Modern IT infrastructures are significantly growing in complexity as the DevOps, SRE, and platform engineering disciplines fast-forward technological innovation. With organizations facing the urgency to scale their DevOps, SRE, and hybrid and cloud-native implementations, having observability becomes an essential factor in understanding and managing today’s elaborate business systems.
Observability and monitoring help DevOps and SRE teams understand the internal operation of systems and subsystems within an organization’s IT infrastructure. Since these two concepts are closely related, they are frequently confused and used interchangeably. Observability emerged from monitoring. As organizations began to move towards cloud and microservices applications, the need to effectively monitor at scale and address issues that were not established during the implementation of the monitoring system led to a need for observability.
As defined by the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) research, monitoring is essentially a “tooling or a technical solution that allows teams to watch and understand the state of their systems, and is based on gathering predefined sets of metrics or logs.” Conversely, observability represents a “tooling or a technical solution that allows teams to actively debug their system.” This means exploring those properties and patterns that have not been determined in advance.
We previously discussed the benefits of observability for Site Reliability engineers. So, in this article, we will explore the core differences between monitoring and observability and explain the benefits they provide to organizations.
What is DevOps monitoring?
Monitoring is a standard framework in software development based on collecting predefined sets of metrics or logs. Monitoring entails setting up mechanisms that allow teams to track and control the behavior and performance of their systems. With monitoring in place, DevOps and SRE teams get the opportunity to actively gather error logs, traces, and system metrics and leverage this data to analyze trends and gain valuable insights into the health of their systems.
Based on the data obtained, teams can:
- Understand the state of a system;
- Detect issues and anomalies;
- Identify the root cause of problems;
- Get valuable insights (such as performance trends, capacity requirements, physical and cloud settings).
However, when it comes to monitoring highly-dispersed applications, it becomes crucial to obtain additional insights about previously unknown aspects. This is where observability plays an essential role.
What is DevOps observability?
Observability represents a characteristic of software systems that provides deep knowledge of their core internal operations. It is an integral part of DevOps, SRE, and modern IT infrastructures. When a system is observable, DevOps and SRE teams can get a better understanding of its performance. In addition, observability can significantly improve data collection and assessment, thus providing high granularity and making information available in context.
Moreover, site observability provides a comprehensive analysis of the entire application development pipeline, enabling SRE teams to effectively improve the reliability of their systems and applications. Making applications observable means resolution time is minimized, allowing teams to move from reactive issue fixing to proactive decision-making. Observability empowers DevOps engineers by ensuring “actionable insights and a faster feedback loop.”
“If you are observable, I can monitor you.”
The above quote is frequently used by tech professionals worldwide to describe the close relation between monitoring and observability. For example, monitoring answers to questions such as “Is the system in good health?” whereas observability deals with questions like “Why did this problem occur?”. In other words, monitoring aims at tracking the overall system performance, while observability provides DevOps/SRE and platform engineering professionals with deeper insights into the general state of a system and the conditions under which failures occur.
In fact, the observability of a system is a prerequisite for ensuring continuous monitoring—if a system is not observable, it cannot be monitored. And good monitoring practice, in turn, contributes to the creation of an observable system. Thus, the combination of monitoring and observability plays a vital role in an organization’s DevOps and SRE practices, making it easier to detect and resolve problems, alongside supporting the constant improvement of highly complex and distributed environments.
Monitoring and observability empower DevOps and SRE practices.
To stay ahead of the competition, modern businesses need to constantly innovate and find new solutions to improve product quality and provide a better customer experience. As DevOps, SRE, and cloud-native movements promote technological advancements and team capabilities, monitoring and observability are essential in ensuring reliable system operation, high performance at scale, and better business outcomes.
The interconnection between monitoring and observability often leads to confusion. Monitoring is an activity that can be carried out when a system has such a property as observability—a crucial property for complex and distributed environments. While monitoring addresses known issues and occurrences, observability provides DevOps/SRE professionals with actionable insights into the internal state of the system. When observability is achieved, it becomes possible to obtain granular and contextual information about the state of the environment, despite the added complexity of microservice architectures.