Alert triggering and alarms

Alert Triggering and Alarms

This section describes alerting including an explanation of the alert flow, the alarm language, the policies that you can create using alarms and example best practices. In short, Rackspace Monitoring uses alarms to evaluate the metrics of a check and decide if a notification plan should be executed. It is the primary way to describe exactly what you want to be alerted on.

Let’s take an example user work flow of creating a monitor for a particular resource and follow it through the system to understand how the alerting system works:

  1. Using Checks operations, create a check with one or more monitoring zones (per the monitoring_zone_poll attribute). When you apply the check via the API, the check is provisioned on the collectors. If the check is successfully applied (as indicated by the HTTP response code), the monitor starts executing the check.

  2. Using Alarms operations, create a new alarm on the entity that matches this particular check.


    Alarms are created to match when a specific condition occurs. On this alarm, let’s assume you have specified the alarm policy as QUORUM. This parameter describes a deterministic way to represent mixed results in a “multi-datacenter” monitoring environment. To learn more about this concept, see alert-policies. You can also read Best practices for creating alerts for more pattern applications of the alarm language.

  3. If the monitored resource fails, a state change event is generated (since all the collectors agree on the status per the QUORUM alert policy) and an alert is triggered. Based on the logic you created in the associated notification plan an error notification is sent (the call itself is a webhook).


    If a check fails to execute, by default alarm associated with check returns a CRITICAL state.

    This might change in future versions of the product, however this is currently the only behavior supported. This represents a subclass of failures similar to Connection Timeout or other errors where the result wasn’t simply a failure result, but a result where the user was unable to run the check at all.

The alarm language is one of the most powerful parts of Rackspace Monitoring. It describes the mechanism to trigger an event. Upon triggering an event a notification plan is executed that describes how to send different notifications.

As mentioned above the default evaluation of a check depends upon whether the check is able to run successfully. We can illustrate this concept using the HTTP check as an example. If the alarm checks the status of a 404 response, but the check is actually getting a Connection Refused message, the result of that check is ERROR. The availability of the check is determined by the ability to run the check.


It is very important to understand this concept. All checks that go into a CRITICAL state will always force an alarm on an entity, CRITICAL.

An alarm query is broken down into the following main parts:


Comments are either line by line comments that begin with a # or c-style comments /* */.

# This is a comment
/ This is a comment /
// This is NOT a comment

String Literals

String literals are surrounded with either ' or ''. String literals support the following escape sequences:

\"Double quote
\'Single quote
\rCarriage return
\uXXXXUnicode character where XXXX is the hex unicode character code

Following are some example string literals:

"Foo" / A double quoted string /
'Foo' / A single quoted string /
'"Foo\'s bar\"' / Single quoted strings may contain unescaped double quotes /
/ as well as escaped single or double quotes /
"'Bar's foo\'" / Double quoted strings may contain unescaped single quotes /
/ as well as escaped single or double quotes /
'\u0027abc' / A string containing an escaped unicode character /

Numeric literals

Numeric literals are written without quotation marks. Following are some examples of numeric literals:

2773.2 / Numeric literal /
200 / Numeric literal /
-200 / Numeric literal /
1.2e-7 / Numeric literal with exponential notation /


This part of the alarm language is the setting declarations, which globally control the evaluation of the query. Following is the syntax for setting declarations:

:set =

The current version of the product supports two settings. The first setting specifies the consistency level.

:set consistencyLevel=

This is an important setting that is typically left as QUORUM (the default) unless there is a specific need to change it. For more information about alerting policies and consistency levels, see alert-policies.

The second setting is the consecutive alert count. It determines how many consecutive evaluations of a state occur before issuing a state change. The default for this setting is 1 and the maximum allowed is 5.

:set consecutiveCount=


The second part of the query is the conditional statement. The conditional statements determine what criterion constitute sending an alert on behalf of the user. This is by far the most configurable part of the alarm language. There are two types of comparisons: numeric comparisons and text comparisons.

Numeric comparisons have a number of different operators, which are listed below:

== / Equality when compared with a literal numeric /
!= / Inequality /

= / Greater than or equal to /
<= / Less than or equal to /
< / Less than /
/ Greater than /

If the left hand side of the conditional is a metric statement and the right hand side of the equality is another metric statement, then equality and inequality is evaluated based on lexicographical comparison.

Or if the left or right hand side is a literal then the following operators are available for use.

