for finding particular data items. As a result, Chukwa has a toolbox of MapReduce jobs for organizing and processing incoming data.

These jobs come in two kinds: Archiving and Demux. The archiving jobs simply take Chunks from their input, and output new sequence files of Chunks, ordered and grouped. They do no parsing or modification of the contents. (There are several different archiving jobs, that differ in precisely how they group the data.)

Demux, in contrast, take Chunks as input and parse them to produce ChukwaRecords, which are sets of key-value pairs. Demux can run as a MapReduce job or as part of Chukwa Collector.

For details on controlling this part of the pipeline, see the Administration guide. For details about the file formats, and how to use the collected data, see the Programming guide.

Data Analytics Scripts

Data stored in HBase are aggregated by data analytic scripts to provide visualization and interpretation of health of Hadoop cluster. Data analytics scripts are written in PigLatin, the high level language provides easy to understand programming examples for data analyst to create additional scripts to visualize data on HICC.


HICC, the Hadoop Infrastructure Care Center is a web-portal style interface for displaying data. Data is fetched from HBase, which in turn is populated by collector or data analytic scripts that runs on the collected data, after Demux. The Administration guide has details on setting up HICC.

And now, the architecture picture of Chukwa: