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Observability vs. Monitoring: A Complementary Relationship

By: Jasmin young
October 26, 2021

An application’s success depends on many factors. One of the most crucial is how it performs when actual users interact with it. The chances are that even if you properly prepare your entire software development strategy, problems will occur at some point or another. To fix problems on time, ensure high quality, and satisfy customers, you need a way to gain valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t at all times and during all stages of a software’s lifecycle, including production.

But how can you gain these insights? Your insights come from observability which enables you to determine why something isn’t working, and monitoring, which aims to help you answer what’s not working.

In this post, you’ll learn what observability and monitoring are all about, including their benefits, their similarities, their differences, and much more.

Let’s dive right in.

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What Is Observability?

Observability is the ability to analyze the external outputs of a system to gain insight into its internal states. In today’s highly demanding software product landscape, your organization needs to deliver fast quality results to customers. Modernizing your system’s infrastructure and workflow processes is mandatory to keep up with the competition.

When a system is observable, you can measure and understand its inner functioning. As a result, you can detect the causes of problems in the production and delivery pipelines and solve them, even when you have a complex infrastructure system. Observability is primarily a way for a system to determine how things are functioning under the hood.

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Goals of Observability

The goals of observability are to make your product reliable, secure, and eventually, to help your company grow. With observability, you’ll be able to understand why any problems occur in your system and with this in-depth knowledge, you can proceed and resolve them.

Reliability is an important advantage of observability. You can ensure that your systems are working as expected without errors. Observability allows you to detect and fix problems before they escalate and damage your product.

Also, observability ensures that your application maintains a high level of security and follows all necessary security standards, especially for cloud-based software. It serves as a great tool in the security team’s arsenal for detecting problems proactively and handling them on time.

Observability is ultimately about growing your business. The insights you gain will help you understand your users, what they like and don’t like, and act accordingly by tailoring your product strategy to address their needs.

Benefits of Observability

Observability brings a series of benefits to organizations when done correctly.

Enhanced visibility: It provides real-time, end-to-end visibility of your system’s performance. Furthermore, it makes monitoring much more effective.

Optimized workflows: It allows DevOps processes to work more efficiently because they face fewer problems and blackouts. Teams can accomplish more in a shorter period.

Accurate insights: As mentioned above, observability allows you to understand your users in-depth. This enables you to create and implement customer-based business strategies that improve the overall user experience and enhance customer trust.

Components of Observability

Observability has three main components, which are widely known as pillars of observability:

Logs: These are timestamped records that capture a number of events, like how a system reacted during a backup. They detect unexpected behavior and reveal how the system changed when the problem occurred.

Metrics: These help you measure the performance of your system. Metrics are measures of specific system parameters, like how much memory your app uses, the uptime of your system, and so on. They help you to understand the overall performance of your system in-depth.

Traces: These are similar to logs, but are more flexible components, that can provide a great amount of detailed information about your system. They can help you detect errors and bottlenecks. Also, they’ll allow you to dig deeper into specific requests compared to logs or metrics.

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What Is Monitoring?

Monitoring is a process that aims to gather data, such as logs and metrics, coming from your organization’s entire infrastructure. Then, with the help of monitoring tools, you can aggregate this data and analyze it.

Monitoring offers visibility into the inner workings of your system. It alerts you if there’s a problem and helps you reduce the time it takes to address it. Measuring the performance of your application provides insight into the experience your users have. Ultimately this allows you to achieve better business results.

Although the increasing complexity of modern application systems reduces the effectiveness of simple monitoring, if done correctly, you can still get a great view of your system’s performance.

Benefits of Monitoring

Monitoring allows you to mitigate the costs caused by outages. An extensive system or device outage leads to profit losses, but with thorough monitoring, you can quickly detect problems and solve them right when they start.

Furthermore, a system outage could result from a malicious attack that aims to take advantage of your system. Monitoring improves your security by alerting you to this case, and you’ll have the chance to quickly solve the problem before it becomes too difficult or too expensive.

Monitoring allows you to see if your assets operate efficiently over time, as it covers long-term trends of your system’s performance. You can see if your assets operate efficiently, and you can plan to update and improve your infrastructure. As a result, and with fewer technology bottlenecks, you gain an increase in overall productivity.

Lastly, monitoring ensures you have a productive infrastructure, which positively affects your end-users and your organization. You increase customers’ satisfaction, you build trust, and eventually, you build revenue and grow your business.

Similarities and Differences Between Observability and Monitoring

Observability and monitoring have some similarities. At a high level, they enhance the reliability of software systems and aim to evaluate their performance. Also, they both use logs, traces, and metrics as sources to collect data from a system.

What differentiates observability and monitoring are their objectives. Monitoring aims to detect problems, while observability’s goal is to understand them in-depth and then resolve them.

To illustrate this, an example of monitoring is if a device in your infrastructure isn’t working correctly, you receive an alert about it. But if you need to understand what caused the device not to work, then with observability, you’ll be able to collect data from not only the device itself but also from other components that interact with it, aggregate and analyze this data, and then resolve the problems. Those insights require observability: they wouldn’t be possible with simple monitoring.

Although you may have thought observability encapsulated monitoring, you can now see that these processes play separate, but complementary roles.

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Why Observability, and How to Successfully Implement It

It’s very complicated and hard to maintain and upgrade components of your infrastructure. By improving observability, you gain a better understanding of your system’s components. Observability allows you to know exactly what’s going on throughout the entirety of your system at the moment when it’s happening.

Of course, implementing efficient observability practices isn’t a simple task. Netreo is a complete IT monitoring solution that allows you to increase the observability of your entire infrastructure no matter its size or complexity. With Netreo, you can observe the entirety of your technology stack from a single platform that helps you build a reliable and secure IT system, saves you valuable time and effort, and lets you grow your business.

Find out more about how Netreo can serve your observability needs by requesting a demo.

This post was written by Alex Doukas. Alex’s main area of expertise is web development and everything that comes along with it. He also has extensive knowledge of topics such as UX design, big data, social media marketing, and SEO techniques.

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