== / String comparison /
!= / String comparison /
regex / Regular expression match /
nregex / Regular expression inverse match /

On top of the single conditional operators, you can also use boolean logic to evaluate multiple conditionals in a single alarm. When trying to determine if a resource is functioning correctly, this built-in flexibility provides you with a powerful tool that lets you examine multiple aspects of a single resource.

The operators available are:

&& / And /
|| / Or /

Return statements

The third part of the query is the return statements. The return statements determine the notification or notifications to execute on the notification plan as well as the state of the alarm. There are two separate methods to represent a return query:

Returning the status:

return new AlarmStatus(<OK|WARNING|CRITICAL>);

Returning the status and message:

return new AlarmStatus(<OK|WARNING|CRITICAL>, );

Alarms have limits in their constructs. For instance, there are a limited set of conditionals you can use in a single alarm query.

The following list describes the limits and defaults for alarms:

  • Minimum conditionals in a single query: 0
  • Maximum limit of conditionals in a single query: 10
  • Criteria: Optional
    If criteria is not specified, the availability of the check determines the alarm state.
  • Default consistency level of the alert policy: QUORUM
  • Default consecutive alert count: 1, maximum allowed: 5
    The default consecutive alert count for ping checks is 3
  • Maximum length of a metric name string (in characters): 128
  • Maximum length of a string literal representing a metric value (in characters): 80

Checks and Alarms have status strings and there is a resolution policy for final message that get displayed to a user in an email or alarm change log or webhook. This message represents a human readable string for the status of the alarm. Status messages may be up to 128 characters long.

The resolution policy is as follows:

  • If no status is specified, use the value from the most recent run check.
  • If it is specified, use the specified string from the alarm.
  • String interpolate the message if metric is present.

Status string interpolation will substitute metrics in a special format to the point in time metric. It looks like this:

return new AlarmStatus(WARNING, 'The check took #{duration}s to execute');


String Interpolation will substitute a #{metric-name} for its corresponding point in time value.

Alert policies (set with the consistencyLevel alarm attribute) define a system for interpreting mixed results from a check. Mixed results can occur during failure scenarios if you have configured multiple zones to monitor a resource.

There are three different alert policies for handling mixed results: ONE, QUORUM, and ALL. Each policy has trade-offs that should be considered when determining which to use. The alert policies and their trade-offs are described next.


The check period, a configurable check attribute that defaults to 60 seconds, can affect the alarm state for the QUORUM, and ALL policies as it limits what observations are considered recent enough to count towards an alert state update. You can see the age of the observations in the alert notification email. If the observation is older than one and a half times (1.5 x) the consecutiveCount x check period, the observation is not considered in determining the alert state.

One alert policy

The alert state is determined by the latest observation that is different from the current alert state. For example, if the current alert state is OK and a monitoring zone WARNING or CRITICAL observation is received, a notification is sent and the alert state is changed to indicate the most recent zone observation.

The ONE policy optimizes speed of alerting at the expense of correctness as any network disruption between Rackspace Monitoring and the monitored resource could generate an alert. Additionally, the ONE policy can cause many notifications as a change in the state of any one monitoring zone from its previous state results in a notification and alert state change. This is mitigated in the QUORUM policy.

Quorum alert policy

The alert state is determined by a change observed in a majority

of the monitoring zones. For example, two of three, or three of five, monitoring zones report OK and the previous alert state was WARNING. The calculation is TOTAL / 2 + 1.

The QUORUM policy is the recommended solution. It offers the best speed-to-correctness trade-off. A majority of the zones monitoring your resource must have the same state before an alert state change and notification. This is the best approach to maintain speed and low time-to-alert.

All alert policy

The alert state is determined by a resource change observed in all of the monitoring zones. For example, three out of three monitoring zones report resource CRITICAL and the previous alert state was OK.

The ALL policy is the most accurate, but is also prone to failure in significant failure scenarios. If a network partition happens between our internal data centers, the alert might be delayed due to the election process. In this case, a computer has to be marked down, then the checks are re-evaluated as a group. If they come to a consensus (with the downed collector) then an alert is generated.


Email alert notifications may show some zones in a state that is different from the alert state.

Function modifiers serve to alter the interpretation of a metric. The format of a modifier is as follows:

ex: (metric['response_time'])

Rackspace Monitoring supports the following modifiers:

Previous function

The previous function is used to look back at the same metric in the previous time period from the same datacenter. This is useful to make sure a value is always incrementing. Or another use is detecting string changes and sending an alert on that.

if (previous(metric['fingerprint']) != metric['fingerprint']) {
return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, 'Fingerprint has changed to: #{fingerprint}');

Rate function

The rate function is best used for counters. For instance if you are tracking a gauge such as bytesin on an network interface, this will give you the _rate as defined by this formula where V=value, and T=time.

