Strange Loop

Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2021


Union Station


St. Louis, MO

Register for 2021!

Scalable Anomaly Detection (with Zero Machine Learning)

In a large scale distributed system, detecting and pinpointing failures gets exponentially harder as an architecture gets more complex. Netflix's cloud architecture is composed of thousands of services and hundreds of thousands of VMs and containers. Failures can happen at any level and can often cascade quickly, some can cause massive outages on several systems, while others only only break one or two. This creates a needle in a haystack problem that requires automated and precise detection. Zuul, as the front door for all of Netflix's cloud traffic, sees all requests and responses and is ideally positioned to identify and isolate only the broken paths in the maze of microservices.

We leveraged Zuul to stream real-time events for each request-response and built an anomaly detector to automatically identify and alert services in trouble. We scaled this detector to thousands of nodes, handling millions of requests, without a single line of machine learning. Sometimes you need machine learning and sometimes you don't. Although it's en vogue to apply machine learning to every problem, it can be more practical and approachable to solve certain problems with old-fashioned math!

In this talk, we'll discuss how we built this system with stream processing, anomaly detection algorithms, and a rules engine. We will also deep-dive into the anomaly detection algorithm and show how sometimes a simple, elegant algorithm can be just as good as any sophisticated machine learning.

Arthur Gonigberg

Arthur Gonigberg


Arthur works on the Cloud Gateway team at Netflix, whose main duty is developing and operating the Zuul gateway, fronting all of Netflix's cloud traffic. He has acquired a breadth of experience by working at companies of all sizes, and experiencing the challenges faced by early products and legacy ones alike. His passions include building large-scale distributed systems and drinking copious amounts of coffee. Please come find him if you'd like to argue about programming languages, web servers or hockey teams.