A Smoke Alarm, No Root Cause, and a Sleepless Night

November 11, 2021

A Smoke Alarm, No Root Cause, and a Sleepless Night

It was 3:38 am and our smoke alarm blared loudly and proudly somewhere in our house. My husband and I jolted from bed and into emergency mode. I rushed into our son’s room and grabbed him from the crib. My husband immediately tried to find the source of the fire or whatever made the alarm go off. As we came out of our “sleep state,” we realized the smoke alarm only sounded once and there was no fire.

And so began our very long and chaotic night of troubleshooting. It went something like this:

3:38 AM: Alarm Blares. What’s burning? OMG GET THE BABY!
3:40 AM: Nothing is burning, what could it be?
3:43 AM: Google furiously
3:45 AM: Check all electrical & the eaves
4:15 AM: OMG the alarm again
4:17 AM: Check the batteries
4:57 AM: ARE YOU KIDDING ME. If it wakes the baby again I’m going to lose it.
5:01 AM: Google says it could be dust? Let’s vacuum them!
6:02 AM: Alarm blares. We all cry.
6:39 AM: Baby wakes up. Day Starts.

Spoiler Alert…We never figured out the issue. It just stopped so we don’t know the cause or the fix. Without visibility into our system we can’t get to the root cause of the problem:

  • Is there a real underlying issue or just a malfunction?
  • Which detector is actually blaring? It would sound only once, giving us no time to follow the signal and find which offending detector
  • Every attempt at fixing the issue had to be repeated on EVERY detector because we couldn’t isolate the detector that was malfunctioning
  • Some alarms were blinking green, some red, some not at all and we had no idea what those lights meant

We never know WHEN the alarm might be triggered again, and if the next time would be a real emergency. This “debacle” (as I’ll politely call it) has left us in a state of anxiety. It messed with my son’s sleep and my sleep. And messing with a mother’s sleep isn’t good for anyone.

In fact, that level of uncertainty would be unnerving in a lot of situations. Here comes the segue.

SREs hate alerts without information

Most of our customers are Site Reliability Engineers. If that’s you, just imagine one of your applications is signaling that it’s having issues, and you don’t know why or what to do about it.

If your monitoring solution can’t quickly reveal the root cause of the problem, you waste time while your customers start to feel the impact before you can fix it. Kinda like my house catching fire while we’re trying to figure out why the fire alarms are blaring. Happy Monday! Having fun?

The good news is that Instana can help you avoid this predicament. It gives you full visibility into your applications and your architecture, starting with an intuitive graphical interface called the Dynamic Graph that lets you drill into the root cause in just a few clicks. So you can do what I couldn’t and fix it. Check out our guided demo environment and I promise, you’ll thank me later.

Sincerely & lacking sleep,

P.S. Turns out the Nest Protect System actually can give you visibility into each detector. And don’t worry, I just bought seven of them.

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