As software delivery systems race to reap the benefits of digital transformation with cloud migration, they're fraught with crippling complexity, new challenges, and overwhelming data noise. When the number of applications or services - in these sprawling multi-cloud environments - reach a certain tipping point, you lose track of what runs where and how well these perform. It's critical to continuously examine these massive volumes of high-velocity data streams to identify known and unknown issues in production. This is exactly when observability and monitoring come into the picture.
To start with, let us define the two terms before delving into the nitty gritty. Simply put, monitoring is the task of finding problems by collecting and analyzing data, whereas observability is achieved by resolving these problems. Observability helps teams understand the internal state of systems across multi-cloud environments using metrics, logs, and traces. Monitoring and observability offer a two-pronged approach, which helps in maintaining the performance and reliability of software environments.
When it comes to running software in production, monitoring and observability provide the necessary information to:
As per Gartner’s predictions about the pace of change in the software delivery world, “By 2024, 30% of enterprises implementing distributed system architectures will have adopted observability techniques to improve digital business service performance, up from less than 10% in 2020.”
But what does monitoring really mean? And what can observability actually provide?
To gain a better understanding of observability / monitoring, let’s dive in to explore each term in detail. This will give you enough info that you should be able to start building these practices.
Complex modern infrastructure involves distributed systems like cloud, containers, microservices, serverless, and a lot more combinations of these technologies. As the usability and complexity of your system increases with too many parts interacting, it becomes difficult to analyze the problems and predict future ones.
Enter observability. Observability is the ability to understand a system’s internal states from external outputs such as logs, metrics, and traces. As per control theory, observability is a mathematical dual to controllability. It is a technical solution that uses instrumentation to gather insights, and explore patterns and properties not defined in advance. Actionable insights obtained by evaluating the outputs generated by software systems enable you to reach meaningful conclusions into your system’s health.
Observability focuses on three telemetry types, widely known as the pillars of observability:
In short, observability focuses on assessing how a system works without interfering or even interacting with it. When done correctly, observability offers a series of benefits:
You need an observable system to spot problems as they arise before they disrupt the customer experience. Early recognition and preemptive resolution enable better decision-making and a faster feedback loop.
Observability systems enable developers to understand the internal state of a system at any point in time. Let us take a look at what good observability solutions offer:
When propelling forward with new releases, proactive monitoring is a way to discover issues that were missed when running monitors in the background. Of course, system failures can occur in organizations from time to time, owing to unforeseen events. However, monitoring focuses on minimizing the frequency of such failures by a significant proportion.
Simply put, a good monitoring system aids DevOps teams in identifying issues and receiving alerts about them. Monitoring tools enable you to initiate rapid responses to such issues, avoid unplanned outages, and achieve strategic business objectives and performance targets, in addition to improving visibility of the production environment.
Although monitoring may appear outdated, this technology is critical to DevOps teams’ success. Gaining a comprehensive and real-time perspective of the product is crucial, with enterprises embracing DevOps to accelerate the application development process. Monitoring tools provide visibility into application health, performance, and usage patterns as well as input from production.
Throughout the entire software development lifecycle, from planning to development, integration and testing, deployment, and operations, monitoring tools help with automation and expanded measurement and visibility. This, in turn, lets you fortify security measures - threat assessment, root cause analysis, incident response, computers, and database forensics. In short, the dreaded and expensive downtime of development teams can be minimized if you are able to respond and resolve them in a timely manner.
Constant monitoring helps gain insights on your IT infrastructure, which helps you offer top-notch services to your customers. Let us take a look at what a good monitoring tool offers:
Observability and monitoring might sound vaguely similar, but aren't the same thing. Although observability and monitoring are typically used interchangeably, they aren't one and the same. Monitoring notifies you when something is not operating well, and observability helps you figure out why.
Monitoring and observability exist in a symbiotic relationship in which both are inextricably linked. It is a fact that achieving visibility to spot anomalies and identifying their effect on your services is well beyond human ability. It's possible to monitor without observing, but that would significantly diminish your ability to analyze and resolve problems quickly.
As you make more changes to your system it's more likely that something might go mayhem. Monitoring and Observability tools ensure that you can maintain operational stability as development velocity increases. The observability of a system depends on:
These insights help determine the internal states of a system despite a system’s inherent complexity. Monitoring tools make use of these insights and help you understand what’s not working. Although it is a common notion to speak in terms of observability vs monitoring, the truth is that you can’t have observability without monitoring.
The ultimate goal of any business is to build resilient systems and modern applications that are available with high uptime. Unlike the situation in the monolith architecture days, complex distributed systems make it harder to achieve full visibility into an application.
Finding anomalies and identifying their ultimate effects when running production software can be a task well beyond human ability. Observability and monitoring go hand in hand, so you need both if you want to build reliable systems. The two-pronged approach offered by observability and monitoring lets you grab the bull by the horns. This combination provides accurate insights about the internal states of a system despite its complexity.
We'd like you to continue your reading journey with this piece on dashboarding. It could give you good ideas about what to collect data for.
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