Observability is the practice of monitoring a system through data collection from multiple devices with the goal of greater visibility. With observability, you can monitor systems to detect and diagnose issues as they occur. The advantage of this insight is that you can address a problem before it develops into a larger one or reaches any customers.
In this post, we’ll explore the importance of observability in site reliability engineering, as well as the tools and best practices to get started.
Observability is a concept in control theory, which refers to how an internal state of a system can be inferred by external outputs. In site reliability engineering, observability focuses on collecting data from all levels of a system so issues can be detected and fixed before they become bigger problems.
Observability provides a key business advantage as well. According to Gartner, “Applied observability enables organizations to use their data artifacts for competitive advantage." Organizations can speed up response rates and improve business operations, using the data collected for better decision-making.
Developers and QA engineers can use observability for greater insight during development and testing, but it is especially helpful to site reliability engineers (SREs).
Observability is becoming increasingly important to SREs because it provides visibility into how applications or systems are performing at any time. This visibility enables you to identify potential issues before they develop into larger or costlier problems, such as service outages.
Observability helps you better understand your system and how it’s performing so you can ensure that it continues to run and perform reliably. By detecting issues or weaknesses earlier in the development process, SREs can resolve them quickly and efficiently. The ability to respond quickly can help SREs prevent problems that could have a much larger and detrimental impact on the company.
SREs often manage heavy workloads, which can lead to burnout. Being able to prioritize tasks helps to avoid the problem of burnout. SREs can use the insights from observability to identify what they should focus on first. Defining the most pressing issues to tackle helps when identifying priorities. SREs can then determine a strategy to address issues that are of the highest priority first and create a more manageable task list over time.
Addressing issues early makes better business sense as it allows companies to compete better in a market where faster and better is in demand. You don’t want customers to run into problems with your apps as that leads to a poor customer experience, which can then negatively impact the business itself. By quickly responding to the root cause of issues using observability, SREs can fix more bugs and issues, leading to greater customer satisfaction.
Observability and monitoring are both used to detect problems, but they each do so in a different context.
In monitoring, if an issue is found, engineers or developers are alerted so they can fix it. Observability provides a bigger picture of how the entire system is functioning. Collecting data from multiple parts of a system, such as log files, metrics, and traces, enables you to see a more comprehensive view of what’s going on. With this insight, it’s easier to find and understand the cause of an issue so you can address it before it leads to a bigger problem, such as service disruption or an outage.
In essence, monitoring helps you detect a problem; observability helps you understand the problem and what caused it.
Achieving observability includes collecting different types of data that will provide actionable insights. Although this can include data from multiple sources, some of the more common methods to achieve observability include the following:
Logging is the process of collecting and saving data about an application or system’s events. Logs are taken to describe events at a point in time. They can be created as structured, binary, or plain text records. This information can be useful when you’re troubleshooting problems, as it captures information about the error or event that triggered an issue.
Metrics are the numerical values used to measure an application or system’s resources, typically over a time period. Metrics may include timestamps. Data can come from different sources, such as APIs or servers, and can be raw, calculated, or aggregated. Metrics can help you monitor system performance.
Tracing is the process of following an operation through a system. This information helps you to observe how the operation is executed as it flows from beginning to end. The ability to follow this path helps you identify issues that occur at certain points along the process.
Observability tools help teams measure how a system is performing and how that performance changes over time. These tools provide data about a system, such as latency measurements, resource utilization, and error logs. SREs can use this data for greater insight into issues that could affect a system’s reliability.
By providing more visibility into the performance and usage of applications or services, you can better diagnose and resolve any problems. Monitoring key metrics, such as latency or error reports, allows you to be proactive and respond quickly to any issues.
To save time and effort and create a more balanced workload, use an automated observability tool.
Here are some observability best practices you can incorporate into your processes:
Set goals - Determine what you want to accomplish. Your strategy should support the business’s goals.
Seek - Start with a thorough understanding of your system; learn about the architecture, system components, and how they work and interact.
Monitor - Check all components and the data flow between them.
Collect - Gather data from multiple components throughout the system using logging, tracing, and metrics.
Analyze - Monitor and analyze data in real-time.
Respond - Promptly take action to address issues or appropriate team members of what needs to be addressed.
Choose the right tool - Use a tool to help you in this process. An automation tool can save you time and effort.
Observability plays a key role in site reliability engineering because it provides insight into a system’s functioning. SRE teams can measure performance and identify potential issues so they can address them before they lead to bigger problems. Access to real-time data allows SREs to be proactive and quickly respond to concerns that may impact a system’s performance.
Quickly identifying and resolving issues is crucial to keep the development cycle on track, which is a key element in releasing products that satisfy customers. Observability is beneficial to a business’s overall health, giving it an advantage in the market.