(V1 - V0) / (T1 - T0)

if (rate(metric['rx_bytes']) > 5242880) {
return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, 'Received greater than 5 MBps.');
if (rate(metric['rx_bytes']) > 1048576) {
return new AlarmStatus(WARNING, 'Received greater than 1 MBps.');

Percent function

The percent function is used to calculate a percentage, useful in situations like the one shown in the following example.


Notice the order of the following two statements. Because the function runs sequentially, you must specify the most specific match condition first. This is true for all conditions and is commonly exposed in statements like this.

if (percentage(metric['used'], metric['total']) > 90) {
return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, 'Less than 10% free space left.');

if (percentage(metric['used'], metric['total']) > 80) {
return new AlarmStatus(WARNING, 'Less than 20% free space left.');

This section covers common solution patterns for creating useful alerts. It focuses on alarms and how you can use the alarm language to best achieve these patterns.

Critical on 404 or Connection Refused

This example assumes a provisioned Remote HTTP with standard settings. It checks that the return code (which is a metric of type string) is the string equivalent of a 404. HTTP response codes are numeric, but since they hold no numeric value, we interpret them as strings.

if (metric['code'] == "404") {
return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, "Page not found!");

Check for the existence of a body match and error out if present

This example assumes a provisioned Remote HTTP with an metric called body_match added to the response. You can use this string metric to check the existence of the text, and error out if found.

Using the HTTPS prefix automatically defaults the port to the standard 443 instead of port 80. This particular example looks for the word “forbidden” in the body match, and if found returns CRITICAL with the error message: “Forbidden found, returning CRITICAL.”

if (metric['body_match'] regex ".*forbidden.*") {
return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, "Forbidden found, returning CRITICAL.");

Check the cert_end_in metric; critical if less than a week away

This example assumes a provisioned Remote HTTP against an HTTPS server and adds a set of metrics that are specific to SSL in the hash of metrics.

This example checks the certificate expiration in seconds, abbreviated as the cert_end_in:

/ 2 days = 172 800 seconds /
if (metric['cert_end_in'] < 172800)
{ return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, "Cert expiring in less than 2 days.");

/ 1 week = 604 800 seconds /
if (metric['cert_end_in'] < 604800)
{ return new AlarmStatus(WARNING, "Cert expiring in less than 1 week.");

Failure on banner match

This example assumes a provisioned Remote TCP check. It also specifies a banner_match ‘OpenSSH.*’, which matches content based on the text sent from the server upon connection. For a complete description, see Remote TCP. However if a banner matches, then a metric is added to the result, called banner_match. One common solution is to check for the existence of that metric and return CRITICAL otherwise.

/ Have the check match at the edge /
if (metric['bannermatched'] != "") {
return new AlarmStatus(OK);
Or use the regex parser in the
language to build multiple matches
in a single alarm. _/
if (metric['banner'] regex "OpenSSH.*") {
return new AlarmStatus(OK);

return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, "Match not found.");

Check for an IP in a DNS query, fail otherwise

This example assumes a provisioned Remote DNS check against a working nameserver. In this example, the alarm matches against the answer metric. As with all alarms, if the check is marked available=false (which in this case means the nameserver fails to respond) than the alarm is CRITICAL.

# Match if the 127... address was in the resolution
# if it wasn't than default to CRITICAL

if (metric["answer"] regex ".**") {
return new AlarmStatus(OK, "Resolved the correct address!");
return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL);

The following example uses the Rackspace Monitoring command line interface (CLI). For information about downloading and installing the CLI, see Rackspace Monitoring CLI.

One of the most widely used remote checks is the SSH check. This check not only verifies that something is listening on the expected port, but establishes an SSH session and returns the host key fingerprint as a metric, further verifying that the SSH server is operating as expected.

The following example assumes the existence of an entity with the IP address eth0 and ID enk8YUv0Cd, and a notification plan with ID nplU9hLUgc. This check connects to an SSH server using port 22 by default:


Alarm for this check:

If the monitoring service is unable to connect to the SSH server for the check, any alarms using the check will automatically fail. However, we can additionally verify that the server returns the expected host key fingerprint, which could reveal an unexpected change on the server or a man in the middle attack.

--criteria="if (metric['fingerprint'] != '13dd6c5df600f9a15c67ea5db491ac9a') { return new AlarmStatus(CRITICAL, 'Incorrect SSH Host Fingerprint'); }"