Why Developers Need Observability
Regardless of the type of application, you’re developing, you always need to know more than just what is going on in a literal sense. You also need to know why things are happening so that you can make better and more informed decisions regarding where you spend your time moving forward.
Think about it like this: simply knowing that an issue keeps happening ultimately doesn’t do you any favors. What you really need to know are the underlying, root causes of those issues so that you can address them and hopefully put a stop to the problem permanently.
In the microservices architecture, in particular, observability is a big part of how you do that. This is true for a wide range of different reasons, all of which are more than worth exploring.
What is Observability?
In a larger sense, observability is all about collecting information that helps software developers better understand the multi-layered architectures that they’re working with. It’s about not only figuring out what is slow and what is broken but also what can and should be done to improve performance moving forward.
But really, it’s a process that is all about context. Rather than simply collecting information on what is happening, you also gain insight into WHY something is occurring at all. Once you know that, you have nearly every piece of information you need to go in and fix an issue or capitalize on an opportunity for improvement as soon as possible.
When it comes to the idea of observability vs monitoring, understand that you’re really talking about two different sides of the same coin. Observability is all about determining a system’s internal state by paying attention to how it reacts to external outputs. Monitoring usually includes techniques like fitness tests and performance health checks in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what is going on within the system right now.
Why Do We Need Observability?
Developers need observability, in large part, because it’s the only way to get a true “bird’s eye view” look at an application. As a methodology, it allows you to not only understand your entire system but how the various pieces and parts in something like a microservices architecture truly fit together. At that point, you’re able to hone in on the information that is most important to you in a way that gives you more insight to work from than ever before.
This is another area where observability differs from a concept like monitoring. Monitoring essentially depends on your ability to already know what the normal working state of a piece of software is. A performance health check will tell you what is broken so that you can go in and fix it. Observability, on the other hand, allows for the possibility that there may actually be different definitions of “normal” depending on the situation.
By understanding how your system is actually behaving over longer periods of time and under different circumstances, you’re more aware of how your software actually works and you have the flexibility to pivot as needed.
There’s a reason why any observability marketing company you choose to work with will emphasize the tools you choose to leverage on a daily basis. By far, these tools are the best opportunity you have to embrace the core pillars that the concept brings with it.
Immediately, you’ll want to choose an observability platform that fits your needs, both as a development team and as a business. Any tool you leverage will need to bring together all of the data being created by your metrics, logs and even traces into a single, easy-to-understand way. This single repository should also include features like visual dashboards that allow anyone to understand what is really going on with your application.
In a larger sense, you’ll also want to pick out the key performance indicators and metrics that matter most in relation to what you’re trying to do in the first place. So you shouldn’t just limit yourself to metrics relating to problems that have already happened. You should also choose metrics that give insight into the types of problems that are likely to occur, thus allowing you to do something about them before they become much bigger (and more expensive) issues down the road.
Finally, one of the biggest steps you’ll need to take in terms of implementing observability includes creating a culture across your enterprise that actually supports and embraces this concept. There should be nobody on your team who asks “what is observability ?” because the answer should be overwhelmingly clear. They should all understand what it is and why it’s important – thus making its use a foregone conclusion on all projects you’re participating in.
In the End
Overall, observability is about unlocking the type of actionable insight and intelligence you need to create better and more forward-thinking products for your users. By understanding not only what is happening but why you’ll have the context necessary to be more confident in the decisions you’re making. You’ll be in a position to create better products that are focused on the actual needs of your users, and you’ll be able to do so in a far faster way than ever before.
Make no mistake: that is an exciting position for any DevOps team to be in and it’s one of the major reasons why observability is so integral in the first place.