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Plutora Blog - Business Intelligence, Value Stream Management

Observability, A Pillar of Site Reliability Engineering Explained

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Observability is a crucial pillar of site reliability engineering (SRE) because it allows you to detect and diagnose issues as they happen and before they cause customer-impacting outages or performance degradation. To achieve this, you must have a deep understanding of both the system and the operating environment.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t have adequate observability in place. It’s not enough to be able to build and deploy systems. You should also be able to monitor them and diagnose issues when they occur. Traditional monitoring tools only provide a limited view. This can make it difficult to even identify issues, let alone fix them promptly. In this article, we’ll discuss observability and why it’s so essential for SRE. We’ll also cover some best practices for achieving observability in your organization.

What Is Observability?

Observability is the practice of monitoring your system in a manner where you can detect and diagnose issues as they happen. The goal of observability is to provide visibility into all aspects of your system to identify and fix issues before they cause customer-facing problems. This means not only monitoring system health but also tracking changes made to the system, understanding how users are interacting with it, and more.

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Observability vs. Monitoring

It’s essential to understand the difference between observability and monitoring. Monitoring is the process of collecting data about the system and using that data to generate reports. This data can be used to identify issues, but it can’t be used to diagnose problems.

Observability, on the other hand, allows you to detect and diagnose issues in real-time. This is because observability uses data from all levels of the system, not just the application level.

To understand this in more detail from a manager’s perspective, take a look at our blog post Observability vs. Monitoring A Breakdown for Managers.”

Why Is Observability Important?

There are several reasons why observability is so important for SRE:

  1. It helps you detect issues before they cause outages.
  2. It allows you to diagnose problems quickly and efficiently.
  3. It provides visibility into the system so you can understand how it’s performing.
  4. It helps you prevent outages from happening in the first place.

How to Achieve Observability

There are many different ways to achieve observability, but some of the most common methods include logging, tracing, and metrics.

  • Logging: Logging is the process of collecting and storing information about events that have occurred in the system. This data can be used to troubleshoot issues or track down problems.
  • Tracing: Tracing is a technique that allows you to follow the path of a request as it flows through the system. This can be useful for understanding how the system works and for diagnosing problems.
  • Metrics: Metrics are numerical values that can be used to measure various aspects of the system. You can use this data to monitor performance and identify trends.
Methods of achieving observability

Once you’ve implemented a solution for observability, you need to measure it to ensure that it’s effective. There are several metrics that you can use, including monitoring coverage, mean time to repair (MTTR), and mean time between failures (MTBF). Finally, below are some best practices that you can follow to help improve the observability of your systems.

Best Practices for Observability

There are several best practices for achieving observability in your organization.

  1. Collect data from all levels of the system: application, database, network, and infrastructure.
  2. Use multiple methods of data collection—logging, tracing, and metrics—to get the most comprehensive view of the system.
  3. Use short-term and long-term storage for logs. This will allow you to keep track of events over a longer period of time, making it easier to identify and diagnose issues.
  4. Use standardized formats. This will help you share data between different tools and systems.
  5. Analyze data in real-time. Use tools like dashboards and alerts to surface issues as they happen.
  6. Communicate alerts promptly. Ensure that the right people are notified when a problem arises.
  7. Automate wherever possible to reduce the time and effort needed to fix problems.

To learn more about best practices for release management, see our blog post “Release Management Best Practices.”

Components of Observability

There are four critical components to observability.

  1. Data Collection. This is typically done through logging, tracing, and metrics.
  2. Data Analysis. This involves using tools like dashboards and alerts to surface issues.
  3. Alerting. This ensures that the right people are notified when an issue arises.
  4. Fixing the issue. This is where you use the data you’ve collected to identify and fix the underlying problem.
Components of observability

Data Collection

The first step to achieving observability is data collection. You need to collect data from all the layers of the system, including the application, database, network, and infrastructure. There are many different ways to collect data. Some of the most common methods include logging, tracing, and metrics.

Release management and test environment management tools from Plutora can help you collect data to improve observability. These tools provide end-to-end visibility into your deployment pipeline so you can quickly detect and fix problems before they cause trouble in production. It offers a variety of integrations with other monitoring and logging tools so you can easily collect data from all layers of your system landscape.

Data Analysis

The next step is data analysis. This is where you use the data you’ve collected to make your environment more reliable. For example, you can use data analysis for generating dashboards and reports. Dashboards are visual representations of the data that can be used to identify trends and issues. Reports are more detailed. You can use them to diagnose problems or track progress over time. You can also use them to do the following:

  • Identify the root cause of problems. By tracking changes to your systems and understanding how users are interacting with them, you can quickly identify the root cause of any problems.
  • Detect trends and patterns. By analyzing data over a longer period of time, you can detect trends and patterns that may not be visible when looking at data in real-time.
  • Improve your monitoring coverage. By understanding which parts of your system are most important, you can focus your monitoring efforts on the areas that are most likely to cause problems.

Plutora Analytics can help you improve the observability of your systems by providing data analysis tools to help you understand all aspects of your environments. It offers a variety of reports and dashboards that can be used to track changes, understand user behavior, and identify trends.

Alerting

The next step is alerting, or sending notifications when problems are detected. This is where you ensure that the right people are notified when an issue arises. This can be done through email, SMS, or other notification systems. It’s important to have a well-defined alerting strategy so that you can quickly identify and fix problems.

Modern observability tools like Plutora can help you define an effective alerting strategy. These tools offer a variety of integrations with notification systems so you can ensure that the right people are notified to take corrective action when an issue arises.

Why Is Observability Important for SRE?

SRE is all about availability and resilience. And to get there, you need to be able to detect and fix issues quickly. With observability in place, you can detect problems before they cause outages. You can also diagnose issues quickly and efficiently, giving you time to fix them before they impact customers. In addition, observability provides visibility into the system so you can understand how it’s performing. This information can be used to prevent outages from happening in the first place.

Conclusion

In summary, observability is important for detecting and fixing problems quickly. It also provides visibility into your system landscape so you can prevent outages from happening in the future. Plutora can help you improve the observability of your environments with its data analysis and alerting tools. Implementing these tools can help you achieve your availability and resilience goals.

Tarun Telang

Tarun is a software engineering leader with over 16 years of experience in the software industry with some of the world’s most renowned software development firms like Microsoft, Oracle, BlackBerry, and SAP. His areas of expertise include Java, web, mobile, and cloud. He’s also experienced in managing software projects using Agile and Test Driven Development methodologies.