What is Observability?

Today’s infrastructure and applications are more complex, consisting of converging patterns such as microprocesses, containers, and many other minor systems. A long time ago, when something failed within the system, engineers could fix the problem since there were only several things that could fail.

With more complex systems, it seems impossible to determine what went wrong. That’s where observability comes to the rescue. What is observability? Observability is the system within the infrastructure that observes everything, including all changes and failures of certain processes. However, don’t mistake observability for monitoring since they’re not the same.

Here are some examples and explanations of how observability is used and how it’s different from monitoring:

1. Monitoring is Not Observability

As soon as systems became more complex, the possibility of failures became more significant. Software engineers came up with a solution called ‘monitoring.’ The primary purpose of monitoring is, as the name suggests, to monitor the system and alert if any changes or failures occur within the system. The monitoring data collection and time-series analytics allowed software engineers to keep track of application performances.

Over time, new systems emerged that are more complicated and difficult to track. Many systems have turned into the cloud-native, open-source microservices that run on Kubernetes clusters. Because these systems are being developed quickly, the possibility for failure multiplied as well. This means that when the failure occurs, the cause behind the failure won’t be as obvious anymore.

Eventually, it became futile to keep building flawless applications since nothing is truly flawless, and everything will fail at one point or another. The only solution was to come up with something that will help identify the issue and fix it as soon as possible.

Monitoring’s key role is to report performance so that engineers could have insight into the system’s internal state. Essentially, monitoring is useful as long as your system is monitor-able. The concept of having a monitor-able system got a name: observability.

2. Observability Explained

In the world of software services and products, observability allows you to obtain answers to any questions that may arise about what’s happening within the system by observing the system externally.

When systems are as complex as they are today, monitoring the known problems won’t cut it because of the new issues that continuously arise. These issues are also known as the “unknown-unknowns.” Without observability, you won’t be able to find the root of the problem and solve it immediately. The observable system allows you to understand what’s happening within the software because observability employs practical data to determine and predict failures.

Observing and monitoring the infrastructure’s metrics and performance logs to understand the specific hardware’s performance of systems and components are common practices. AI (AIOps) and advanced log analytics will evaluate the events and incidents closely related to hardware performance so they could predict the potential impact on the system’s dependability. After that happens, the IT team will be able to proactively adopt corrective measures to reduce the impact on users successfully.

3. DevOps and Observability

In the past, when frameworks were agile, developers built new product lines and features while different operations and testing teams tested for the dependability of the software. This unique approach meant that the monitoring activities and infrastructure operations activities were way beyond the development’s scope. Projects were solely developed for success and never for failure: debugging the code has never been considered.

Previous DevOps strategies didn’t include the understanding of application semantics and infrastructure dependencies. This led them to build all services, including apps, in a low inherent dependability manner. Monitoring has failed to gather sufficient information on distributed infrastructure systems regarding the known-unknowns and not to mention the unknown-unknowns.

The software development life cycle or SDLC has been transformed by the DevOps’ prevalence. The monitoring goals were no longer limited to processing and collecting metrics, distributed event traces, and log data; monitoring has become useful for making the system more observable. Observability encompasses the segment of development while being facilitated by processes, people, and technologies that operate through the SDLC’s pipeline.

The feedback and communication between operation teams and developers are crucial for achieving observability targets for the system. Additionally, these will help the quality assurance team to get insightful and correct monitoring during the initial testing phase. This means that DevOps teams can now test solutions and systems for actual real-world performance.

The continuous iteration that’s based on the performance feedback will further enhance the IT team’s capabilities to identify all potential issues within the system before end-users are struck. Observability strongly relies on a human element in many ways. It’s similar to DevOps since it’s not limited to technologies, but it also covers the organizational culture, the approach, and priorities in reaching the appropriate observability targets.

4. Observability Implementation

Observability is implemented differently by different companies. Some companies track only a few metrics while others track dozens. Moreover, some companies tend to choose very few logs that they’ll keep, while others keep all their logs. To identify which solution works for you, you’ll need to take your resources, your company, and your system into account. However, one thing is certain: observability is crucial and important.

Here are some of the top benefits of using the observability tool for your business:

  • Systems that implement observability from the start will be able to spring back quickly if any failure occurs.
  • Observability allows business owners to make decisions on expansion or growth by relying on observability-driven data.
  • The observability tool might take some getting used to, but it’s not extremely complicated. Businesses can easily access it to improve their overall performance.

Wrapping Up

Systems used to be more straightforward and easier to fix when something fails. With system monitoring, software engineers were able to pinpoint what failed and resolve the issue quickly. However, new systems work much faster, and issues tend to occur faster as well. So much so that the standard monitoring can’t help as much as it could before. That’s when the observability system emerged. Observability is the “younger brother” of monitoring, but much more powerful since it allows DevOps to predict any possible failures and act accordingly to resolve the issues.

What is Observability?

Dean Shaw

Dean Shaw regularly writes articles about business and tech online. Dean has gained thousands of readers in the past years because his content is light and informative.


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